The late Steve Jobs once said, “I don’t need a hard disk in my computer if I can get to the server faster.” The year was 1997, the internet itself was still in its infancy, and there was the Apple Co-Founder and longtime visionary talking about our future in something called the cloud.
That term and this idea of storing and hosting data on a connected network of virtual machines rather than hard disks has grown in popularity since, just as he predicted: “Carrying around these non-connected computers is byzantine by comparison.” Here, we cover all the questions one could possibly have about the concept of cloud server hosting — from the cloud infrastructure to the cost and features to look for and beyond.
So, first: What is a cloud server, and how does it differ from your run-of-the-mill physical servers?
Cloud servers are just virtual machines that run on what’s called a cloud computing environment. Rather than having a lone physical server, which is susceptible to hardware failure, cloud-hosted servers communicate over a network of connected servers — they’re all online, but none of your data is stored on a single hard drive.
Instead, your data is replicated and distributed across the network. In the event that a server or other piece of equipment fails, other devices are ready to fill in the gap and shoulder the workload. Cloud-based servers are software-independent, making them a highly available alternative to on-premise servers, especially if you’re in need of resources on demand.
Advantages of Cloud Hosting
The cloud is known for giving us the ability to send, store, and retrieve data in massive quantities, from anywhere in the world, at any given point in time. As such, there are several benefits of cloud hosting, but like anything else, those perks come at a cost.
- On-Demand Resources: With cloud servers, you’re free to request resources on the fly and, typically, pay for them by the hour.
- High Availability: Unlike physical, on-premise servers, virtualized cloud environments will transfer data to another machine without any downtime in the event of a hardware failure. The stability of cloud servers is second to none in the hosting realm.
- Scale: With more resources and faster access to them, cloud hosts offer incredible scaling potential to customers. This is why these types of servers are used for other cloud-based services, collectively known as cloud computing.
Disadvantages of Cloud Hosting
Now, for the downsides: Most of these disadvantages, to be fair, can be offset by the strategic use of public and private cloud environments, or by choosing a top-notch host that alleviates these concerns.
- Cost: The price point for this level of stability and scale tends to be a little higher than, say, VPS options. However, you get what you pay for in terms of resources and reliability.
- Security: It’s hard to ever feel like your private data is actually kept private because you’re sharing cloud space with other cloud customers. This concern is mitigated, slightly, if you opt for single-tenant cloud hosting rather than a multi-tenant cloud server.
- Infrastructure Management: Cloud servers can be technically demanding to maintain; you also have to be on your game to ensure you’re not running up unnecessary costs due to the pay-by-the-hour perk mentioned above.
Management can be a pain, but for those in need of on-demand resources — only when you need them and always where you are — cloud hosting can be a solution with an awesome cost-to-stability ratio.
It’s important to realize that there are several cloud-based services out there apart from web hosting services. Backing up your files online (e.g., Dropbox, Google Cloud, etc.), web applications, and other as-a-Service offerings (SaaS, Paas, IaaS) make up what we call cloud computing. In short, cloud computing just means a bunch of computers are sharing processing power and data with multiple devices.
Cloud service providers are not necessarily the same as your cloud hosts, like the folks listed on this page. This can seem convoluted at first because those computing jobs are done on cloud server networks, but think of it this way: You can sign up for many various Internet-based resources and not have a website hosted on a server in the cloud. Just because you need cloud-based storage, for example, doesn’t mean you are shopping for cloud hosting. Get it?
Cloud computing providers might offer any or many of the following:
- Backup-as-a-Service (online file storage, backup and restore, synchronization)
- Software-as-a-Service (Microsoft 365, Google Apps, or any webmail service)
- Platform-as-a-Service (Google App Engine, Heroku, or web servers like Apache)
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Amazon EC2, Google Compute Engine, Rackspace, Windows Azure)
There are plenty other specific examples of services, but the ones listed above are some of the more well-known representations of the as-a-Service models of cloud computing. Much like the web hosting end of things, the benefits of cloud computing include fast access to tons of data whenever, wherever.
Yes — much like web hosting services can be broken down into shared, vps, and dedicated options, the cloud is divided into public and private. Here, we’ll also get into what’s called hybrid hosting and how cloud hosting fits in with its commonly confused sidekick, VPS hosting.
Private vs. Public Cloud
The main difference between the public and private cloud sectors is the latter means the hardware, storage, and network are all allotted to a single tenant — one client or company. In contrast, a multi-tenant environment, or the public cloud, means that you can buy a slice of a cloud computing environment and share space with other customers.
The Google Cloud platform, Amazon EC2, and Rackspace are all examples of public clouds — and the perks include pay-as-you-go pricing, getting to set up and manage your own servers, and no contracts. Private clouds, on the other hand, offer the advantages of PCI/HIPAA compliance, high-level security, and hardware customization. You can also breed hybrid deployments via the private cloud, which can’t be done in the public cloud.
Put simply, hybrid hosting is using a mix of public and private hosting environments — ideal for those who want to harness the security of the private cloud while capitalizing on the economical benefits of public cloud resources.
For more on this, check out our guide to getting started with hybrid hosting.
Comparing a virtual private server, or VPS, to the cloud can get a little tricky. Both platforms involve virtualized computing resources and a great degree of scalability and customization. However, a VPS resides on a single physical server, while the cloud has the backing of an entire network.
That said, however, many hosts choose to add extra redundancy and computing power to its VPS plans by introducing user-friendly elements of the cloud. A VPS can be in the cloud, but not all cloud servers are naturally a VPS. To see the top VPS hosting plans, including many leading cloud VPS options, check out our VPS reviews.
The best cloud hosting providers are going to help you capitalize on all the advantages of cloud hosting — instant provisioning; scalable, on-demand resources; and flexible hardware options — all for a reasonable cost.
Some of the top features we look for in determining the best hosting services for cloud customers:
- Instant provisioning/deployment
- A hefty amount of RAM
- Easy control with cPanel, root access, and SSH logins
- Performance boosters like SSD speed
- Managed cloud hosting options
When it comes to premiere customer support, SSD speed boosting, and managed servers, InMotion Hosting is particularly great at all of the above.
Depending on the computing resources and configurations, cloud hosting can resemble a shared hosting plan or practically even a dedicated server. As such, you can pay anywhere from $5 to more than $50 a month on a reputable cloud hosting environment.
Cheap Cloud Servers
Let’s review: With hosts like HostGator or Hostwinds, you’re getting immediate provisioning and deployment of super scalable cloud resources, a bunch of processing power, and industry-leading expert support in the pricing ballpark of $5 a month. This is as cheap (and as good of a value) as cheap cloud hosting gets. You definitely get your money’s worth.
Free Cloud Servers
Yes, free cloud hosting is a thing, but it mostly comes in the form of a free trial. You have to sign up with a credit card, you get a taste of the awesome resources for 60 days or so, and then you have to pay for anything you use thereafter. Word to the wise: Anything that seems to be too good to be true probably is. Don’t trust free hosting of any kind.
“I can’t communicate to you how awesome this is unless you use it.”
Our final words from Steve Jobs, and truer words could not have been said of cloud platforms. For those whose businesses need highly available, on-demand cloud computing power, those who can’t afford hardware failure, and those who like the idea of paying for a service by the hour, the cloud is awesome. What’s more, the top cloud hosts can have you launched and live in minutes — may the force of the cloud be with you.