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Clan Wars

Official Blog for the popular Browser MMORPG "Clan Wars". You can play Clan Wars at clan-wars.org

Author: highborn

Contributor: Slayback

Server Hosting for a Startup

Posted by Slayback Wednesday June 24 2009 at 9:58PM
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During the production of Disciple and in some previous ventures, I've gotten familiar with the pros and cons of several different types of hosting.  I'm not going to share my opinions on specific hosting providers, but I do want to share my learnings on types of hosting and what we have found worked the best.

First, there are 4 main types of hosting that one considers:

  • Shared
  • Co-Located
  • Dedicated
  • Virtual/Cloud

Each of these has pros and cons, which I will cover.

Shared

These are the cheap hosted accounts which you share resources on a server (or cluster of servers). These aren't a fit for a game of this type, but there are many instances in which they would work well.  For instance, if I were to be creating a traditional website, there is no reason to start on anything larger than a shared hosting account.  Then, after you outgrow that, you can move to one of the larger hosting types.

Pros:

  • CHEAP!
  • Easy management, usually with nice control panel
  • No need to get your hands dirty with setting up web or database servers

Cons:

  • Usually very limited resources.  If you grow quickly you can easily hit the limits of this type of account.
  • You can only run the types of code they support.  Usually Java and more advanced services are not available
  • Performance is usually mediocre at best since they tune the servers to support everyone, rather than how your code needs to run

When to use it:

  • Early stage of a startup (alpha or beta)
  • Simple web applications
  • Company landing pages

Co-Located

Co-located hosting is where the provider provides the power, bandwidth, and rack space and you provide the servers.  This means that you're responsible for either purchasing or leasing the server.

Pros:

  • Can be cheaper in the long-run than dedicated hosting
  • You can get great performing servers that fit your needs exactly

Cons:

  • Expensive cash up-front for servers or a long-term lease commitment
  • Rack space is still not cheap
  • You are responsible for most aspects of server management

When to use it:

  • You're business plan is set and you have predictable revenue streams
  • You need beefier servers than most hosting providers will give you at reasonable costs

Dedicated

Dedicated hosting provides a good balance of cheap start-up costs and great performance with the ability to run anything you want.  There are many "managed" hosting providers out there too that will handle the management aspects of your server, such as monitoring and taking care of simple problems for you.

Pros:

  • Little to no start up costs
  • Great performance
  • In many instances less management than co-located servers

Cons:

  • Often there are long-term contracts, especially for "managed" hosting
  • You will still manage many aspects of your servers
  • Usually high monthly costs

When to use it:

  • You need more power than a shared hosting provider, but aren't ready for the commitment of purchasing or leasing servers

Virtual/Cloud

While this technology isn't new, virtualization technology has greatly improved in the last several years to the point that this has created a whole new market segment in hosting.  This started slowly with "Virtual Private Servers" (VPSs) and has morphed into what is now called cloud computing.  Cloud computing is typically a combination of technologies - virtual servers and then a mechanism for users to either manually or programatically provision new servers on-demand.  This has been a boon for startups and is our current choice of hosting environments.

Pros:

  • Near-instantaneous server provisioning
  • Great environment for building scalable applications
  • No setup costs
  • Advanced features available such as server cloning and backups
  • Typically high-performance servers are available
  • For the price of 1 dedicated servers, you may get 6 virtual servers

Cons:

  • Managing all aspects of large number of virtual servers can create management overhead
  • A single virtual server is not as powerful as dedicated servers, but much more powerful than shared servers

When to use it:

  • Any startup
  • A great alternative to shared hosting providers for a small increase in price
  • An application that needs horizontal scalability

Conclusions

At this point, it should be evident why we are using a cloud provider.  With any online game, the demand can fluctuate quickly and with little to no notice.  If we were using a dedicated or co-located provider, our only solution would be to have servers sitting idle "just in case".  With our current provider, we can clone an existing web, application, or database server in about 15 minutes and immediately have additional capacity.  We think that this gives us the best chance to make sure that when you, our players, come to our game, you can get the best experience possible.

I hope this little bit of tech insight has been useful and I'll try to answer any questions anyone may have in the comments.

 

Mystik86 writes:

Interesting read. I knew a bit about different types of hosting and have considered my options if I ever form up a team to build an MMO. Definitely useful information for anyone looking to get started...

Thu Jun 25 2009 4:10AM Report
Etheco writes:

Nice list there, Good for people who are not sure whats what. and nice to see some pros cons from somone elses view too

Thu Jun 25 2009 7:44AM Report
dtportnoy69 writes:

Hey, I'm intrested in what provider you're using for cloud servers. I've heard many mixed reviews for cloud hosting especially for mosso.com. Apparently they've had alot of downtime.

Also with shared  another benefit is that the hosting provider provides the security, meaning their servers where you are hosted with many other people are under tight security and behind tough firewalls and anti DDoS hardware, which if you owned the server yourself (Dedicated) you would have to manage and purchase the extra security hardware.

There is also VPS hosting which is a step in between Shared and Dedicated hosting. The cost is around 50$/month which is smack in the middle of shared hosting and a cheap dedicated server. I honestly would jump to a cheap dedicated server instead of VPS.

I am a web developer and have used many types of hosting for many clients, but if you're in the market for shared hosting, I highly recommend Webfaction (webfaction.com). They have their own custom server setup which allows for easy deployment of applications in many programming languages. So for example, with one account you can have a website programmed in PHP, another domain pointing an app coded with Pyhon & Django, and another domain pointing to an easy setup of SVN + Trac. Easily. If you're a developer webfaction is a must have, even if it's just for SVN + Trac. If you do decide to sign up with them help a brotha out and add me as the referrer (dtportnoy69). Webfaction also under-crowds their servers, meaning they don't stuff as many users under one account as the majority of hosting providers do, and you really notice this. Keep an eye out at other providers, it is a good sign if under their features they mention they do not over-crowd. If they don't mention this chances are they are stuffing their servers with users to make more profit per machine.

Every hosting company has referral programs and they give alot of cash for sales, (well Webfaction only gives 10%), but companies like Lunarpages give you like 65$ per sale and HostGator give you I think 80$ per sale. Always something to consider if you found a house you love and proudly refer other to them.

Lastly!, I know this post is long, but I love talking about this stuff :P For you developers out there, keep an eye out for Google App Engine. Basically with google app engine you develop your website with their platform and when ready you push the site to their servers. Your site is then hosted on Google's infrastructure, which for all comparable purposes is pretty much like a cloud environment. Best part their service is free. Obviously there is a quota, and after the quota is met you are charged by usage (Very cheaply), I believe cloud charges the same way. But the quota they give you for free is comparable to shared hosting quotas and even VPS. So basically, as a developer you create a site, ship it off to Google's servers and that's it, no server maintenance, moving servers, no upgrading servers, no worrying about security ever, because it will scale as your site grows and it's on Google's infrastructure, you cannot go wrong.

Google App Engine currently supports Python and Java, but they will, and I am keeping an eye on this, eventually support the popular PHP language. So for you devs out there seriously keep an eye on App Engine, and if you already code with Python give it  a try you won't regret it.

-- end nerd rant

 

Fri Jun 26 2009 10:10AM Report
dma1dma1 writes:

BUMP

Wed Jul 01 2009 12:14PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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