Do you keep hearing about cloud hosting and wonder how it differs from a regular hosting plan? Perhaps you just built a new site and are wondering if you should give the cloud a try?
Cloud hosting is a more reliable, scalable, and secure option than a regular shared hosting plan. But shared hosting is, usually, cheaper and easier to set up.
In this article, I’ll cover everything from control panel options, migration issues, and the pros and cons of each option. We’ll get to see what each option is about and —hopefully! — help to you decide whether it’s better for you to stick with shared hosting, or if you should switch to a cloud plan.
Once Upon a Time on a Shared Hosting Plan …
Traditionally, when we needed to put a site online, we’d buy a domain, get a hosting plan, and FTP the site from our computer to the web. We grew so used to it that it became second nature.
We would typically have features such as a very comprehensive control panel, statistics, and email hosting for the domains registered on that account, among other things. But also some hard limitations, such as a certain amount of disk space, a given bandwidth, and a fraction of the CPU and the server memory.
For many brochure, portfolio, blog and small business sites, that’s perfectly adequate. But for many businesses, it’s not ideal. And even for a freelancer maintaining a couple of simple sites, it’s possible to run out of resources for a given site from time to time. (It’s no fun being asked by a client why the site is down.)
The VPS and Dedicated Server
One way of upgrading is to buy a bigger, slightly more expensive plan with a little more resources, in the form of a VPS (virtual private server). And if that doesn’t cut it, you can rent a dedicated server — that is, a full rack on a hosting company’s data center.
With a dedicated server, you get all of the server resources in a non-shared environment for, let’s say, $100 a month. Yes, about a 20x more expensive than a basic shared hosting plan — but hey, you wanted the whole thing, didn’t you?
Whether you’ve stuck with shared hosting or jumped into the world of the VPS or dedicated server, it has probably all worked just fine, and you may never have contemplated trying anything else. Believe it or not, though, there’s now a generation of web developers that barely know what FTP is, having never used it.
… and Then the Cloud Hosting Plan Came Up
When Amazon Web Services (AWS) was first introduced, everything was new and it seemed like you needed to take an intensive course before you were able to start operating with this cloud infrastructure.
But things have changed since then. Not only have more providers come onto the scene, but also more solutions that can be used out-of-the-box, including cloud hosting.
The “cloud” implies that, somehow, your site is not tied physically to one server, but spread over multiple locations and data centers; and you are not renting a “CPU” and a certain amount of disk space and memory, but rather, just accessing a huge pool of resources on-demand.
This brings many innovations to the table. On one side, you don’t need to worry anymore about running out of resources, because you can get as much of them as you need, when you need them.
Under a shared hosting environment, you can scale up your needs to as much hardware is available. On the cloud, you can jump from 2 CPUs, to 10, to 100, to 1,000, and back to 2, pretty much on-demand.
Same with your storage demands: you can upload and store as much stuff as you need to. Sure, you’ll be billed for that later, but you won’t ever reach a hard limit, and additionally, you can pay only for what you’re using, not for idle resources.
Another huge cloud hosting improvement over regular hosting involves latency — that is, the time it takes to send a request (“I want to see this page”) until it’s processed and delivered back to you (“sure, here it is”). Because the cloud is distributed to several data centers around the globe (you should check with your provider exactly where), requests are transparently routed to the nearest spot.
Visitors to your site in Chicago, IL may have a very low latency (low is good) because there’s a nearby data center. But with cloud hosting, visitors in Saint Petersburg, Russia, can also experience fast loading if they’re also near to data center.
There’s yet another advantage in terms of security. With cloud hosting, data is distributed through different places, often not quite as regular files but as “packets” of data which are constantly checked for integrity. So, data corruption (an HD crash) is something you can totally forget about. Also, because of the very nature of its huge pool of distributed resources, the infrastructure itself is more resilient to attacks such as DDoS and others.
As a result, fairly complex tasks that used to take a lot of effort and were very costly to implement, such as load balance, mirroring, data security, are all incredibly simplified with the cloud.
Okay, but How Does It Work?
Hiring a cloud hosting service is very similar to getting a dedicated server, in that you get the server that you need to set up.
Many providers, however, offer “images” with an already preset configuration for, say, hosting a WordPress site, or a gaming spot, a database cluster, or a processing hub. So you’ll just fire up, for example, an “Ubuntu Server 16.04 with WordPress” image from a control panel, and in a minute or two you’ll be up and running. (Curious about how this works? Check out Understanding Docker, Containers and Safer Software Delivery.)
You could, technically, get a cloud computing service like AWS or similar, and build yourself your own cloud hosting solution, setting your own server, storage, database, and even networking. However, we’ll skip all that and focus on services that are already targeted at cloud hosting.
This is, by no means, a comprehensive list!
- Brightbox. “Simple and flexible UK cloud hosting for teams that insist on 100% uptime.”
- Codero. Very competitive cloud hosting configurations (starting at $5/mo), with plenty of options.
- DigitalOcean. A very popular cloud computing company, offering very easy to use control panels for speedy setups, and quite a big and active community with lots of docs, which is a big plus.
- ElasticHosts. Another completely cloud-based service with “hosting for sys admins, developers, and engineers.”
- HostGator. The popular shared hosting company also has a cloud hosting offering.
- Kyup. Scalable cloud hosting on Linux containers, with prices starting as low as $10/month.
- Linode. “Lightning-quick SSD servers for only $5/mo.” Hard to get any more competitive than that! Plus: also very extensive documentation and active community.
- VPS.net. “1,000% SLA” for zero downtime on their Cloud VPS Servers.
There are also other companies that offer “managed” services; that is, the back-end may very well be AWS or the Google Cloud, whereas the front-end is the 3rd-party site, and you can even call your account manager with a certain configuration request and they’ll take care of setting things up for you, performing updates, etc. Naturally, these are a higher-end solutions, so expect higher prices.
Companies offering these services:
- Interoute offers all sort of support, including application management.
- MediaTemple offers a Fully Managed Cloud Hosting on Amazon and an Enterprise WordPress Hosting on AWS.
- RackSpace cloud manages services for AWS, Microsoft Azure, OpenStack Cloud and VMWare.
- SiteGround offers “fast, scalable, and fully managed” cloud hosting.
- Storm on Demand offers cloud servers with different levels of management.
Different Clouds on the Same Sky
Just so you know, the “cloud” is, in fact, a very broad spectrum of possibilities, not only for hosting but for many other things. For more, have a look at these companion articles:
- A Side-by-Side Comparison of AWS, Google Cloud and Azure.
- Cloud Storage: Choosing Between Dropbox, Drive, S3 and Others (notice that “storage” is a specific type of hosting, just as “archiving” is a specific kind of storage.)
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