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What is Cloud Hosting?
The cloud is an IT buzzword that means many different things. Depending on the context, it can mean remote storage, services or syncing. In terms of web hosting, cloud hosting means a more modern, more flexible approach to servers.
Before we define cloud hosting, note that different hosts have their own definitions of the term. We'll look at the two most common benefits: elasticity and reliability.
Before the cloud, website hosting meant renting a chunk of server space from a single physical device. Some types of hosting still operate within that boundary. For example, if you rented an entire server, you could choose the configuration of the server, within the limits of the device.
Cloud hosting allows you to break free of those confines, creating virtual servers that combine the resources of a cluster of machines, rather than just one. This allows hosts to sell packages that are much bigger and more powerful. It also means that hosting plans can scale up to meet demand, handling traffic spikes by increasing resource on the fly.
The other advantage of cloud hosting is increased reliability. By placing a copy of the site in more than one place, there's always a second node ready to take over if the primary node fails. Some hosts offering cloud hosting advertise much better uptime guarantees - 100 percent, in some cases.
Different hosts provide this redundancy in different ways; some will place the site on multiple storage devices, while some will use multiple virtual servers. Additionally, clouds are often spread across different physical locations for extra protection against 'Acts of God'. Some hosts use load balancing technology to make sure the virtual data center can cope with demand as it increases and decreases.
Cloud Security: Public vs Private
As the cloud becomes part of our relationships with tech companies, it increasingly hits the headlines around the world. High-profile security breaches have made some businesses nervous about adopting cloud computing, and research is being done to determine just how secure the cloud is.
However, most of these reports relate to cloud storage, where encryption is more of a concern. If you host your website in the cloud, your host will simply ask that you follow normal security practices, such as using unique passwords and keeping scripts up to date. The fact that your website is hosted in the cloud won't change security best practice.
The one caveat is that most sites are hosted in public clouds. The host deploys security that stops any customer intruding into the others' sites or servers, and most sites will run perfectly securely in this environment. For absolute best security, a private cloud is a better option, but this is naturally a much more expensive service.
Pros and Cons
Despite some industry predictions, cloud hosting hasn't made shared hosting obsolete. There are some situations when shared hosting still trumps the cloud. It's cheaper, for a start. And different hosts offer different types of cloud hosting; this in itself is a point of caution, because comparing cloud hosting is difficult.
In addition, there are other downsides to cloud hosting:
- In some cases, the price jump from shared to cloud hosting is vast
- You can't always control where in the world your site is being served from
- You may lose some of the control you'd enjoy with a traditional server, since the hosting provider may place each server instance on their own cloud platform, removing some of the access dedicated and VPS customers enjoy
In the cloud's favor:
- Many hosts only charge for the capacity you use, so it's cheaper for some sites
- You can often clone, deploy and remove servers in an instant
- Your site will never be restricted by the spec of a physical machine
Cloud Hosting vs VPS Hosting
Many hosting customers outgrow shared hosting, and the next natural step is a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or cloud hosting package. In truth, cloud hosting and VPS hosting are very similar:
- Both use visualization at the core of their service
- Both isolate customers' virtual servers so that they don't impede each others' service
The main pros of the cloud are:
- Access to a pool of resources, rather than just one machine
- Virtual servers can be quickly (sometimes instantly) scaled up and down
- Uptime may be better
If you're not sure which service to choose, speak to your ideal host about your individual needs before locking yourself into a long-term hosting plan.
Want more info? See our chapter on cloud computing in our Ultimate Guide to Web Hosting.