If you've ever run a sizeable Minecraft server, you're probably familiar with the costs it can incur. If you have not, then hi! This will be a crash course. I'm your substitute teacher, mechanicaljack!
A Minecraft server can be run in at least 3 ways. From your personal computer/laptop, hosted on a server machine, or through Mojang's Realms service. Let's look at Realms first.
The first two options have been available for a long time. As long as Minecraft multiplayer has existed really. Realms is a newer and fairly reasonable option if you don't want to put in a lot of extra effort and just want a place for yourself and some friends. It costs a low $13 American and can handle 10 users at a time, with an invite list of up to 20. It's private and relatively secure unless you or someone else with the power to grant user access invites someone who brings the trouble with them. It features a number of built in play options aside from the Vanilla experience. We actually did an article on it quite a few weeks back that you can read here.
Another option is to run the server from your personal computer. For most people, this is a reasonable option if you're hosting a world for a LAN and aren't using a slew of resource eating plugins. High end computers might be able to handle more punishment, but you really do get what you pay for. Not even considering the storage space the world will devour on your hard drive if you're on an open borders map, every additional plugin will demand more and more system resources and decrease the number of players your system can handle. You'll probably have to play with opening ports and/or port forwarding to get people to be able to connect, though there are options such as Hamachi and Evolve that can simplify the work.
(Oooo! Shiny server farm!)
If you plan to have the next big Minecraft Server, with all of the shiny plugins you can cram in and tons and tons of users, you're going to want to have it hosted on a server machine. What's the difference between a server machine and your fabulous expensive pc? You probably want to read this. Having been a staff member on CraftHub for the last 3 years, helped out with a handful of other servers and run temporary private servers on my PC, I can assure you that a PC is no substitute for a server machine. That said, this is the most expensive option, and compared to Realms there is real work involved depending on what you're trying to accomplish. If you want plugins, you have to install them. If you want ranks, you have to set them up through a permissions system. You'll probably be dabbling in Linux too. I think you get the picture.
(In the future, servers will be mobile, and will enslave us all)
There are a slew of server hosts of varying quality, from cheap and crappy to expensive and excellent. Cheap does not always mean crappy, and expensive does not always mean excellent. It pays to research and ask around. You should also know what your goals are and plan accordingly. If you don't need more RAM than Skynet, you shouldn't opt for the SuperMegaUltraObsidian-Server. There are many options. CraftHub, for instance, is hosted through AllGamer. The good news is, people make tools to help with running a server. One such tool is a control panel. Some server hosts have their own panel, and some require you use their panel. McMyAdmin by PhonikUK is a great example of a server panel. Additionally, some hosts will even install plugins for you. Do some research, you may save yourself a lot of money, time and effort. I started off with only basic computer knowledge before the previous admins essentially threw me to the wolves for a hard lesson in server administration. Like Leonidas, I came out wearing those wolves as a cape and with a host of new skills at my disposal.
(Be calm, just remember your training)
You may ask, why are we discussing servers all of a sudden? Well, Mojang recently revisited it's End User License Agreement, and how it pertains to servers. They have their article here. Specifically it gets into the nitty-gritty of what servers can and cannot do in relation to monetization. We want you to have a basic idea about what goes into running a server, be it small or big, so you can be informed if you want to start one, or just want to storm into Flamewar 2014: The Minecraft Server Saga and actually throw down with a reasonably accurate picture regarding what is involved. Really, this isn't a big change. If anything, they've granted server owners more rights than they previously had and helped define some of the grey areas.
Personally, I predict that if Mojang enforces these terms, the landscape will change. The large servers will adapt and find a way to continue existing, while a number of smaller servers will crumble. The servers that thrive on pay-to-win models will thankfully dry up and there will be less instances of people being ripped off. I believe there will be an unpredicted impact on server hosts however, as some of their customers find they can no longer operate as they have been operating.
What do you think will happen? Was this information helpful to you? TL;DR? Leave your comments and questions below!
Mechanicaljack is an admin, writer and editor for CraftHub's Minecraft blog and server and can be found on Twitter at @CrazyOldJack. If you'd like to write for CraftHub, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas. Something you'd like to see us do an article about? Please let us know! Follow CraftHub on twitter at @CraftHub, and Facebook!