You’ve heard a lot about cloud storage and cloud computing, but what does this mean in the web hosting realm?
Choosing a webhosting solution can be a daunting and confusing process. While your individual requirements will determine what service is best for you, cloud hosting is quickly becoming one of the most effective and efficient options. It utilizes a large network of servers known as “the cloud” to deliver the resources required, often on a real time basis. But why is this important? Understanding the limitations of traditional webhosting holds the answer.
What You’re Paying For
When somebody visits your website, data has to be transferred from your webhost’s servers. These are basically specialized computers that store all of your pages and files, and will display them upon request when somebody arrives at your domain. The amount of data transferred from these servers is called bandwidth. If your homepage is 250kb and 1 person opens it in their browser, you have used 250kb of bandwidth.
The type of content you provide your website’s visitors therefore also has an impact on the amount of bandwidth you will use. For example if the traffic count is the same, a site with a few plain text pages is not going to use as much bandwidth as a site full of high resolution images and video content.
Generally the more bandwidth your site consumes, the higher the price of the hosting, because the host is providing you with more resources. Likewise when you have a lot of visitors to your pages at the same time, this also requires a lot of memory and processing power, much like when you open lots of programs on your PC simultaneously. Simply put, the more popular your site the more computing power is needed to keep things running smoothly, and the more you will have to pay for the privilege.
Before The Cloud
If your site gets no more than a few hundred hits a day, the most cost effective option would be shared hosting. The host will give you access to a shared server for a few dollars a month, meaning several other customers will have their sites on the same computer system as you and are all tussling for memory and other resources. This can work fine if you’re just running a small personal blog, or are launching your first website and don’t expect a lot of traffic right away. However as soon as things pick up, you may experience a slow response time as the shared machine becomes overwhelmed. At this stage you may be forced to upgrade. On the other hand you may experience a slow service when another customer sharing the server is hogging all of the resources.
A virtual private server (VPS) is still shared, but you are guaranteed your portion of the resources instead of each customer fighting over everything on a first come first served basis. This strict allocation improves performance from the outset, because nobody else can effect your slice of the pie and you can’t effect theirs. VPS plans may be based on one or several different physical servers at the data center, but your resource portion is delivered through a virtual interface that operates like a single server.
Renting a dedicated server is the most expensive traditional webhosting option, but ensures you will have the absolute best performance if you know what you’re doing. Unlike a VPS where you are given a slice of the pie, a dedicated server is basically a full pie all to yourself. This means there is a computer system sitting somewhere in a data center just for you, and you will be given remote access to manage it in any way you see fit. This tends to favour the more experienced webmaster, though you can also pay for full support and to have it managed by the provider
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So What Is Cloud Hosting?
The rise of cloud hosting has blurred the lines between VPS and dedicated servers. Similar to a VPS you are given free reign over a virtualized machine, however resources are allocated from a very large network of servers. This allows for much greater scalability and seamless upgrades.
Cloud hosting can also be more cost effective, because rather than paying for all of the resources of a single server or a strict VPS plan, you may only need to pay for exactly what you use each month. Should your requirements suddenly go beyond those of a single dedicated machine (which would usually cause your site to crash) the cloud simply utilizes more resources from the network and everything continues to operate smoothly. In an age of viral content, where even unknown sites can end up all over social media, cloud hosting is particularly beneficial.
The overall resource load of everybody using the cloud is balanced, meaning no one machine is working harder than the next. If there is a slowdown across the network, a competent host will add more machines to reduce the overall load.
Types of Cloud Hosting
The cloud is not just for your typical website hosting, it is also commonly used by developers and businesses who seek non-local solutions to storage, networking, database management, computing, and software/app development.
There may be a few technical terms related to cloud hosting that you might not understand. Here are some of the most common you may come across:
- Scalability: The ability to add more resources, such as CPU cores, memory, and disk space to your plan.
- Cloud VPS: This is a simple was of differentiating between cloud webhosting and other cloud services. A cloud VPS is a Virtual Private Server setup in a cloud network, and is exactly what you’re looking for.
- SSD: A Solid State Drive (SSD) is simply another form of hard drive. For whatever reason cloud hosts tend to use SSDs in their servers, which is good for you because they’re faster.
- Metering: A “pay as you go” price model based on the resources you use, rather than a set monthly contract. Metering is the process of tracking what resources you have used.
- CDN: Stands for “Content Delivery Network,” which is when multiple versions of your site are mirrored in the cloud for backup. Data is usually sent from the closest mirror to their geographical location. Not all hosts provide CDN, while others make it an option within a much wider range of cloud services.
- Self Healing: The ability of a cloud network to carry on interrupted even when one or several severs have failed.
Why Use Cloud Hosting?
- Reliability: Downtime is almost unheard of because resources are spread among a vast amount of servers. If one goes down the overall network is unharmed. It would take a particularly serious issue that wipes out many machines to disrupt the service completely. On the other hand a single dedicated server is expensive but if it goes down, your site goes with it.
- Scalability: Extra resources can be accessed at any time from the large cloud network and are not constrained to the limits of one or a handful of traditional shared or VPS servers. So if your site experiences a period of viral popularity, it won’t slow down or crash, so long as you agree to pay the extra fees. These are usually very reasonable.
