To be available to their users, all websites need to be on a computer somewhere, connected to the internet and world wide web. You can either organise this yourself, or let a hosting provider do some or all of it for you. The degree to which the provider does this, is what differentiates the types of hosting you can buy.
Hosting, Your Way
Unlike with virtual/shared/reseller hosting your own cloud hosted virtual server should allow you to customise the hosting to suit your needs and provide you with an increase in isolation from other customers and what they get up to – but again, that can depend on your provider and if they oversell CPU/memory resources and how closely they monitor things.
It’s also where things can get more complicated in terms of support and help, read on for more.
Hassle or Hassle Free?
This is where things can become a hassle, broadly speaking there are two classes of management you can expect with a cloud server:
Un-managed – Bar installing the OS, it’s all up to you to install the software you need, keep up to date with security and fix any problems
Fully Managed – The provider will take care of everything for you with the caveat that “everything” differs between providers!
If you’re just moving on from virtual or reseller hosting then you’re probably going to want a fully managed solution unless you’re familiar with running your own servers – do you really want to be learning on the job with your live apps/sites?
Hosting as a holiday
Imagine for a moment that each type of web hosting is like holiday accommodation, a cloud server would be like having your own apartment. You’ve got your own room, your own kitchen and bathroom facilities (resources) and you can please yourself to a large extent. Don’t want to eat at a set time? Not a problem.
You’re still going to be sharing some things, you’re sharing the building and you’re sharing the pool (the server hardware) but you’ve generally got a lot more freedom and privacy to do what you want to do and customise your experience.
Is a cloud server right for my customers’ websites?
Unfortunately it’s not always as simple as, “I need 20GB of space and this server has 25GB so it’ll do“. There are a number of things you need to consider, here’s our top 5 things to consider when looking at different types of website hosting.
We’ve rated each of the areas out of 5 based on our own services to help you quickly compare the different types of hosting available. As there’s a lot of variation between providers you should always check any assumptions before signing up.
Ease of use
When it comes to hosting having your own server is a big step up from virtual hosting. If you’re opting for a cheaper un-managed solution you’ll need to know about managing servers, database software, firewalls, security updates etc.
If you’re opting for a managed solution then it can be as easy as using a shared/virtual hosting account if the service comes with a control panel. You’ll still need to check that the provider will support the software you need, often “Fully Managed” can just mean, “We’ll look after the bits we install as standard, but everything else is on you” – we should know, we’ve had to provide support services for customers with services at a “fully managed” server provider before now.
We’ve given this 2.5 as it can really be anything from 1 to 5 and we offer both un-managed and fully-managed options.
This is where a cloud server can start to really differ from shared hosting with much larger resource allocations (our cloud servers go up to 64GB RAM for example).
It’s important to remember though that some of those CPU/memory/disk resources will be taken up by the operating system and the various services running your sites/apps e.g. database server, email server, security software unlike with shared/virtual hosting where the provider will usually be covering that. So you 2 vCPU, 4GB RAM and 25GB disk might end up being more like 1 vCPU, 2.5GB RAM and 10GB disk by the time you’re done – or even less if you’re planning on running a control panel such as cPanel or Plesk.
This is probably the area where providers vary the most. Some will talk the good talk with lots of mentions of “fully managed” etc. whilst not walking-the-walk so it’s important that you check what your chosen provider will actually do:
Are they providing any support at all? (Managed vs. un-managed)
Are they providing support for the software you need to use? Or only software they originally installed for the service?
Are they proactive or reactive with issues?
Are they monitoring your sites/apps to make sure they are functioning?
Will they help diagnose slowdowns in your apps/sites?
Will they help you scale your sites/apps as your userbase grows?
Above all, it’s important not to make any assumptions when comparing providers, always check that you will get the support you need as providers vary enormously in their definitions of managed/fully managed services.
This is where having your own server can really start to come in to it’s own:
Need a different system/service configuration? No problem.
Need a specific piece of software to run your sites/apps? No problem.
Need to run jobs that take a couple of hours? No problem.
Of course the caveat again, is that if you want a truly fully managed service you’ll need to check with your provider if they’ll support what you want to do.
The only reason we’ve not given it 5/5 is that like with most provider you’re limited to a pre-selected choice of Operating System (although it’s always worth having a chat) and you’re limited to the maximum specification the provider offers on their platform – If you need 1TB RAM you’re unlikely to find that as a cloud server.
A cloud server will usually cost more than a virtual hosting account for the same amount of resources, although it varies between providers and of the level of support provided and how much more dedicated to you the resources are. Another thing to bear in mind is the cost of any extra software e.g. control panel, enterprise software, security software etc. which can quickly take the cost way in excess of what a virtual hosting account will cost per month.
Potential downsides and issues
A key part of our ethos is honesty and integrity, and that means we need to point out some potential downsides to cloud servers. That’s not to say they will be a problem for you and your customers, just that they could be depending on circumstances.
If your app(s) need to make use of virtualisation themselves to run, you can run in to problems running this inside a cloud/virtual server as it is already making use of virtualisation itself (it is an instance of a virtual machine).
If you do need to run nested virtualisation then please book a chat with our team and we can run tests for your specific needs.
Sudden traffic increase
Depending on the resources of your cloud server this could be a problem or it might cope, it really depends on just how popular your website has gotten.
Fortunately there are some cost effective ways to deal with this if you’re worried this might happen to your website, often working out cheaper than moving to a dedicated server (which might not solve the problem either).
If another customer gets a sudden increase in visitors on their own cloud server then you don’t need to worry though no single customer can monopolise all the resources of a physical server and leave you and your customers with nothing, at least not with most providers.
More affordable even than your own dedicated server
Often comes with automatic failover if the underlying server fails
Much more customisable than virtual hosting
Your own IP address
Often limited resources compared to dedicated servers
Limited hardware options compared to your own server
May need to manage the server yourself or pay to have some manage it
Cloud servers can be a great way to start out if you need a specific environment for your apps/sites to run in, or you just require more isolation from other customers. For most businesses needing to host a website though we’d not recommend it, a high resource virtual hosting package is usually much more suitable. If you’re anticipating that you might be creating websites that will be very busy or are resource intensive then you might be better with your own dedicated server, or even giving each customer their own virtual hosting account.