There are many types of traditional web hosting for building your website, including shared, dedicated, WordPress hosting, and virtual private server (VPS). However, there is another hosting option that distributes your site across multiple servers and provides a flexible way to power your website: cloud hosting.
What is Cloud Hosting?
Traditional hosting sees your website take advantage of the CPU, RAM, storage and data transfer power of one particular server. For example, shared web hosting allows your website to actually share resources with other sites that are also hosted exclusively on one server. The result is a lot of annoying limitations in terms of power, and an inability to handle sharp traffic spikes. For better service, you can pay for a virtual private server, or even a dedicated server of varying power. In all of these cases, you’re basically relying on one server, and that’s it. However, cloud hosting is kicking that single server hosting model to the curb. With cloud hosting, your website takes resources from multiple servers.
The use of multiple cloud hosting servers provides certain advantages over traditional hosting. For example, if your website experiences a sudden spike in traffic, it may pull resources from other servers to prevent slow page loading or, worse, it will go down. Also, cloud hosting makes it very simple for your website to upgrade or downgrade resources, as needed. With traditional hosting, you may need to switch to a different type of hosting (for example, from shared to VPS or dedicated) to get the power your website needs.
Note that there are different types of cloud hosting. Traditional web hosts, such as DreamHost and HostGator, offer cloud hosting plans for the same price as other web hosting plans (usually in the shared or VPS category). It is this small, business-friendly cloud hosting solution that was our main focus in this roundup.
Infrastructure cloud hosting as an enterprise-grade service from Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Rackspace is also available. While it’s technically a cloud hosting service, that’s not what’s highlighted here. For more on the expansive (and potentially more expensive!) flavor of cloud hosting, please visit our story about the best infrastructure-as-a-service solutions.
Cloud Hosting Features
The chart above focuses on web hosts showing the best cloud hosting plans out of all the services we’ve reviewed. Note that we are still in the process of examining cloud hosting offerings as this is a new category—we will definitely be testing more services in the coming months. However, with the reviews we’ve done so far and a lot of research, we’ve found what you should be looking for in a cloud hosting service.
Many cloud web hosts offer unlimited monthly data transfers, so other factors can help you decide which service is best for your business. That said, if you’re interested in anything “unlimited”, no matter if it’s data or storage, be sure to read the fine print to make sure there aren’t any surprises. In other words, make sure your unlimited definition matches the hosting service definition. They can be two very different things.
Speaking of storage, we’ve found that cloud hosts typically offer hard drives or solid-state drives that are between 100GB and 200GB in size. That said, you’ll sometimes find web hosts that offer unlimited storage. (Again, the usual caveats apply with regards to anything “unlimited.”) Solid-state drives are typically faster than their hard-drive-based counterparts, but are usually smaller in terms of storage capacity. If you’re looking for a slim volume, traditional hard drives are the way to go.
When it comes to server operating systems, Linux is usually the default option. However, some services also offer Windows hosting. If you have certain server-side applications that require Windows, such as SQL Server or custom applications written in .NET, then you need to make sure your web host has Windows hosting. Linux vs. explanation Our Windows Server has everything you need to know about this operating system.
You’ll also want a web host with responsive 24/7 customer support. Forums, knowledge bases, and tutorials are useful tools, but none match anyone else’s (or at least in web chat) when problems arise.
Security is also very important. If your goal is to get into the ecommerce game by selling a product or service, you need to look into Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS). The technology encrypts data traveling between customer computers and your company’s servers to protect information from malicious persons.
Uptime Is Very Important
In each of our reviews we devote a whole section to uptime, this is very important. Simply put, if your site is down, clients or customers won’t be able to find your business or access your products or services. They may find what they are looking for elsewhere, and never return. At the very least, the customer will be annoyed, and it won’t help their image of your business. Also not a good result.
Three years ago, we added formal uptime monitoring to our review process, and the results show that most web hosts do an excellent job of keeping their sites up and running. Otherwise, they suffer for it in our rankings. Even if they do everything right, sites with uptime issues don’t qualify for the top score. All services have their ups and downs, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. Sites that fail to address the issue will be penalized accordingly.
Aim for the Cloud
If you’re ready to find a great web hosting service, click the link below to read our in-depth review of the biggest and best names in the world. If you’re just getting started with web hosting, be sure to check out our primers: How to Make a Website and How to Register a Domain Name.