Service Outsourcing: A Frugal Quest

By Kenneth Hess (Send Email)
Posted Jan 28, 2009


Ken Hess
The mere thought of anything related to outsourcing conjures up a full array of emotions ranging from indifference to pure hatred. Therefore, before you ready your keyboard to fire off a scorching comment, allow me to clarify that I'm not talking about offshore outsourcing. For this, there are plenty of onshore resources to handle your needs. Cover Your Assets: Outsourced services bring a smile to your accountant and a good night's sleep to you.

Hosted solutions, server collocation and web-based applications are all examples of outsourced services. For example, if you own a dot-com domain hosted at an Internet service provider (ISP) or domain hosting company, you're already familiar with outsourced services and support.

Therefore, begin with your local ISP — the one providing your Internet access — by asking if it offers collocation services, shared servers, virtual servers, managed applications or hosted services. There's a good chance that they do, and they aren't an access only provider. Many ISPs offer a complete menu of services from which to choose.

Let's look at the different outsourcing options to see if any are right for you. Collocation involves purchasing a server system (or using an existing one) to locate in your service provider's data center. They rack your system, provide power, cooling, and network connectivity; all other services are your responsibility. You enjoy the comforts of the provider's high bandwidth connection and their environment, but you own all system management and operating-system-level security. Collocation was very popular until about five years ago when the far less-expensive option of virtual servers became the standard du jour for service providers.

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Nowadays, shared servers and virtual servers claim most of a data center's rack space. A shared server is a low-cost solution that is usually a server system that hundreds or thousands of customer use for similar hosted services. User access is limited and security measures are in place to assure privacy of user data. The provider monitors your space and bandwidth consumption and charges you back for usage beyond the contracted amounts. This shared-server scenario is popular among web hosting providers.

If you need a dedicated server system but don't want to pay the high cost of collocation, your best option is a dedicated virtual server. In this type of hosting, you pay for a set of computing resources that resembles a physical server system that runs on a host system. Virtual servers take two major forms: A fully virtualized operating system or a jailed partition on an existing system. The fully virtualized operating system looks like a collocated system but operates within a shared host system. For example, your virtual server is a Windows 2003 system: You login via Terminal Services, install applications, reboot and operate on it like any other physical system. That Windows system runs as a virtual machine on a Linux hypervisor or host system.

Hosted services are familiar to anyone who's ever used Hotmail, Google Docs, Salesforce.com's CRM, or Zoho Apps. Some of these services are free, but most are subscription-based. Although you own your data, it exists at the service provider's location along with the hardware, applications and support staff. Your only out-of-pocket expense is the subscription fee. Saving money is at the top of almost everyone's list, and outsourced services deserve a look if you're looking at trimming a budget. Ask for a written contract outlining service availability, costs and your liabilities, should something go awry. let us know how you're using outsourced services in your quest for frugality in either a comment below or via email.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. You may reach him through his website at http://www.kenhess.com.

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