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
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 server confines such as device limitations
- Create virtual servers – Combine the resources of a cluster of machines, rather than just one
- Handle traffic spikes – Increase resources on the fly, due to hosting plans scaling up to meet demand
- Increased reliability – Copies of the site can be placed in more than one place, with a second node ready to take over if the primary node fails
- Better uptime – 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.
What Exactly Is the Cloud?
The word “cloud” is a huge buzzword these days. And many people have questioned what the cloud even is. Does it exist somewhere physical? Is it just this magical place where all of our data is held to free up space on our devices?
The terminology of the cloud is often a very confusing factor to those new to the subject. We break it down for you in layman terms, for easy understanding.
Well, the cloud isn’t one place hanging up in the air above our heads like a lot of us like to imagine. Instead, it is a physical space where data is stored. In short, the cloud is a network of servers. Items stored in the cloud reside on multiple physical servers which could be located almost anywhere in the world.
What Is a Cloud Server?
A cloud server is a server that is used for cloud computing. Instead of existing as an actual physical server, a cloud server is a virtual server that runs in a cloud computing environment. It is built, hosted, and provisioned virtually. Data stored on a cloud server doesn’t exist on one physical server as is the case with dedicated servers. Instead, this data may be spread and copied across a network of servers.
A visual representation of multiple, interconnected cloud servers.
Cloud vs Shared Hosting
This differs from a shared server in many ways.
When you host a website on a shared server, your website is housed on one physical server along with other users. You share the server’s resources, like disk space and bandwidth, with these other customers of your hosting company.
This also means that your usage may affect the performance of other people’s hosting services that share the server with you and vice versa.
With cloud hosting, hosting providers can offer you pre-allocated and dedicated resources amounts. This is because your services aren’t limited to the resources that one server can provide.
And since your website isn’t hosted in just one physical place, you don’t have to share resources with anyone else. This is what gives cloud-hosted servers their sheer power.
|Shared Server||Prone to issues, due to shared environment||Website runs on a physical server with other users||Fixed resources|
|Cloud Server||Close to fault-resistant, due to malleable environment||Website runs in a dedicated environment in a cloud computing environment||Flexible resources|
Don’t Forget Reliability
Another difference between shared servers and cloud servers is reliability. Since the cloud links several sources of resources together, it is almost entirely fault-resistant.
Data is distributed over various physical locations, so a problem at one location is unlikely to affect files stored in the cloud. Usually, your data exists as mirrored copies over at least three different locations.
Don’t Confuse Cloud Servers with VPSs
Some people think that a cloud server and a virtual machine are the same things. But a cloud server is different from a virtual machine.
A virtual machine is a computer image that behaves like a computer but is not a physical computer. Sounds confusing? It’s actually much simpler than it seems.
A virtual machine is just like a computer inside a computer. It typically runs on a physical computer, much like a computer program. It isolates programs and software to this virtual machine instead of allowing it to escape to the actual computer.
What Is Cloud Computing?
Cloud hosting is not the same thing as cloud computing. Essentially, cloud hosting is a form of cloud computing. The definition of cloud computing is basically the storage and accessing of programs or data over the internet. It uses a network of remote servers rather than local servers or your own personal computer.
For example, you engage in cloud computing when you store photos or documents on Google Drive, or even when you send e-mails. When you’re storing, managing, or processing data using the internet rather than on your device alone, you are participating in cloud computing. Online cloud storage is becoming more and more popular as people are enjoying the accessibility it provides to them.
5 Cloud Computing Benefits for Businesses
The benefits of cloud computing are numerous. For individuals using computers for basic, personal tasks, cloud computing can free up their device storage. It also makes our files accessible from multiple different devices rather than just one. For example, cloud computing lets you check your e-mail from your phone, tablet, laptop, or a work computer. Your e-mails are delivered to the e-mail clients on whichever device you view them on rather than existing in just one physical space.
A brief demonstration of the webmail interface, using Roundcube via Siteground.
For businesses, cloud computing can certainly eliminate a lot of hassle, boasting a vast number of benefits:
- Cost Reduction
- Resources and Storage
- Disaster Recovery
It reduces IT costs and gives them much more flexibility with what they can do with their data. Businesses using cloud hosting don’t have to have physical servers or hardware that needs to be upgraded or repaired.
