Cloud Hosting Explained in Plain English

cloud hosting explained

Cloud hosting is the new new thing in web hosting, giving rise to an entirely new set of specialty cloud hosting providers. The key concept behind cloud hosting is simple: all the different resources you need to maintain and run your website are distributed across multiple web servers, hence the ‘cloud’.

The purpose of this article is to explain all the ins and outs of cloud hosting in plain english. Our hope is that this knowledge will help you assess if cloud hosting is a good option for your website.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cloud hosting. We’ll explain what it is, how it works, how it compares to regular web hosting, and much more…

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What Is Cloud Hosting?

Cloud hosting involves a network of servers (possibly hundreds) joined together to act as one ‘mega server’. Compared to traditional hosting options, cloud hosting has some distinct benefits that make it an attractive option for many websites, particularly when reliability and scalability is of paramount importance.

Cloud hosting enables you to handle large volumes of unexpected traffic because you are not relying on a single server, but rather a network (or ‘cloud’) of servers. If one server malfunctions, your data will be backed up by other servers in the cloud network and your users will experience no downtime. The ability to scale quickly and inherent redundancy are the key benefits of cloud hosting.

With cloud hosting platforms you can monitor your usage and seemlessly scale when you need more storage space, bandwidth or processing power. Alternatively, during times when you’re facing low volumes of traffic, it allows you to scale back your plan allowing you to reduce hosting costs.

cloud hosting server farm

Cloud hosting gives you access to a stable, and adaptable solution to run your business so you don’t have to worry about scalability or other issues that come with operating your own servers.

How Does Cloud Hosting Work?

The simplest way to understand how cloud hosting works is to imagine it as hundreds of servers joined together, providing access to a huge pool of computing resources. This way, multiple computers are able to work together to handle large volumes of traffic or traffic spikes for each website hosted in the cloud network.

Generally speaking, companies that opt for cloud hosting don’t own any of the servers. In fact, they may not even know what sort of hardware their website(s) are hosted on or where the server is located. And that is kind of the point…users of cloud hosting services don’t have to understand how to set up and maintain a complex and scalable hosting infrastructure because that is all handled by the cloud hosting company.

How Is Cloud Hosting Different to Regular Web Hosting?

The principal difference between regular web hosting and cloud hosting is in the way the infrastructure is organized…

You probably already know that any regular shared or VPS hosting provider will host several websites (sometimes 100’s) on a single server. This means your website will have to share the resources (such as processing power and storage space) with other websites on the same physical server. This places obvious limitations to the performance of any one site.

Cloud hosting, on the other hand, utilizes many servers instead of a single server so that there is technically no limit to performance. If any site on the cloud experiences unexpected traffic spikes, the cloud as a whole is able to handle the increase in demand without impacting the other sites. Since cloud hosting is more robust and dynamic compared to regular web hosting, it gives you better overall performance and is inherently more scalable than regular web hosting services. This cloud approach also makes it relatively easy to scale up or scale back as required because no physical provisioning is required you simple allocate more or less resources to your account as required.

For the purposes of billing, your cloud hosting account will define the resources you have access to for the agreed price but when you need more (to handle that big Christmas campaign for example) this can be switched on instantly without the need to physically move to a bigger server…you just make more of the cloud resources available.

What Is Managed Cloud Hosting?

Managed cloud hosting is very much what it sounds like, a cloud hosting environment where much of the configuration and optimization is managed for you by the provider, leaving you to concentrate on your application or website and not the minutiae of infrastructure management.

For a managed cloud hosting service the provider will generally take care of the following:

  • High Availability. Managed cloud hosting is built on a high performing and private cloud infrastructure. It utilizes redundancy through its several servers, storage protection, and storage area network to deliver dependable failure protection.
  • Automated resource balancing. In case a server fails, cloud servers are able to quickly balance website loads between hardware servers which also automatically take backups. This is typically managed at the virtualization level and can also manage and update software and hardware.
  • Security Management. Protected firewalls and intrusion detection systems, virtual local area networks (VLAN), and intrusion prevention systems are used by managed cloud servers to offer a high-end security environment.
  • Hybridization of virtual and physical servers. Apps and database systems are able to share a dedicated network with cloud servers which creates physical and virtual systems on a single system.

As you might expect, managed cloud hosting is more expensive than unmanaged hosting as you are paying for more comprehensive support from the hosting company.

The term ‘managed cloud hosting’ is sometimes also used to refer to the managed hosting of a specific application such as WordPress or some other content or commerce application in the cloud. In such cases the provider does a fully managed installation of the application on their cloud infrastructure which is specially tuned to run that particular application at the best possible performance. In this way you know you have the best possible hosting set up for high performance of that particular application. This type of managed cloud hosting provider often also add application specific services as well such as:

  • Managed backups
  • Application specific security optimizations
  • Managed content distribution networks (CDN)
  • Managed application caching and application specific performance optimizations

Great examples of this are the popular managed WordPress hosting companies.

