Cloud hosting is in many ways a new offering in the web hosting industry. While cloud computing technology has been around for a number of years now, only recently has the technology developed to the point where it is affordable, easy to setup and deploy, and popular enough to make those companies that don’t offer it less competitive than those that do.
So just what, exactly, is cloud hosting? Before we can answer that question, we first need to know what cloud computing in general is.
At its most basic, cloud computing is a service provided over the internet for the accomplishing of certain computing tasks. That is to say, rather than performing that task using your own software and hardware, whether at home or at work, you utilize the software or hardware of some company or organization that provides it to you as a service, somewhat like a utility. To take a simple example, suppose you decide to write and store a document using Google Docs, rather than Microsoft Word. In such a case, you would be doing your word processing “in the cloud,” since you’re using a browser to connect to a service that provides computing resources to you over the internet. Authoring a document in Microsoft Word, on the other hand, is done locally on your own computer.
“The cloud” is, in many ways, just a buzzphrase for the internet itself. But the cloud services out there can be much more complex than word processing. At the other end of the spectrum, a company might provide an underlying infrastructure of networked servers that allow you to easily create what are called virtual machines — basically an emulation of computer hardware — that you can access through a web interface. You might install an operating system and other software on those virtual machines in order to develop the latest phone app or to house databases that your company uses. Or you might set up a web server and start hosting websites.
What the cloud effectively provides is affordable, simple access to computer resources over the internet. Rather than spending thousands of dollars buying or building servers that you then have to not only place somewhere but also pay the costs of electricity for, you can instead use a cloud computing service to easily create virtualizations, or simulations, of that same hardware and use it like normal.
Because cloud computing services are a lot like utilities, you often don’t pay a fixed monthly price but rather pay according to what you’ve used. That can be anything from the amount of bandwidth to a number of CPU resources, to the number of virtual machines you’ve got running.
Cloud hosting tends to follow a general model. While all hosting plans provide a service that you use via the internet, and so are in a sense also “in the cloud,” what makes cloud hosting unique is that the servers are invariably virtual, in the way described above, and the service itself often goes by a pay-as-you-use-it model. With other hosting plans, your data is generally located on a single physical server that has a limited amount of physical resources installed. If you need more resources, you typically need to upgrade to another plan. But with virtual servers, those resources are also virtualized and can be quickly scaled up or down, often by the customer herself. If you need more hard drive space, or more bandwidth, or more RAM, you simply change the numbers.
Cloud hosting does have a potential drawback that customers ought to be aware of. With regular hosting, you’re often allotted a certain amount of resources, which is typically very large, and you pay a fixed price for those resources whether you use them all or not. Most people’s resource usage is nowhere close to the limit, and it could be more cost-effective to move over to cloud hosting. But some customers, especially those with heavily trafficked sites, could end up paying more by switching to cloud hosting. Of course, switching over may give a performance boost to websites, since you can increase or decrease a number of resources dedicated to your site at will.
Be sure to check out our web hosting reviews to help you decide which option is the best for you.