The History of Dedicated Servers

July 5, 2022 Jake Fellows

Our journey through dedicated server history began in the early 2000s when dedicated hosting technology became a regular part of the hosting industry. Before dedicated servers, all of the hosted websites and Internet-connected networks in the world ran on shared servers. This technology eventually gave way to virtualized servers, also known as VPS Hosting.

Since then, a lot has changed. But some organizations still prefer the guaranteed resources and single-tenant hardware a dedicated server provides. Having guaranteed resources can dramatically improve website performance and speed. Dedicated servers also provide better control and security by providing a dedicated environment tailored to your business needs.

Additionally, there are still several other reasons your organization might choose dedicated servers over shared ones. Some companies choose a dedicated server to comply with regulations, such as HIPAA-compliant hosting for healthcare organizations and PCI compliance for eCommerce sites that take payments directly through the site, rather than third-party services like PayPal or Square. 

Dedicated servers are an essential technology for today’s digital landscape due to the recent rise in eCommerce and Internet security concerns. How did such an important technology come to be?

Liquid Web - Servers Room

A Brief History of Dedicated Servers

The history of dedicated servers is rooted in shared hosting. To understand what a dedicated server is, we first need to look at shared servers or shared hosting platforms.

In a shared model, millions of users have simultaneous access to a single pool of hosting resources. This model may be enough for smaller websites.

So, why upgrade to a dedicated server? Over the years, dedicated servers have become much more popular as businesses’ performance and security demands have increased to adapt to the changing digital landscape. 

Government agencies, industries with compliance requirements, and large companies wanting to protect their data prefer a dedicated server's privacy and dedicated resources. But this technology wasn’t always available.

Web hosts started offering shared servers way back in the 1990s as the Internet began to gain traction and businesses established their first web pages. Liquid Web began offering shared hosting packages in 1998, providing our customers with a cost-effective solution to host sites without bearing the cost of a dedicated server. 

Rack servers were introduced in the ‘90s, replacing machines that were basically desktop computers. Eventually, the web presence of many businesses grew to the point where they needed dedicated, single-tenant resources.

Businesses were required to upgrade as conducting business on the Internet became more complex. The amount of data being transmitted daily necessitated features like full customization, complete isolation, and root access. 

Liquid Web’s first dedicated servers launched in 2000, providing customers with a then state-of-the-art Pentium III 650Mhz CPU, 128 MB of SDRAM, and 15GB of storage. Blade servers, a stripped-down server model designed to take up minimal space and consume minimal energy in a data center, appeared shortly after and were adopted throughout the industry to save space and organize the rapidly increasing number of servers in use.

The First Web Server

We know that dedicated servers got their start from shared servers. But where did those come from? Where does the entire history of servers begin?

Most quantum leaps in computer technology – Microsoft, Apple, the iPhone, etc. – all come from humble beginnings. Server technology is no different.

The first recorded use of the term server applied to a desktop computer used with the CERN project. CERN involved 17,000 scientists, spanning 100 countries. These brilliant minds needed a platform to share important information, but it needed to be accessible to all. 

Who Invented Servers?

This problem of information access would require an innovative solution. A British scientist involved in the CERN project, Tim Berners-Lee, would be just the man for the job.

In 1989, Berners-Lee came up with the idea of the World Wide Web and the first web server. It took some time and collaboration with a systems engineer, but by November 1990, the first web server was born.

Berners-Lee’s Internet and first web server were hosted on a NeXT computer. Scientists involved in the CERN program could access the information they needed from their own remote location via the web address info.cern.ch.

Since the computer needed to be running 24/7 to provide information, Berners-Lee taped a note to the computer that read, “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!” And thus, the first web server was born.

What are Servers Used For?

In their simplest form, servers are responsible for storing and sending data. Every time you type a web address into your browser and hit Enter, your computer queries a server for the information from that website. This is why there is a second or two gap between you hitting the button and seeing that website on your screen. 

