What Is Cloud Hosting?
Traditional hosting sees your website leverage the power of one particular server’s CPU, RAM, storage, and data transfers. With shared hosting, for example, your website shares resources with other sites that are also hosted exclusively on one server. The result is many annoying power limitations and the inability to handle sharp traffic surges. For better service, you can pay for a virtual private server or even a dedicated server of varying power. In all these cases, you’re relying on one server, and that’s it. However, cloud hosting kicks that single-server hosting model to the curb. With cloud hosting, your website draws resources from multiple servers.
Cloud hosting’s use of multiple servers gives it advantages over traditional hosting. For example, if your website experiences a sudden traffic spike, it can pull resources from another server to prevent slow page loads or, worse, the site going down. In addition, cloud hosting makes it incredibly simple for your website to scale resources up or down as needed. With traditional hosting, you may need to move to a different hosting type (say, from shared to VPS or dedicated) to obtain 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 packages priced similarly to their other web hosting packages (typically in the shared or VPS categories). We’re primarily focused on these small business-friendly cloud hosting solutions in this roundup.
Enterprise-level, infrastructure-as-a-service cloud hosting from the likes of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Rackspace are also available. Though these are technically cloud hosting services, they are not what’s highlighted here. For more on that flavor of expansive (and potentially more expensive!) cloud hosting, please visit our story about the best infrastructure-as-a-service solutions.
Which Cloud Hosting Service Is Best?
The chart above focuses on the web hosts that feature the best cloud hosting plans 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’ll be testing more services in the coming months. Still, with the reviews we’ve done so far and lots of research, we’ve discovered what you should look for in a cloud hosting service.
Many cloud web hosts offer unlimited monthly data transfers, so other factors may help you decide which service is best for your business. That said, if you’re interested in “unlimited” anything, whether it’s data or storage, be sure to read the tiny print to ensure there aren’t any surprises. In other words, make sure your definition of unlimited matches the hosting service’s definition. They can be two very different things.
Speaking of storage, we’ve discovered that cloud hosts typically offer hard drives or solid-state drives that range between 100GB and 200GB in size. That said, you’ll occasionally find a web host that boasts unlimited storage. (Again, the usual caveats apply with regards to “unlimited” anything.) Solid-state drives are typically faster than their hard-drive-based counterparts, but are typically smaller in terms of storage capacity. If you’re looking for sheer volume, a traditional hard drive is the way to go.
When it comes to server operating systems, Linux is typically the default option. Still, some services offer Windows hosting, too. If you have specific server-side applications that require Windows, such as SQL Server or a custom application written in .NET, then you need to make sure your web host has Windows hosting. Our Linux vs. Windows Server explainer has everything you need to know about these operating systems.
You’ll also want a web host with responsive 24/7 customer support. Forums, knowledge bases, and tutorials are useful tools, but there’s nothing like getting another human being on the horn (or at least in a web chat) when problems arise.
Security is of utmost importance, too. If your goal is to get into the e-commerce game by selling products or services, you need to look into Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS). Those technologies encrypt the data that travels between a customer’s computer and your company’s servers to safeguard the information from people with ill intentions.
Why Uptime Is Critical for Cloud Hosting
In each of our reviews, we devote an entire section to uptime because it’s so important. Simply put, if your site is down, clients or customers will be unable to find your business or access your products or services. They may find what they’re looking for elsewhere and never return. At the very least, customers will be annoyed, and it won’t help their image of your business. Neither is a good outcome.
We added formal uptime monitoring to our review process a few years ago, and the results show that most web hosts do an excellent job of keeping their sites up and running. If they don’t, they suffer for it in our rankings. Even if they get everything else right, sites with uptime problems aren’t eligible for top scores. All services suffer ups and downs, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. Those sites that fail to address the problem are penalized accordingly.Mike Williams contributed to this story.