Today there are many web hosting models with different performance levels and cost structures, but they break down fundamentally in to two sectors. These are dedicated hosting and cloud dedicated hosting, so let’s look at these in some detail.
First we will look at dedicated hosting, the traditional hosting model, and its perceived benefits. We will then look at cloud hosting including public and private clouds. Finally we will indicate some choices that should help you decide which solution is right for you.
Dedicated hosting is the tried and tested traditional model. It involves leasing a server or a number of servers for entirely your own use. The main differences between dedicated hosting and on-premise servers is that with the former you don’t need to make capital investments and you are freed from sever maintenance and management overheads; otherwise you have complete control over the servers.
A particular advantage of dedicated hosting is that there is a performance advantage especially for some applications such as running a large database.
If you don’t need the full capacity of a server, then it is possible to lease a virtual private server (VPS). Here you lease a single partition of a shared server and, although the server is shared amongst other organisations, you have entire control over your partition. At Creode, we typically use VPS servers for small to medium sized Drupal sites.
Typically dedicated hosting is used for higher level E-Commerce sites, like the ones we develop in Magento. In some circumstances we may split files servers and database servers whilst also using the Amazon Cloud to take some of the load. Oh, ‘The Cloud’ you say…
The Gathering Cloud
Over recent years cloud computing has become increasingly important for organisations and businesses of all sizes. Today over half of European and US businesses use some form of cloud computing. While the main drivers have so far been SaaS (software as a service), in particular hosted email, current indications are that the most important drivers that will emerge over the next year or so are IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service); cloud hosting has elements of both of these models.
With cloud hosting you don’t lease an individual server; you lease a specified amount of resource and bandwidth. Although there is very little difference in user experience between cloud and dedicated hosting, from the service provider’s viewpoint cloud hosting works very differently.
Rather than being dedicated to a client, each server is dedicated to a task. The infrastructure includes massive redundancy so that should one server fail another is able to take over that task seamlessly. Consequently clients’ websites are distributed over numerous servers, and possibly over different regions and countries.
The Public Cloud
The model described above is essentially a public cloud, in which each server will handle data from multiple clients. A particular advantage is that it is readily scalable and with some cost models you simply pay for what you use.
However, although one might like to think of the cloud as an infinitely scalable resource, in reality that isn’t the case. As any individual client is sharing the cloud’s resources with many other clients, should the demand on any particular client’s website increase, then the other websites sharing that resource could suffer accordingly. For instance a DNS attack on one website could have an impact on others in the same cloud. While providers are able to provide safeguards against this happening, cloud failure is a theoretical possibility.
Another perceived fallibility in public clouds is data leakage. As you are sharing servers, there are concerns in some organisations that sensitive information could be compromised. There are also some regulatory concerns involving e-discovery and data retention rules.
The Private Cloud
The private cloud aims to provide the flexibility of the cloud but in an environment that is perceived to be more secure. A private cloud is essentially a cloud as described above but with dedicated resources, so that actual infrastructure is private not shared with other organisations.
It is quite different from the dedicated hosting model in that the client leases resources rather than servers. These are never shared so the user can never be affected by other clients. It is highly scalable, for instance the client can create or eliminate virtual servers at any time.
Reliability and Costs
There are differences in reliability between cloud and dedicated hosting. In the case of dedicated hosting, should your server crash, then so will your website. Service providers take many precautions to ensure that this doesn’t happen, but the theoretical possibility remains.
As the cloud uses multiple servers and redundancy, should a server crash another will take its place, so your website theoretically should not go down. However in the past there have been many instances of cloud failure; the last one of note was in August 2013 when Amazon experienced its latest outage.
In terms of costs, cloud hosting is significantly cheaper than dedicated hosting, especially for smaller users.
Which Solution is Best for You?
If you are a small start up or even a medium sized enterprise for which web based technology is important, then the flexibility and relatively low costs of cloud hosting are likely to be attractive. It is very easy to scale as your business and server requirements grow. It also means that you are not paying for resources you don’t currently use.
Many larger enterprises feel more comfortable with dedicated hosting. The feel that they have more control and that they are completely independent of other organisations and their websites. They also feel that their data is more secure. If you are using large databases then they are the best and possibly the only solution.