The Basics of Hosting: Volume I

As a server host in an always-online environment, it’s crucial to communicate in a way that’s both informative and easy to understand, especially when explaining why private servers can be vital assets for a variety of different games. However, often we have to use terms and phrases that you might have heard a million times but, if asked, can’t really explain. It’s likely that you read a whole text filled with buzz words and technical terms but afterwards couldn’t even remember what the topic was about ─ I know that this has happened to me before.

That’s why we’ve compiled a short list of 10 expressions that you’ll regularly encounter on social media, in papers, and in the news. Our goal is to demystify these terms, providing clear and concise explanations that will help you better understand the world of server hosting and online gaming, and empower your decision-making in the development process of a new or ongoing video game.

Latency

In the context of video game hosting, latency refers to the delay between a player’s action and the game’s response to that action. This delay is often caused by the time it takes for data to travel from the player’s device to the game server and back. High latency can lead to lag, which can disrupt gameplay and give players with lower latency an unfair advantage.

Aside from video game hosting, latency refers to the amount of time it takes for a packet of data to get from one designated point to another. In simpler terms, it’s the delay that happens when you click on a link and when the website starts to load. This delay occurs because the data doesn’t transfer to your device instantaneously – it travels through a series of networks and servers before it reaches you.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the maximum rate of data transfer across a given path. Think of it as a pipe: the wider the pipe, the more water (data) can flow through it at once. Bandwidth is typically measured in bits per second (bps) and is used to gauge the speed and capacity of your internet connection. A higher bandwidth means more data can be transferred simultaneously, which is crucial for fast-paced, data-intensive online games.

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Uptime

Uptime is a measure of the time a computer system has been “up” and running without any interruptions. It’s often used as a metric to determine the reliability of a system or a network. For example, if a website has an uptime of 99.9%, it means that the website is guaranteed to be operational 99.9% of the time. In the context of video games, the higher the uptime, the more reliable the gaming experience, as players can access and play the game without facing any server-related issues.

Load Balancing

In computing, load balancing is the practice of distributing network traffic across multiple servers to ensure that no single server bears too much demand. This helps to increase the availability and reliability of applications and websites. Load balancers can be hardware-based or software-based and can distribute load based on various factors such as random distribution, least connections, or server response times.

Redundancy

Redundancy, in the context of video game hosting, is the practice of duplicating critical components or functions of a system to increase its reliability. If one server fails, the redundant server can take over, minimizing downtime and disruption to gameplay. Even more important: if a game is hosted on multiple servers and one of them goes down, the game can still run on the other servers. This prevents a single point of failure from bringing down the entire system.

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Virtualization

Virtualization is the process of creating virtual instances of physical computing resources, such as servers or storage devices. This allows for the running of multiple virtual game servers on a single physical machine, leading to better resource utilization and scalability. Virtualization can increase IT agility, flexibility, and scalability while creating significant cost savings and reducing emissions.

Dedicated Server

A dedicated server is a type of remote server that is entirely dedicated to an individual, organization or application. It’s like having a personal computer that is located elsewhere and is used for specific tasks. In video game hosting, a dedicated server is a server that is exclusively used for hosting a specific game. Unlike shared servers, all the resources of a dedicated server are devoted to running the game, which can provide a more stable and high-performing gaming environment.

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Compare this to Shared Servers, where resources of the server, such as CPU, memory, storage, and bandwidth, are shared among all the users or games on that server. While this may sound counterintuitive, this approach offers some good arguments, like cost efficency and ease of use. Shared hosting providers typically take care of server maintenance, including security updates, patching, and server monitoring, which can be a significant advantage for users who don’t have the time or skills to manage these tasks.

General rule of thumb: In the context of video game hosting, a shared server might be suitable for smaller, less resource-intensive games. However, for larger games with many players or high-performance requirements, a dedicated server or cloud hosting might be a better option.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting refers to the practice of hosting game servers on a network of virtual servers that draw their resources from a pool of physical servers. This allows for easy scaling of resources to meet the demands of the game, ensuring smooth gameplay even during peak times. The most notable advantage of cloud hosting is the aforementioned scalability, since you can easily scale up or down your server resources based on your needs. This is particularly useful for games or businesses with fluctuating player counts or other demands.

Cloud hosting is very reliable since there is a network of multiple servers running in the background, providing a sort of failsave. Also, many cloud hosting providers offer robust backup and disaster recovery solutions. If something goes wrong, you can restore your game or website more easily than with traditional hosting.

DDoS

A DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service, attack is a malicious attempt to disrupt the normal functioning of a network, service, or website by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic. It’s like a traffic jam clogging up a street, preventing regular traffic from reaching its desired destination. The scale of attack depends on the number of machines and user who initiated in the first place. In 2014, during the holiday season, both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live were hit by a massive DDoS attack by a group called Lizard Squad. The attack caused both networks to go offline, affecting millions of gamers worldwide who were unable to access their games and services.

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The reasoning behind DDoS might seem obvious in the first place as they almost always lead to harmful outcomes with a loss in finances or reputation. However, some groups or individuals carry out DDoS attacks to showcase their technical prowess or to make a statement. This is often seen in the hacker community where such attacks can be a badge of honor and often involves attacking specific political entities or parties.

Preventing a DDoS is extremely hard and many tools only serve to mitigate the damage. As a company you can increase your bandwidth and install reduncancies. These will not prevent an attack but act as counter measures to handle the increased incoming traffic. However, there are specified DDoS Protection services ─ like our inhouse tool Bulwark ─ that can detect abnormal traffic flows and redirect DDoS traffic away from your network.

Content Delivery Network

A CDN is a network of servers distributed globally, designed to deliver digital content, like video games, quickly and efficiently to users. When a player downloads or streams a game, they’re likely getting the data from a CDN server that’s geographically close to them, rather than the game company’s central server. This reduces latency and ensures faster load times, providing a smoother and more responsive gaming experience.

For multiplayer online games, where lag can significantly impact gameplay, using a CDN can help ensure that all players, no matter where they are in the world, have a consistent, high-quality gaming experience. Additionally, when a new update is released, there can be a massive surge in traffic as millions of players attempt to download the content simultaneously. CDNs help manage these traffic spikes and ensure that the download process goes smoothly for everyone.


This was our first attempt at making the complex world of server hosting a bit more understandable. If you found these explanations helpful, bookmark this page and refer to it whenever the need arises.

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