This also reduces costs from energy consumption and additional staff needed to take care of physical hardware. And, should something go wrong, companies don’t have to fix the problems themselves. Third-party cloud providers will take care of repairs and server upkeep.
Resources and Storage
Cloud computing also allows businesses to only pay for the resources they need.
They can easily scale their storage and operational needs up and down as their business expands or lulls.
Aside from hosting, business use cloud computing to ramp up efficiency in the workplace. Cloud services allow employees and teams to work together collaboratively.
This makes work easier since team members don’t have to constantly send updated files around or struggle to make sure everyone is up to date and informed of changes.
Cloud computing allows many people to work on one project from different locations. Using cloud computing, everyone working on their project can have access to the same files.
They can actively edit and update things in one place that everyone can see. This also allows employees to work from various locations instead of needing to be in the office.
As a result, cloud computing has made it possible for freelancers and remote employees to work just as efficiently as in-house employees.
Cloud computing helps thousands of businesses save time and money, in order to receive appropriate coverage for disaster recovery.
This would normally be unaffordable for smaller companies.
Common Cloud Computing Services
There are numerous cloud computing services. These range from applications like Dropbox and Google Drive, to cloud hosting environments for websites and applications.
Cloud service providers make cloud computing accessible to anyone, not just developers.
They often charge a monthly or yearly subscription for people to use their resources. And, you can usually opt to pay more for additional storage space or increased flexibility.
The best cloud services are the ones that allow for storage and file sharing. These kinds of services give you easy access to your data no matter where you are in the world.
Access important documents from any computer. Find your photos to share with people from someone else’s computer. Play your own music on another person’s phone. As is clear, these cloud services have a multitude of recreational as well as work-related uses.
Many cloud services are actually free up to certain usage limits. These free accounts may put limits on the amount of storage you can use or the size of files you can upload. Some services also offer a time-based free trial when you start out. Some of these free cloud service options have been mentioned already such as Google Drive and Dropbox. Others include MEGA, pCloud, MediaFire, and OneDrive.
IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS
Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) are three different models of cloud computing.
The most basic form, IaaS, provides the basic building blocks necessary for cloud services. These are the computing resources that are made available by servers. For example, disk space and bandwidth. IaaS providers give their customers cloud servers and a way to access these via a dashboard or API.
Familiarise yourself with the differences between IaaS, PaaS, and Saas – understanding of different cloud computing models will help you in your ventures as a webmaster.
PaaS is the next step up from IaaS. PaaS provides a platform that people use to develop and deploy software on. Users of PaaS will receive a full hosting environment complete with server software as well as the resources made available by the infrastructure. This is typically what you get from basic web hosting providers.
Finally, SaaS is fully-functioning and ready-to-go software. People are able to access SaaS directly from their web browsers. This is the form of cloud computing that most internet users will be familiar with. With SaaS, third-party services take care of everything from the server resources to the management and deployment of software.
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Understanding the Differences
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.
What is Private Cloud Storage?
Private cloud architecture resides inside an organization’s own data center. As a result, private clouds are dedicated to just one organization rather than serving multiple companies as public clouds do.
Private cloud computing is typically used by companies that need full control over their hosting environments. They want the added customizability of owning their own infrastructure. This is best for businesses that have unpredictable computing needs.
What is Public Cloud Computing?
Public cloud services take all of the management tasks off of your hands. People using this form of cloud computing aren’t responsible for any management of their hosting environment. Instead, the host provider’s data center is the host’s responsibility. They merely provide you with the resources and take care of everything else.
Private cloud storage can give organizations the most security for their data. This is because their resources aren’t shared with any other organizations.
On the other hand, a hybrid cloud model is a cloud computing environment that combines both public and private cloud services. So, what would this look like in an organization and why would businesses opt for this?
Companies can use private cloud storage to host sensitive data and public cloud solutions for less-critical resources. This works well for workloads that are highly dynamic. Meaning, work that is unpredictable and may sometimes require higher-security or various computing needs. For example, businesses may prefer the security of a private cloud environment, but enjoy the flexibility of adding resources from a public cloud solution when their resource requirements suddenly increase.