What Is Private Cloud Hosting?

There are three main types of cloud hosting: public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud.

A public cloud is what you would use to host your website. It is built on a standard cloud computing model which handles files, apps, disk storage, and services made available to the general public through the web.

A private cloud, on the other hand, handles files, apps, storage space, and services that are present behind a safe corporate firewall that is controlled by a corporate IT manager or the IT department. You might use a private cloud to maintain your corporate intranet for example, with access limited to employees who can access it using a secure VPN connection.

A hybrid cloud is a mix of the two (private and public) that stay distinct but still work together allowing you to make use of a multiple deployment model.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Cloud Hosting?

Here, we’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using cloud hosting:

Pros

  • Performance. Cloud hosting gives you better overall performance as compared to regular web hosting as it uses many servers to deliver the computing power and storage space your site needs. Its huge pool of computing resources allows you to tap into more resources, as necessary.
  • Uptime and consistent availability. Cloud hosting is built to be “self-troubleshooting”. It utilizes several servers which are joined together to automatically take over in case one or more servers face issues. In other words, your site’s visitors won’t experience any downtime even if the server your website is hosted on fails.
  • Scalability. Cloud hosting allows you to be more flexible with your tech resources. Cloud hosting companies go to great lengths to make sure that you can easily scale your site’s processing power and disk space as you go. This makes cloud hosting a great option for growing businesses.
  • Disaster recovery. Disaster recovery is simple and easy with cloud hosting as they’re designed to automatically take regular data backups. Having several versions of your data eliminates the possibility of you losing your data.

Cons

  • Cost. Price may be the only major drawback of cloud hosting and the main reason why some website owners opt not to move to cloud hosting. Compared to traditional web hosting solutions cloud hosting is relatively expensive option, though costs can be managed if you are able to effectively track resource usage and adjust on the basis of your seasonal requirements. We should also say that it is generally cheaper than buying and managing your own private server hardware.
  • Security. As with any web infrastructure the security threats associated with it are very real. The threat of data breaches and hacking attempts is ever-present. Most public cloud hosting services won’t be able to guarantee protection, particularly those that host all kinds of websites. While security isn’t a con unique to cloud hosting we feel we must mention it because it is potentially more complex to secure un-managed cloud infrastructure, particularly if you are not experienced with cloud operations. This might be a good reason to look for a managed cloud solution. where the provider will ensure the security of your hosting platform.

Is Cloud Hosting More Scalable Than Regular Web Hosting?

Yes, cloud hosting is more readily scalable than traditional web hosting. Easy scaling is one of the main benefits of the cloud.

With traditional web hosting, particularly shared hosting, hosting servers are allocated a fixed amount of computing resources. All of the websites that are hosted on the same server use those resources.

If, however, you need to increase your processing power or storage space, you’ll have to upgrade to a more powerful server. Traditional web hosting companies offer limited computing resources and disk space, and once you consume your allocated resources, you’ll either end up with lower performance or having to pay a higher fee for a different hosting plan. And it isn’t just the $$ cost of moving to a more powerful plan, the extra cost can be counted in the time and hassle of having to make that move.

On the other hand, cloud hosting allows you to more easily scale your plan based on your specific needs. You’ll get access to multiple servers in the same cloud network enabling you to easily make use of the computer resources and storage space you need, when you need it. Some cloud hosting providers also let you track your usage and automatically scale resources through an intuitive management portal.

Is Cloud Hosting More Expensive Than Regular Hosting?

Yes, cloud hosting is generally a more expensive that regular hosting, though it can be difficult to compare because of different pricing models.

The pricing plans on offer with regular web hosting providers versus those on offer with cloud hosting providers vary considerably. Dedicated server or shared hosting is usually charged on a month to month (or per year) basis, while cloud hosting is often available on a pay-as-you-go model for the resources you use.

While it is difficult to directly compare flat fee shared plans with pay-as-you-go cloud plans, we can say that generally cloud hosting will work out a little more expensive.

One way to consider the difference in cost between traditional and cloud hosting is to see it as a trade off between price and scalability. If easy and quick scalability, and built in redundancy, is important to you then the additional cost is worth the flexibility.

How Much Does Cloud Hosting Cost?

Cloud hosting costs vary considerably. You can find a “free” or extremely cheap tier on some platforms such as the Google Cloud, and for very small sites with little traffic this could even mean pennies per month. But for most websites you will be paying $20-80/mth, while the largest sites with loads of traffic can expect to pay $100s or $1000s per month.

Getting a high-end private server environment used to cost a fortune. For this reason, it wasn’t a viable option for businesses that occasionally needed access to additional server resources – such as during the holiday sale season. With cloud hosting, it’s much more accessible and affordable to get access to higher level processing power and disk space.

Cloud hosting enables websites owners to stay flexible with their budget and site resources. With cloud hosting, you only pay for what you use. You can sign up for a standard level pricing plan while, at the same time, have the ability to scale these resources as your website continues to grow.

