When you’re on the hunt for a new hosting plan, you will more than likely have to choose between managed hosting vs. unmanaged hosting. Knowing the difference between managed and unmanaged servers can mean a lot.

When we start, most of the using host our websites on shared servers. This means that the word “management” is nowhere to be found since the difference between managed and unmanaged hosting doesn’t really apply here. Where it does apply, however, is when you start looking into dedicated servers or VPS hosting services.

There is a pretty obvious price difference between managed hosting vs. unmanaged hosting, but you shouldn’t, by any means, base your decision on cost alone. This can be a fatal mistake, and if you don’t make the right choice, you could be throwing a lot of money in the future for things you don’t need.

What is actually managed to host?

When you get a hosting plan, there are actually plenty of components to it. The key one is the server and the hardware. The server usually comes with an operating system, as well as all kinds of software and tools to help you run your website.

The hosting service provider may also give you additional features, such as status monitoring, security check-ups, automated backups, etc. These are all management services that tend to make things easier, and that is where the name “managed” hosting comes from. If you want to keep things simple, it is a hosting plan which comes with plenty of add-ons, services, and benefits.

But, what about unmanaged hosting?

Unmanaged hosting, on the other hand, is a plan where you either don’t get any extras or get very few of them. You get a barebones server with nothing more than an operating system. This leaves you to install everything, and by “everything” I mean even basic software such as PHP or Apache. These systems don’t have anything.

The term “unmanaged” simply states that the hosting service provider doesn’t do anything to your server. If you need or want something done, it is up to you to do it yourself. You will need to understand what it all lacks, but first, let’s see what each comes with in terms of pros and cons.

Which one to go for?

In the battle of managed hosting vs. unmanaged hosting, anyone who isn’t already an experienced user will want to get managed hosting, as it does seem like a more attractive option. If you don’t want to spend extra money on server management, managed hosting might also be the better option. However, you need to bear in mind that a managed hosting service, such as a managed WordPress hosting service, usually carries restrictions. For example, if the server is mainly made for WordPress, this might render you incapable of running other types of websites. This means that users lose a lot of flexibility, and you might need it at some point.

While we’re discussing the topic of limitations of managed hosting services, you also might be restricted as far as WordPress plugins go. A good example would be the service stopping you from running caching plugins if there is already a server-level system in place. For someone who wants to run their own set of plugins, which they know work best for their specific use case, having an unmanaged hosting might be a better fit, as they get all the flexibility they need. And, another important point is price, since managed hosting services do carry a price premium.

When you’re looking into a dedicated server or VPS, you should also know that those managed services often support only a small set of operating systems. What this means is that if you, or someone on your team, use a Ubuntu based OS, you might find out that your distribution isn’t supported on the managed hosting service. This should be checked before you commit, as it may lead to you spending money and getting nothing.

There are people who know enough about server management to be comfortable to take things into their own hands and get an unmanaged hosting service which they would manage themselves. However, if you don’t have enough experience, you’re better off with a paid, managed hosting service. This gives you the peace of mind when you know that the host will take care of all management, and you don’t have to hire outside help.

At the end of the day, there are two main things to consider. The first one is whether you need any specific services and software. If you do, you must make sure that the hosting company can support them before committing to their plan. If for example, the hosting company doesn’t support that custom video encoding solution you need, you can’t really use it.

And, the second important factor, is whether you are skilled enough to be able to take on server management by yourself. If you’re not, and you’re tight on budget, you might as well go for an unmanaged hosting service, and then pay someone to set everything up for you, it is undoubtedly cheaper than a managed service. All you need to do afterward is get a cPanel or DirectAdmin license, which lets you manage everything easily. You should also know that if you need direct payment processing, setting up an unmanaged server for PCI-DSS compliance is usually more time, and money consuming in the long run, then getting a managed one in the first place.

It is actually a tough choice

The decision is one that you should think about thoroughly before pulling the trigger. If you opt for an unmanaged server, you must be absolutely sure that you can afford the maintenance, both in terms of experience and money, as it is by no means an easy job. If you can’t devote enough time to it, don’t bother at all.

As far as managed servers go, if you need complete control and root access, they might not be the best way to go. Even though there are hosting companies that give you root access to the servers, managed servers usually cost more and give you much less control. It is a matter of freedom or convenience, whichever you prefer more.

Ending thoughts

All things considered, this is truly a tough call. There are some providers, such as HostGator, that might give you a hybrid solution, and give you complete root access to the server, and even give you some support as well. If you find that an unmanaged server is too much for you to handle, but a fully managed hosting plan doesn’t give you all the control you want and need, you might opt for a semi-managed solution, which is the best of both worlds.

The bottom line takes a good, thorough thinking to get to, and you will need to be absolutely certain of your decision. The main differentiators are control, cost, and flexibility, and once you’ve got all that figured out, you may go ahead and pull the trigger.

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