Want more info? See our chapter on cloud computing in our Ultimate Guide to Web Hosting.
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
- 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.
Cloud VPS Resources via WhoIsHostingThis
Cloud hosting and VPS hosting are very similar. Though, many people mistakenly think that the terms can be used interchangeably. In fact, there are some inherent differences between the two.
Cloud hosting, as we know, achieves its functionality by spreading resources across multiple shared machines. But, these resources are dedicated to you as if you own your own server.
On the other hand, a VPS provides you with your own partitioned server. This means you get your own portion of an actual server with your own allocated resources. So, it’s easy to see that in both cases, users’ resources are isolated so that they don’t impact other users on the same servers.
Cloud Hosting vs Dedicated Servers
Many hosting companies offer both VPS and cloud hosting options. Others only provide one or the other. A lot of companies also have dedicated servers that can provide higher control to users.
Dedicated servers differ from both cloud hosting and VPS hosting options. When you purchase a dedicated server, you are purchasing the use of this entire server. This differs from a VPS where you are simply allocated specific resources across multiple shared servers. The resources of dedicated servers are entirely isolated to one single hosting customer.
Dedicated Server Resources via WhoIsHostingThis
Dedicated servers are a popular choice for large operations, for obvious reasons.
As a result, it’s clear to see that dedicated servers result in the most control you can possibly have over a remote hosting environment. Since you own the entire server, you can configure your hosting environment however you want. Dedicated servers will also allow for the optimal levels of performance. And, since you’re the only one using the server, users can enjoy the highest levels of security.
In contrast, VPS and cloud hosting is a lot cheaper than dedicated servers. With VPS plans coming out on top as the most budget-friendly option for people who just need more power than shared hosting allows them.
How to Look for a Cloud Hosting Provider.
Most medium-sized businesses will benefit from cloud hosting. Cheap shared hosting plans will be sufficient to meet the demands of personal websites and small business ventures. Typically, businesses move to the cloud when they out-grow the hosting environments of shared web hosting.
When looking for a cloud hosting provider, you want to make sure of a couple things. First, you want to know about the company’s data centers and infrastructure:
- Do they use the super-fast power of SSD cloud hosting?
- Where are their servers located?
- Are these locations secured to your expectations?
You can often find answers to these questions on the websites of hosting companies.
Note: Though, sometimes companies won’t disclose any information about the locations of their servers or the details of their infrastructure. This usually means that they rent or own servers in another company’s data center rather than owning their own.
SSD drives are much faster than traditional hard drives. So, ideally, you would choose a hosting provider that uses SSD disks in the servers. SSD stands for solid state drive. This means that there are no moving parts on the hard drive. As a result, the speed of the server is not dependent on how fast the disk can rotate as is the case with traditional hard drives.
Traditional hard drives may be called SATA or SAS. So, when you’re looking at different hosts, watch out for these specifications. Typically, if a hosting provider has SSD-based hosting, they will advertise this quite openly because of the massive boost in speed you can receive from these.
You’ll also want to know what kind of security features are in place to protect your data. Since cloud hosting puts your data alongside other user’s data, the security risks are much higher than with dedicated servers. And, your information is distributed among multiple servers, unlike with shared hosting where it stays on just one server.
Security is much different than when running your business on a private cloud network. In-house server infrastructure means that your company can be sure that the servers are safe from outside threats.
With cloud hosting servers, you have to trust your cloud service provider to keep them secure. For this reason, you may be more comfortable hosting with a provider that owns their own datacenter. This means that they will have tight control over the security of the facility. And, they often list all of the security features they have in place such as 24/7 staffed facilities and security cameras monitoring.
As with any hosting plan, you’ll want to pay attention to the resources you’ll get as well. Some hosting companies will claim that you can get unlimited disk space and bandwidth with their cloud hosting plans. Bluehost is one such company that offers this. But beware, these resources are only unlimited under normal website use. Customers storing large files or using the hosting account for file transfer may exceed the use limits of the hosting plan.
Hostgator offer in-house comparison of their services, including Cloud Hosting.
This is why I like to see clearly-defined resource limits, such as on the cloud plans from HostGator. This way, you know the exact amount of disk space and bandwidth you have at your disposal. Cloud hosting allows you to scale up your resources easily when you experience visitor spikes or higher performance demands anyway.