This is achieved via close resource usage tracking. You can track and allocate additional computing power and storage space to your website by using an intuitive resource management portal. This will also allow you to view your website’s usage whenever you want while being able to keep a close eye on your billing.

The Best Cloud Hosting Providers

The best cloud hosting is the one that most reliably delivers on your technical requirements at the most cost effective price. Price is usually not the most important factor when selecting the best cloud hosting provider for your needs, usually it is a matter of technical specifications and reliability. Price is usually a secondary consideration after this.

The following cloud hosting providers are the 6 best in our opinion. They are certainly the best known and all have a great reputation for reliable and consistent service. In no particular order…

Digital Ocean

Digital Ocean enables you to launch your website in the cloud and easily scale up resources as your needs change. It gives you access to an intuitive control panel and team accounts.

The platform is designed for developers and enables them to focus on building websites and apps without having to worry about fixing server glitches. Digital Ocean has 12 data centers around the world and boasts a reliable uptime of 99.9%.

AWS

AWS is one of the most popular cloud hosting platforms that offers over 165 fully featured services including over 40 services that you can’t get anywhere else. AWS is an ideal option for enterprise users.

It has been delivering cloud services for over 12 years to millions of customers around the world. AWS serves its customers through more than 165 data centers located worldwide and 69 Availability Zones within 22 different regions.

Google Cloud

Google Cloud gives you access to its high-level environment and dynamic set of solutions to help you create, operate, and grow your websites.

It lets you migrate and manage workflows and data easily via Google’s worldwide, secure, and dependable infrastructure. You’ll be able to build and run apps using open source and other software with no operations staff. Google Cloud gives you access to powerful insights from data using analytics and machine learning.

Google Cloud offers industry solutions for government, healthcare, retail, media, energy, and finance. Many big name brands use Google Cloud to run their operations including Target, Johnson & Johnson, Deloitte, and The Home Depot.

Vultr

Vultr allows you to easily implement cloud servers anywhere. It gives you the ability to cloud compute with Intel CPUs and 100% SSD storage.

With 16 locations worldwide, it offers both basic cloud hosting and dedicated cloud hosting services. Its user friendly control panel allows you to focus more time on coding and less time on solving server glitches. You’ll be able to choose from several pre-installed apps and systems to quickly setup your own site. In addition to this, Vultr uses effective security measures and has a 24/7 tech support staff to cater to its customers needs.

Linode

Linode allows you to get your server up and running in no time. You can implement a virtual Linux server within seconds via the Linode Cloud. You’ll also be able to select your resources, Linux distro, and node location using its simple and intuitive control panel.

With 10 data centers across three regions, Linode allows you to easily scale your resources to meet traffic needs within seconds. It can be achieved by simply logging in, clicking, and allowing the system to handle the rest. In addition to this, its supported distributions let you quickly deploy Debian, Fedora, Arch, Ubuntu, Gentoo, openSUSE, CentOS, and Slackware images or run your own custom distro.

Cloudways

Cloud hosting gives you access to managed hosting recipes to help simplify your workflow and workload, allowing you to focus on your core business activities.

Servers launched on Cloudways get dedicated computing and storage resources enabling you to maximize server and site performance. Its high-speed SSD drives give you access to improved performance and lower page load times for your websites.

Cloudways lets you increase your server disk space whenever you need to. In a few clicks, you’ll be able to scale your resources without changing other server metrics. It lets you effortlessly scale your servers with one-click hosting feature that scales resources without messing up your customization.

It’s important to keep in mind that Cloudways isn’t a host itself rather a cloud hosting management platform which allows users to host their websites with popular cloud hosting companies (including the five listed above).

Who Should Use Cloud Hosting?

Cloud hosting is ideal for websites or applications that get large volumes of traffic, regularly experience traffic spikes or for whom uptime and availability is paramount. It’s an ideal solution for busy sites that can fully make use of the benefits of unlimited disk space and high availability.

As an enterprise solution, cloud server hosting enables businesses to focus on their core business activities instead of worrying about dealing with server failovers and downtime.

Cloud hosting may not be the ideal option for new websites that expect to attract fewer visitors or experience steady traffic within their shared, dedicated, or VPS hosting plans. However, websites that expect to bring in huge volumes of traffic, such as e-commerce sites, SaaS tools, or online newspapers and magazines, should consider opting for a cloud hosting solution.

New website owners can take advantage of the flexibility and scalability that comes with cloud hosting as they’ll only have to pay for the resources that they need. They can choose to start out with a basic plan and upgrade whenever they need more resources. Similarly, e-commerce site owners can scale their pool of computing resources whenever the holiday sales season is around the corner.

Conclusion

Cloud hosting can help you host your websites and applications in a secure and reliable way. It’s a great option for websites that get unexpected traffic spikes, growing businesses, and high-growth enterprise users.

Do you have any questions about cloud hosting? We’re here to help so let us know in the comments section below.

Charles has been building and promoting websites and services in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and China for nearly 20 years.

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