- Upgrade Speed: There are no waiting times for upgrades. In many cases you can login to your account and use sliders to bump up RAM, space and even CPU cores straight away. In fact many cloud hosting providers offer real time resources fluctuations on an automatic basis.
- Price: If your site has outgrown shared hosting and is using either higher level VPS packages or an expensive dedicated server, then cloud hosting could reduce costs and improve performance. You will usually only have to pay for the resources you use, meaning even if you have to pay more due to an occasional spike in traffic, this is not a permanent upgrade. Your site’s slow days will outweigh the high traffic days. There are also several payment models, such as pay as you go, where you may only pay for resources on an hourly rate.
- Virtual Server: Most cloud hosting options come with a straight forward virtual server interface so you can manage your plan much like you would a traditional VPS or dedicated server. This also means you can add all the software and features that a regular server would support.
- Security: The cloud is just as secure as traditional hosting methods. Even though it is a vast network of servers, each one is ring-fenced from the other, and each user’s plan is further ring-fenced. This means that if there’s a security breach, virus, or some other issue, it generally will not spread to multiple customers using the service.
Knowledge: Although there may be different levels of support on offer depending on the host, it may be worth knowing how to get around a server’s interface so you aren’t constantly relying on staff to add features and software. Furthermore cloud hosting requires at least a basic understanding of the amount of resources/data you require, so isn’t necessarily for beginners. Those who have already used a VPS or dedicated server shouldn’t have any technical issues.
All In: Scalability may be one of cloud hosting’s key selling points, but make sure you do some rough calculations for the costs involved if your site does happen to go viral. There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning to realize you have a unforseen bill because your blog hit the front page of Reddit over night and the host made sure your resources were increased to accommodate the huge spike in traffic. Be prepared to go all in.
Data Security: If you are working with particularly sensitive data, cloud hosting may pose some concerns because it’s not always feasible to know exactly where the data is being stored, as the cloud is not centralized. This will not be an issue for most people, but will be a consideration for certain businesses.
Shop Around: Like any service not all cloud hosting is made equal. It is therefore important to shop around and ensure that you’re really getting what you want. Ask yourself, if there isn’t a simple scalability option is it still worth it? What level of support is offered and will you have to pay more for it? Are they using a monthly or pay as you go model, and which suits you best? Is there a fixed price or are you literally charged for the amount of resources used?
Recommended Cloud Web Hosts
Siteground: Offers a very flexible cloud service which comes in 4 main fixed priced plans, but with the ability to turn on auto-scaling so you can accommodate unforeseen traffic spikes. They have 24/7 support and manage everything from their end, so you’re never left having to do anything technical. Backups are also made daily, each one being kept for 7 days, so you can be sure you’ll never lose any data.
Rackspace: Will work closely with you to build a cloud service that suits your specific needs, whether that’s basic webhosting or advanced application development. You pay for the level of management, and then a rate based on the amount of data you use per hour. Beginners may be overwhelmed by the amount of features to choose from, but those who know what they’re doing will be appreciative of such choice.
ElasticHosts: Provide cloud server access from $5, with a choice of data centers from across the world. They support both manual and automatic scaling, so you are in full control over the resources you use. This process involves fine tuning a monthly package (CPU, memory, space), which you can then alter at any time. You can also allow resources to increase in real time, driven solely by the demand for your website
Upcloud: Lets you fine tune a monthly package based on the number of CPU cores, memory and disk space you require, and you can choose cloud networks based in the US, England, or Helsinki. However you are only ever billed for your hourly usage, meaning your monthly bill could be much lower than the average figure given on sign-up. For example I chose a package with 4 CPU Cores, 8GB of Memory, and 10GB of Disk Space. On average this is about 62 Euros a month and 0.09 Euros an hour. Yet it’s unlikely I will be maxing out these resources 24/7, so the bill will be much lower.
VPS.net: Offers “Cloud VPS” servers tailored to your base requirements, including the operating system and location of the data center, with options from all 5 continents. They boast a true “self healing” cloud network, meaning if certain servers fail, the network is still able to continue without interrupting your service.
Amazon Web Services: AWS has a vast number of cloud services available, webhosting being one of them. This is utilized by a number of popular online brands like Reddit, Pintrest, and Netflix, so is well worth considering if you’re thinking big for your project. That’s not to say it can’t accommodate a more basic website, but they also do everything from online gaming infrastructure to disaster recovery management.
Digital Ocean: Like AWS Digital Ocean is not just about webhosting, but it is one of many cloud services they offer. Your plan will operate on a “pay as you go basis” starting at as little as $5, which needs to be topped up depending on the resources you use. While you’re required to have some basic understanding of how to operate a virtual Linux server, veteran webmasters should be ok and there are simpler solutions for using WordPress and other content management systems.
Other Cloud Hosts
There are also a wide range of cloud providers focussed on non-webhosting purposes, like Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. While it is possible to use these services for static websites or for e-commerce solutions, they are mainly aimed at developers and businesses that require cloud computing for other purposes.
The Final Word
If you’ve outgrown shared hosting and are expecting traffic spikes from time to time, cloud hosting is definitely worth considering if you’re ok with fluctuating bills or pay as you go models. These usually work out cheaper than traditional VPS and dedicated servers anyway, and on your end they will function in pretty much the same manner.