User-Friendly Control Panel
When searching for a host, many people will want to consider the user-friendliness of the control panel. People using cloud hosting aren’t always developers. In fact, people who have a lot of technical knowledge tend to prefer VPS plans for higher control over their hosting environment.
As a result, it’s important that the control panel from the hosting provider is intuitive to use. Many hosts use a customized version of cPanel for this. You’ll need to use the control panel to view your resource usage and scale your allowances when you need more or less.
It’s important to be able to do this so your website can receive the power it needs. But also, so you aren’t paying for unused resources when you don’t need them.
When hosting in the cloud, it’s easy to find much higher uptime guarantees than for shared web hosting. This is because of the multiple mirrored copies of your data that are spread across various servers. If one server goes down, it’s unlikely that your website will experience downtime since the copies will keep it running.
Be sure to try and get some compensation, should there be downtime issues with your host. No harm in trying!
Make sure your hosting provider has an uptime guarantee to ensure that you can expect consistent uptime. Many will give you some kind of compensation if you experience significant downtime as well.
Free Cloud Hosting
There are a few companies that offer some form of free cloud hosting. These are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure. These three companies provide both PaaS and IaaS cloud computing models. Most hosting companies provide their customers with PaaS solutions.
AWS is one of the most popular hosting options for developers because they give their customers full control through an IaaS model. With AWS’s free tier, their users get a full 12 months to use their services.
Amazon Web Services Cloud Hosting has a free 12 month tier.
Google Cloud Platform also has a free tier. This lets developers build, test, and deploy applications. Their infrastructure is highly-scalable as cloud hosting should be. Their free trial is also available for 12 months or up until you’ve used a certain amount of credit.
Microsoft Azure is another popular option for free cloud hosting. They have both IaaS and PaaS models for their cloud computing services. This gives you options for managed and unmanaged services.
Though, businesses who want fully-managed cloud hosting will have to pay for a hosting plan. There are many great options out there to choose from. Some of the most common and familiar web hosts that offer managed cloud hosting are SiteGround, HostGator, Bluehost, and LiquidWeb. Hosts such as these will usually provide a money-back guarantee for at least 30 days. This is great because it lets you try out their services before committing fully.
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Pros and Cons of Cloud Hosting
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.
- 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
- Businesses don’t need to have an on-site hardware, reducing expenses
- Cloud hosting is extremely scalable, and companies only have to pay for the resources they want
- For organizations, employees can connect to the network from anywhere in the world using any device rather than being restricted to in-house machines
- Data-losses are reduced from having redundant copies and regular back-ups
- Third-parties can give you uptime guarantees.
- 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
- Third-party cloud services may have access to the data that is hosted on them
- Users won’t be able to access data if their internet goes down
- No physical control over the server or it’s security.
My Top 3 Options for Cloud Hosting
With so many choices for cloud hosting, it can be hard to know where to start. Thus, I’ve put together my three favorites. They are a good place to start and compare other hosting companies to.
Siteground uses SSD disks in their servers for ultra-fast loading speeds. Compared to LiquidWeb Hosting, their plans are more expensive for similar resources. But, SiteGround includes daily backups and a free CDN. You can also get simple, one-click installs of a huge variety of applications to add to your websites like WordPress, Magento, Drupal, and Joomla. Their datacenters are backed by high-end physical security features to ensure the safety of your hosted data.
LiquidWeb is one of our favorite options for their 100% uptime guarantee. They have both VPS and dedicated server options using cloud hosting. Though these are fully managed, you still get root access to the server. This is something that makes VPS cloud hosting different from regular cloud hosting. And, LiquidWeb’s cloud services include cPanel access so inexperienced users can instantly scale their resourced without technical knowledge.
For the cheapest cloud hosting available, HostGator is a great choice. Their cloud hosting plans are comparable in price to shared hosting, making them extremely affordable for small business and individuals. To keep prices low, they provide much fewer resources than both LiquidWeb and SiteGround. But this makes them perfect for cloud hosting of smaller projects.
Other features in Hosting Types
Cloud Frequently Asked Questions
- What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is a way of pooling computing resources together and treating a large group of computers as if they were a single computer.
