[This article is written by Roko Nastic, writer and editor at Webmaster Format.]
Web hosting in the cloud. The term itself just sounds cool. But what’s the meat of the matter? When you examine the advantages offered by cloud hosting against its drawbacks, does the equation favor cloud web hosting, or are most websites served just as well by virtual private servers or even shared hosting?
First, a bit about cloud web hosting. Beyond the hype, what is cloud hosting? Imagine having access to all the processing power and bandwidth you require on demand, with your only limitations being the speed of your connection to the cloud and its available processing power. Combine that with metered billing so that you’re only charged for the resources you use, and you have a decent picture of what cloud hosting can do for your website. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? In many ways, it is, but there are a few drawbacks that make it unsuitable for certain environments. First, let’s look at its many benefits:
- Pay as You Go: Many people compare the most common cloud hosting billing structure to an electric meter, meaning you’re only billed for the resources you use, which has huge potential benefits. Sites that receive highly variable traffic do not need to pay for a dedicated server and increased bandwidth, which, though it will be able to handle their peak load, will be under-utilized the remainder of the time. With cloud hosting, once the high-traffic period has ended, the meter will drop accordingly, billing you for only the traffic you experience. Additionally, if your site is growing continuously, you won’t need to purchase dedicated hardware or greater bandwidth; the cloud will accommodate your needs.
- Constant Availability: If one server goes down, the cloud can compensate, allowing for much greater redundancy than would be possible for a reasonable price. For a small to medium-sized business to achieve this type of redundancy, they’d need to purchase multiple dedicated servers, an expensive proposition to be sure.
- The Right Technology for the Job: In the cloud, you can use PHP side by side with ASP with no conflicts. The resources for each of these languages will be pulled from the cloud without any additional work on your part.
The above benefits are compelling. In short, cloud hosting is inexpensive, always-on and powerful. So what’s not to like? There are a few things that the cloud does not allow you to do that might be enough to dissuade certain businesses from viewing cloud hosting as a viable option, at least until the problems are ironed out:
- Security: Companies dealing with sensitive information or who are particularly security conscious won’t like the fact that they don’t have direct control over their data once it enters the cloud. Theoretically, it could be pulled from the cloud at any point by any of the cloud users. There are safeguards to prevent this, and it’s more than likely illegal, but many times this isn’t enough for certain companies.
- Availability: Yes, this was listed among the benefits, but there’s one important caveat to the always-on nature of the cloud. If your connection to the cloud fails, you’ll be out of luck. You’ll lose most of your processing power then and there, and if there are other users on your cloud host using the same server, it will likely come to a screeching halt. However, cloud hosts have multiple redundant connections to the cloud, so the chances of this happening outside of some terrible catastrophe are negligible. Slightly more likely is the chance that a connection between the cloud servers themselves will fail, disabling part of the cloud, but when we say slightly more likely, we mean infinitesimally.
- No Root Access: As one of many cloud users, you don’t have root access to the cloud. This means you have less control of your applications and data than you would with a virtual or dedicated server.
All in all, cloud hosting is just what the doctor ordered for most businesses looking to provide high performance while keeping costs down. However, its security vulnerabilities and lack of root access make it less desirable for highly secure operations. This technology as used in web hosting is still relatively new, and there are sure to be improvements made to these areas in the near future. For now, though, cloud hosting seems like a win-win for most businesses, but those particularly concerned with keeping their data secure may wish to wait until the technology matures.