Servers facilitate all of our daily online activities. Conducting web searches, transferring files, and streaming music all require the help of a server in another location. Their primary function is to manage and transmit data to an endpoint device known as the client. Servers get their name because they exist to provide services and serve other devices on a network. If a server is only providing one service to its client, it’s considered a dedicated server. 

Larger companies, like Google or Amazon, may have entire warehouses (server farms) dedicated to storing and operating their servers. The servers themselves can take up a lot of room, and companies also need to install AC units and backup generators to keep servers running smoothly. Some server rooms are so large they require their own dedicated electricity facility.

What are Servers Made Of?

There are two parts to any server: the hardware and the operating system. The hardware portion contains the following server components:

  • A rack mount chassis.
  • A power supply.
  • A system motherboard.
  • One or more central processing units (CPUs).
  • A network interface.
  • Server storage.
  • Server RAM.

The server’s operating system directs these hardware components. Typically, servers run on a Windows or Linux framework. These are the platforms that enable server applications to run. 

The operating system allows applications access to the server’s hardware resources, and the applications enable the servers to perform their primary function. For example, for a database server to be called a database server, it needs to manage database applications.

Server CPU performance is not exclusively expressed by its megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). Equally important today is the number of processing cores and threads a CPU has.

Liquid Web provides dedicated servers with four to thirty-two cores (eight to sixty-four threads) and can also offer solutions with custom resources to meet your needs.

Storage technology has also changed significantly. The type of hard-disk drives (HDDs) utilizing spinning disks read by sensors on moveable arms, which were an integral part of the early history of server hardware, has grown in size to hundreds of GB each.

Beyond the change in scale, premium dedicated servers now feature solid-state drives (SSDs) as the industry standard, which offer significant performance advantages over HDDs and have allowed for other quantum leaps in server technology. 

In the years ahead, SSD storage capacity, increased CPU power, and technologies like AI and machine learning (ML) will begin to disrupt the server industry. AI and ML will allow servers to be more autonomous, and IT admins will be able to run vast data centers remotely. This may also lead to a decrease in the amount of staff required to power an organization’s IT estate. 

Find out the entire history of hard disk drives and how solid-state drives work.

Advancements in Servers

Not only can dedicated servers provide faster performance, but they have also become much faster and easier for organizations to deploy. Deployment of a dedicated server used to take days or even weeks. 

The hardware assembly, manually installing and setting up software, connecting, and troubleshooting all added up to a very lengthy process. Now, that time has been reduced to 48 hours or less through the automation of many steps in the process. And for those looking for instant provisioning and deployment, bare metal servers are available as an option.

Automation has also made managing dedicated servers much easier than during the early history of servers. Service providers can now take on vast numbers of servers while still installing updates and applying patches as soon as they are available, thanks to advancements in server technology like AI, lifecycle extension, virtualization, and distributed software architectures.

Liquid Web offers Fully Managed Dedicated Servers, which means software updates, security patches, and maintenance of your LAMP infrastructure stack (the Linux operating system, Apache HTTP server, MySQL relational database management system, and PHP programming language) are all performed by our hosting professionals.

Server room or server computers - Liquid Web

Dedicated server packages from Liquid Web provide the best service and support available on enterprise-class hardware.

In addition to performance on a different scale, dedicated server plans like those offered by Liquid Web also include the following features:

You can also add a content distribution network (CDN) to your package to improve latency issues and load times for cached content globally.

Taking the Mystery Out of the History of Servers

The history of servers has come a long way. Dedicated servers have come from their humble beginnings as desktop computers to powering some of the world’s top websites. 

As the Internet and business needs continue to evolve, the future of dedicated servers is headed on an exciting trajectory. As always, Liquid Web will be at the forefront of the progress, helping customers get the best value for their IT budget.

About the Author

Jake Fellows

Jake Fellows is the Sophisticated Hosting Product Manager for Liquid Web's Managed Hosting products and services. He has over 10 years experience involving several fields of the technology industry, including hosting, healthcare, and IT-system architecture. On his time off, he can be found in front of some form of screen enjoying movies, video games, or researching into one of his many technical side projects.

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