It’s time for you to go pro. No, we don’t mean playing World of Warcraft for money, though we couldn’t fault anyone who did. We mean running your own gaming server. You’ve got some game that you want to dedicate your own machine to, and you want it done right.
This means that you can’t settle for it being on your home machine: it’s good to have it the server right in front of you, but you don’t have the resources to make sure that, for example, the power always stays on, or the network never, ever hiccups. You also wouldn’t mind an expert at the wheels if something seriously goes wrong.
Where to begin?
In a literal sense that is the first question you want to ask. Before you go anywhere with any prospective host, you need to ask them whether or not they will host this kind of server. Even if you are on your own machine, some hosts won’t allow this for reasons ranging from network stability to security. Contact them and get a solid answer. Make sure you get a guarantee that they will try to give you warning if, for some reason, they can no longer host you.
The next thing you want to do is get your own machine. For this type of service even a Virtual Private Server isn’t good enough. You run the possibility of using resources like mad, to the point that you shouldn’t be surprised if you need more than one machine. For the most part forget about using any type of cloud services as well. Even if you’re permitted to, you run the risk of racking up a fortune in service-hour fees. If you must use the cloud, keep it to something that you’re not going to use every few seconds, like nightly backups of data.
Make sure that you hop your server up right from the start with all of the juice it will need. Get your RAM, your dual or quad-core CPU, and whatever else you need. Even if you choose to start low, make sure that you have room to expand easily.
Finally, depending on a lot of factors related to your game’s popularity, you might want managed service. This all depends, though, on precisely what “managed” means from them. This brings us to the next point.
Get the right services
If you are running some type of 24/7 game, then you need a 24/7 service to match that. If your machine crashes, your players are not going to want to hear that they have to wait until 9AM for someone to reboot it. Make sure that round-the-clock service is available for your machine.
More specifically, make sure that this service includes everything that you might need. Some hosts will say that they will respond all night, but by this they mean that they can only answer basic technical questions. Make sure that they have someone who can be there to hit the button on your machine. Unmanned data centers are a half-decent substitute. They will handle basic server reboots, but they won’t handle what will happen if there’s a bug in your kernel and you need some hands on deck to get your server back up and running.
To that point, make sure that if you need to upgrade your server that they can do it as quickly as possible. Again, 48 hours in the gaming world is something akin to an epoch. Most hosts typically have, for example, the RAM that you need on hand. What you want is someone who can install it on a moment’s notice.
While on some level you’re probably going to incur some high costs that you aren’t going to be able to do anything about, there are some ways to make sure that your wallet doesn’t get too badly ruptured.
If anything is going to kill your bank account it’s going to be bandwidth. There are ways that you can minimize this hit. First, ask your host if they send you warnings if you look like you are going to go over your monthly allotment. If they don’t do that, make sure you at least have web analytics you can fall back on, and ask for assistance in maybe setting that up to warn you.
You can also ask if throttling is a possibility. While this may not be too popular with your players, an hour or two of downtime here or there is preferable to getting shut down entirely. Some will do this network side, others will have the software necessary to do it server side. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance in getting this set up.
Also ask your host if they ever sell off unneeded hardware. Some hosts, to recoup their own costs, will sell off hardware from servers no longer needed at a pittance. If you let them know that you would like offers sent your way, they will often drop you an email once a new piece of equipment becomes available.
Good managed care can go a long way
A last thing you’ll want to look into goes back to what we said above. “Managed” care of your server can mean different things to different hosts. Some go so far as to offer different types of debugging and server optimization. Some of these could be immensely useful to you.
For this type of care you’ll probably want to go with someone who charges a certain per-hour fee. While there are many tech workers out there who will gladly take it upon themselves to see what they can do for you out of a combination of go-the-extra-mile customer service and the personal challenge of trying to solve your complex problem, you don’t want to assume either of these. Charging for this help by the hour gives them all of the incentive they need to find an efficient solution to your problem.
Talk it out
Finally, this is one case in which one you’re setup, it doesn’t hurt every now and then to just drop a note to your host to make sure that everything is OK. If it is, they’ll say so. If it isn’t, this is a good way to catch little problems before they become big. Either way, this will help you to maintain a strong relationship with your hosting provider, and keep the game afoot.