A cloud computing environment might have hundred or thousands of individual computers networked together and then run one or many virtual machines on of that cluster of computers.
- What is “the cloud?”
The cloud (with a definite article, as if there were only one) is a marketing buzzword that is more or less meaningless.
Cloud computing is a way of dealing with massive amounts of computing resources, but there isn’t one “cloud” where all the cloud computing happens.
- Is the internet the cloud?
No. The internet is a bunch of individual machines that can communicate with each other, but they act independently.
A cloud is a bunch of machines that act as the foundation for one or more virtual machines.
- How much does cloud hosting cost?
When it comes to pricing, cloud hosting is something of a middle ground between the most expensive option, dedicated hosting, and the cheapest option, shared hosting. This often makes it a viable choice for small- or medium-sized businesses that need more resources than shared serving provides, but don’t necessarily have the budget for a dedicated server. The exact price of your cloud hosting will vary based on the company and the plan you choose, but typically, pricing for cloud hosting ranges from $5-$250 per month.
- Are there many clouds?
Yes. Lots of companies and individuals are engaging in some form of cloud computing.
- Can I have my own cloud?
Yes. OpenStack is a software application that allows you to build your own cloud. If you have a collection of networked computers, you could run OpenStack on them and create your own cloud.
- What do people mean when they say “The Cloud”?
Typically “The Cloud” refers to running applications that are not centralized. For example, Google Drive is a cloud application. Where is your data? In Google’s cloud, not on a specific server.
- Since it is decentralized, are cloud-based services bad?
No. Cloud computing allows computer resources to be more efficiently managed.
Files are no longer limited by the size of individual disk drives. Multiple computers can work together on a difficult computing problem. Bandwidth is available for unexpected traffic spikes.
Cloud computing isn’t always the best solution to a computing problem, but it is a very powerful tool that allows us to better utilize our computing resources.
- What are the benefits of cloud computing?
Cloud computing is inherently scalable. The virtual machine on which any specific application is running is drawing computer resources from a large pool of resources — far greater than that of any specific computer.
If activity spikes suddenly, more resources are readily available. If there is a growth trend, more computers can be added to make the cloud larger. This makes resource provisioning much more convenient.
Additionally, cloud computing can be more reliable because the failure of one piece of hardware doesn’t necessarily take down the whole cluster.
- What are the disadvantages of cloud computing?
There can be security issues, since each layer of abstraction between application users and actual hardware might be run by a different organization and there is no real guarantee that service providers at the lowest level won’t spy, steal data, or shut down.
There can also be problems related to the number of abstraction layers, which can slow down performance as compared with running apps on bare metal.
- Is there anything misleading about the name “cloud computing”?
As a metaphor, “cloud” is a problematic way of describing what is going on. A more accurate analogy might be “pooled resource computing.”
The nomenclature matters because it affects how people think about cloud infrastructure. People tend to think about it as some ethereal, nebulous entity in the distance which they can upload data to and play their music from, but that’s not actually what’s happening.
Instead, we are talking about millions of real, actual computers sitting in buildings in real locations.
That file you uploaded to Dropbox isn’t in the sky. It’s one or more disk drives in one or more datacenters somewhere.
These resources cost money, take up space, use energy. Imagining them as a cloud helps ignore this reality. That makes it easy to ignore concerns about security, privacy, legality, and environmental impact.
- What is cloud hosting?
This depends on the company and the specific plan. Usually, it means that the hosting company is pooling resources from a large number of servers, which it may or may not own, and then running a bunch of virtual machines on top of that cluster.
If you get a VPS account, your VPS is probably one of those virtual machines. Shared hosting plans are grouped together, running on one of those virtual machines.
- Are most web hosts using some type of cloud hosting architecture?
Yes. Even if they don’t advertise it as such, or they give it a different name (“grid” and “cluster” are both popular), cloud computing has become fairly standard for hosting companies because of the benefits of scaling and reliability.
Web hosting companies that specifically play up the idea of “cloud hosting” might be trying to highlight these benefits to you. Or they might just be using a popular buzzword.
It’s important to look past the headline and read what services are actually being provided by any hosting companies you are interested in.