The information technology world is famous – or perhaps infamous – for coming up with cool buzzwords that eventually end up getting stretched, morphed, and applied to virtually every product in order to help make a sale. In my twenty-plus years in this industry, I can think of a host of terms that have sprung up only to be over-used, including “client-server”, “architecture”, “enterprise”, “agile”, and – as of late – “cloud”.
Microsoft is now showing “cloud” commercials to general consumers watching nightly sitcoms that advertise the benefits of photo and media storage “in the cloud”. Cloud computing has also begun to permeate the world of web hosting although, in this case, for very good reason as it could be argued that the core reason-for-being for cloud computing is to offer a set of advantages to hosting customers.
Cloud Hosting can be viewed as the technical process of hosting a set of sites or applications on hardware infrastructure, without being directly concerned about what that underlying infrastructure really is in terms of actual computing hardware. Another key feature of most cloud environments is to very easily scale bandwidth, memory, storage, and processing power almost as easily as turning a knob on an administration console, with no concern about requisitioning and deploying additional hardware or software.
When selecting a cloud hosting provider, you normally will be confined to a very specific set of services (i.e. operating system selection and database software, email messaging, message queuing, content delivery options, and perhaps a handful of other selections) along with a set of “virtual hardware” capabilities. By “virtual hardware”, I mean you will be asked to select what level of computing resources you would like to devote to your solution, like RAM, and CPU cycles. Cloud hosting providers also typically allow you to set peak times for your application based on its typical usage scenario, allowing more memory, network, and CPU resources to be devoted to your application or site during certain hours of the day, which can then be scaled back during off-peak times to save money. This sort of flexibility is unique to cloud hosting environments and is one of the primary reasons customers choose them. Perhaps the next biggest reason is to completely eliminate any worries or maintenance involved with individual servers because the mechanics of all that is completely hidden from you, the customer.
Cloud Hosting is still in its infancy but it has progressed enough in the past 3 years to be officially ready for prime time. With players many large players coming into the game, the bar ‘value’ in cloud hosting offerings is quite high. However, as with shared and dedicated hosting, offering a unique approach and solutions to common problems will help to improve the value of offerings for smaller players.