When choosing the right set of hardware for your server, the options can become overwhelming. Which CPU will serve you best? How much server RAM do you need? How much storage do you need? Should you add a remote KVM for LOM access to your machine? With so many factors to consider, one factor often gets taken for granted: the actual amount of RAM you will need for your server.
The old logic of building a system says that you should always add as much RAM as possible for the quickest performance. But, is that going to be overkill for your application? How much is enough, and how much is too much—or is there such a thing? After all, you will rarely find server RAM upgrades for free, so you should decide what amount makes sense for your needs and your budget.
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RAM and Performance
To start the discussion, we should consider what RAM actually does for a server’s performance. In essence, it acts like short-term memory, holding data gathered from the hard drive for quick and easy access. When it needs to access other data, it just “forgets” the older memory and acquires the new data. Each time it does that, though, it needs to have the CPU access the hard drive for it. That takes computing power from the CPU and creates lag while it locates the required data on the hard drive.
Operations pulling simply from RAM execute very quickly, and since more RAM reduces the number of times the server has to access the hard drive it can speed things up considerably. This optimization in server performance is what makes the amount of RAM a critical factor in your server configuration.
How Much RAM Do You Need?
This brings us back to the original question about how much RAM you actually need. Since RAM is not free, you need to balance its potential performance improvements against your actual needs and budget. To do that, consider a few factors that can impact server performance vis-à-vis the amount of RAM the system has.
In some cases, the customization features of the dedicated server may allow you to simply state the amount the RAM you wish to use for your configuration. But it’s more common to see set configurations for dedicated servers starting at 16 GB and then incrementing from that point. Your decision may be a balance of performance versus your budget, but remember that you can scale up or down as needed.
The operating system serves as the software foundation upon which you will build all other elements of whatever operates on your server. As such, your choice of operating system can have a big impact on the amount of RAM you require.
In most cases, modern operating systems have minimum recommended RAM requirements. These operating systems have been tested and finely tuned to operate at peak efficiency on systems with at least those minimum hardware specifications. Thus, you can use this as a good starting point for figuring out the minimum amount of RAM you will need.
If you have one, a control panel will require some memory assets to operate. Many users forego a control panel to offset the potential memory drain and performance ding. Yet, you may require these programs for your particular operation (particularly if you host multiple clients from a single dedicated server).
Content Management System
Like a Control Panel, not every dedicated server will utilize a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. But, if yours does, you will probably need more RAM than a system that does not. The CMS usually resides largely in RAM while operating. Thus, you will need even more RAM to perform other functions on the server. No bright-line rules exist for adding RAM based on your choice of CMS. However, the web has dozens of forums in which you can likely find advice on this topic.
Stacked on top of operating systems (and sometimes control panels and CMSs), applications like email, firewall, and anti-virus can also take up considerable space in your dedicated server’s memory. As a result, these might increase your need for additional RAM.
Static or Dynamic Content
If your dedicated server hosts a lot of dynamic content, it will need more RAM. If, on the other hand, you have a set-it-and-forget-it operation, you will require less memory.
Depending on your set up, this feature could actually reduce your system’s memory requirements. A properly configured cache that uses a proxy server could both improve system performance and reduce RAM usage. Best for static sites, many dedicated server operators have benefited greatly from this option. However, the requirements for caching may also increase your expenses, so be sure to balance that against the cost of the actual RAM itself. Sometimes, it may make sense to both cache and add RAM. It may depend on the storing and reading of data in your application, but having sufficient RAM for these operations will help to make them faster.
Possibly one of the biggest determining factors, sites with more traffic require more RAM to serve pages to more visitors. A site serving hundreds probably requires less RAM than a site serving millions (though, the latter situation may also require additional servers).
As you can see, your ideal amount of RAM depends on how far you want to push your dedicated server’s performance. From a performance perspective, you may think that it’s okay to upgrade your RAM to the maximum. However, you could get more than your budget will allow.
There may also be times when you need to downgrade your RAM in order to help with your budget constraints. So, balance your performance expectations with your financial situation and choose the solution that makes the most sense for you.
If you would like to explore your dedicated server options, visit InMotion Hosting’s Dedicated Hosting Solutions page to decide which one is best for you.