We offer traditional Windows shared hosting over at DiscountASP.NET and cloud hosting at Everleap.com. So naturally people ask us, “What’s the difference between shared hosting and cloud hosting?” In this post, I want to address this question in a general overview.
I previously published a post that conceptually distinguished the differences between shared hosting, VPS, dedicated hosting and our Everleap cloud using a housing analogy.
Shared hosting has been around since the mid-1990s. Before then, other than running your own box in your office or closet, the only hosting option was to co-locate a server at a data center or get a dedicated server—so it was very expensive. Shared hosting was the innovation that helped bring the price of hosting down to a level that made having a website a real option for many people and businesses. As the name implies, multiple websites share the resources of a single physical server (RAM, disk space, CPU, etc.) reducing the price of hosting for all customers.
Limits of Shared Hosting
Over the past several years, web applications have become much more powerful and sophisticated, growing in complexity and requiring more server resources to function optimally. So it is no surprise that many users are reaching the limits of traditional shared hosting and experiencing sluggish sites, frequent application recycling and server crashes. And even if your site is the model of a good optimized application, other neighbors on the same server who use resource-hungry apps can degrade your server performance.
No doubt by now you’re tired of hearing that “the cloud” is the solution to all of your problems. One of the most confusing things about “the cloud” is that it does not refer to one specific thing—it means something different to almost everyone.
So in the context of website and web application hosting, what is cloud hosting and why would it be better than traditional hosting?
Most of the issues that you might experience with shared hosting are caused by the site being tied to a single physical server. As a result, the site does not always have sufficient room to grow. A cloud hosting platform offers not only the ability to scale, but also improved reliability and built-in resiliency. Things that are not available on a shared hosting platform.
One of the main advantages of cloud hosting is that it does not tie your site to a single physical server. Different cloud hosting infrastructures achieve this flexibility in different ways. Some cloud hosts offer site hosting still primarily on a single server but it can failover or be quickly moved to another server if something goes wrong.
At Everleap your site is served from any one of a large cluster of web servers. A group of F5 load balancers select the optimal server in the cluster and your site is served from it. If the server your site is on goes down for any reason, the load balancers will route your site traffic to another web server.
Another characteristic of cloud hosting is that there are options for seamless scaling that shared hosting does not have (seamless scaling may also be referred to as “on-demand” or “on-the-fly”). Some cloud platforms can scale up the amount of RAM and/or CPU assigned to your site. With traditional shared hosting, adding more server resources means moving your site to another server, which would involve some downtime.
Other scaling options available on some cloud platforms include the ability to scale your site horizontally by adding more web servers—so your site can be served simultaneously from two or more load-balanced servers. At Everleap we can scale sites out horizontally across multiple servers.
An often touted characteristic of cloud hosting is utility billing or a “pay-as-you-go” usage-based model. With that type of billing your site usage is metered and you pay per second, per minute or per hour for all the services your site consumes. Although many cloud vendors try to push utility billing as a requirement or as part of what defines “cloud” platforms, we view it as just a different payment model, not part of what defines “cloud hosting.”
Another thing that is often mentioned as a defining characteristic of cloud hosting is self-service—typically delivered through a web management interface. This type of self-service portal may be new for managing multiple VMs, but web-based control panels have been used in shared hosting since the 1990s. Nothing new there.
Shared hosting has been around for a long time, and for many websites it remains a viable option for affordable hosting. However, with the increase in the functionality and complexity of modern web applications, it is becoming more common that sites hit the limits of traditional shared hosting. Cloud hosting, with its improved resilience and scaling options, is a better hosting option for those sites.
If you are considering cloud hosting options, you want to ask the host a few questions to determine if their hosting platform is really a cloud hosting platform or if they just slapped the word “cloud” onto a plan description for marketing purposes.
You also want to ask about scaling options in the event your site activity increases or your application needs more server resources:
Answers to these questions will give you a good idea about the “cloud” capabilities of the hosting platform. After you have an understanding of the hosting platform, you can get into specific technology requirements for your site, how you are billed for services, the control panel, and their customer support, etc.
All of the information you collect about the host will help you make a more informed decision on where you should host your website.