Few technology terms have as much hype surrounding them as “the cloud”. Companies from Microsoft to Amazon and IBM to Cisco are trying to sell individuals, SMBs and Enterprise businesses on their idea of the cloud, often without defining exactly what that means. If you’re looking to make the move away from shared server hosting, it’s worth a crash-course in Cloud 101.
The first step in comprehending why a move to cloud options may be beneficial is understanding how it differs from two other common types of hosting – shared and VPS.
Shared hosting is just that – the data for your Web site is stored on a physical server with the data from many other Web sites and companies. You alone have access to your data with a password, and your data believes that it is the only data on the server, as it can’t “see” any others. This type of hosting is great for a small business with a static Web page and low traffic, as all companies using the server share the same resource pool. If too much incoming traffic all arrives at once, the server can bottleneck.
Virtual private servers or “VPSs” are often considered a step up from shared hosting, and are often used by companies that need more space and more bandwidth, and rely on the concept of virtualization. Your company will be assigned a “virtual machine” space on a physical server, with hard memory and storage limits. You will be able to choose, in many cases, the type of OS you wish to run, and the system will perform as though independent of other machines that exist, though I/O and basic hardware limitations can still prove problematic.
Cloud hosting is the last step in the chain. It can be compared in many ways to both shared and VPS hosting, but with significant differences in scalability and agility. Like a shared hosting solution, your data will be stored with that of others, but on many virtual machines instead of one – the ubiquitous “cloud”.Like a VPS, your data will be private and you will see far fewer data bottlenecks. Unlike VPS or shared hosting options, one of the main benefits to the cloud is that the spreading of data across many servers means that failure from a single point is almost impossible.
Of course, the cloud is not quite so simple, and options exist within it for different types of hosting, the most popular being public and private clouds. A public cloud is just that – one that anyone can access and store information on, and companies like Amazon, Google and Salesforce are running these types of clouds. Public clouds can offer easy set up, and often come with pay-as-you go options.
A private cloud offers the same benefits as a public one, but without having to share data space with other companies. This can often lead to a perception of increased security, but can result in a higher overall cost as companies will often have to provide hardware and pay for personnel to monitor their cloud. Companies like IBM, HP and VMware are currently offering private clouds.
Once you’ve decided to move to a cloud, you can also choose what you want your cloud hosting to look like – with options like SaaS, PaaS and IaaS.
SaaS, or software as a service, gives companies the ability to streamline their software use by taking away the need for a physical, local, copy of the software. One giant on this side of the industry is Salesforce and their CRM software for businesses.
Platform as a service, or PaaS options, are ways to get the framework of the cloud as service, and include things like Windows Azure, which let you build software and apps in the cloud.
Infrastructure as a service represents the hardware of the cloud. Amazon and their EC2 cloud is one example of an IaaS provider, which lets companies put everything they want or need into the cloud, and leave nothing to the physical if they so desire.
While cloud hosting is gaining ground, it’s the confusion in the industry about terms, security issues surrounding cloud access, and problems like I/O bottlenecks at a disk level that are preventing widespread adoption. If you do choose a move to the cloud, make sure you know what you’re getting, why it’s better than what you currently have, and what it will do for you.