Hosting services come in every shape and form, and pricing is not the only difference between them: the most limited shared hosting services can serve only small websites, whilst the most elaborate cloud infrastructures are capable hosting megacompanies' entire IT operations;
also some hosting providers limit OS options or pre-installs, while others (including ElasticHosts) allow customers to use their own OS images.
The different solutions can be split into two main categories: traditional and cloud solutions. Why is the distinction so important?
To cut through the clutter, we created an infographic listing the most commonly referred categories of hosting services from shared hosting to public cloud hosting.
What defines this group of services is that these offer actual physical servers: in groups, one-by-one or in tiny "slices". In the context of traditional hosting, a dedicated server means that you really have a physical machine (or more) for yourself. It's a simple concept since it's so close to the hardware level. For small users, who are happy with the limitations, cheap shared hosting can be a viable choice for its simplicity and price, but on a higher scale, traditional hosting becomes too restricted and expensive compared to the cloud.
Shared hosting (web hosting)
If you ever hosted a website on a custom domain, you probably used a shared hosting provider on the way. These services are running on server machines installed with a LAMP stack providing the environment to host small websites on the Internet.
What makes it shared, is the fact that the same web server hosts a lot of websites at the same time from the same capacity pool. It's a cheap form of hosting but the way websites share the server machine creates many drawbacks: a busy website with huge traffic might eat up the resources of the entire server and slow down every other website hosted on the machine; also, running many websites on the same server is a major security risk.
Shared hosting is still an extremely popular choice for private users and small businesses due to its price and ease of use.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
Virtual private servers are the next step after shared hosting: they still put many users on the same physical machine, but, at least, each of them rents a dedicated portion of the capacity. Virtual private servers run their own OS and offer root access for customers. The added level of separation buffer the drawbacks of shared hosting because users have more room for customisation, have a secured computing capacity and enjoy a relatively better security.
Dedicated hosting is the most powerful and flexible category of traditional hosting. This service allows a user to rent entire server machines, dedicated to them. Since users have the whole machines for themselves, dedicated hosting is clearly comparable with having on-premise servers, with the twist of not owning and maintaining the infrastructure but renting it. When you take cloud into consideration, you can see that dedicated hosting is nowhere near as scalable as the cloud and since you need to rent whole server machines even if you would use a fraction of its capacity; it's also more expensive.
For larger websites and web applications, renting a whole network of servers can improve performance and reliability.
Cloud hosting is based on the abstraction of physical servers into a big pool of computing capacity which then can be freely distributed to virtual individual servers. The unique feature of cloud infrastructure is the unparalleled scalability: while multiplying the capacity in a traditional hosting service can be done only by the hosting company and could take days or weeks, a cloud server's capacity can be changed by the customers at will, anytime, and in a couple of seconds.
- Flexibility: Users can scale their cloud servers and deploy new ones through a web interface or API at any time.
- High-availability: Cloud infrastructures have no SPOFs, therefore, can guarantee close to 100% availability. Cloud providers usually include their guaranteed availability in the Service Level Agreement (SLA).
- Distributed infrastructure: Many cloud providers have data centres around the world which users can leverage in reducing their latency to all regions of the world.
- Cost-effectiveness: The on-demand infrastructure brings convenience and cost savings to businesses as they don't need to have a big IT department to purchase and maintain server machines. But on top of that, the ease of scaling allows users to rent the capacity they momentarily need and avoid over-spending.
Public clouds are run by cloud infrastructure companies (such as ElasticHosts) and populated by customers. It's the truest form of cloud there is: it allows users to fire up dozens of servers within minutes after registration or multiply their server capacity in a heartbeat. They get to choose which OS to run on the servers, the application environment and - depending on the cloud provider - even the location of the physical servers which host the user's virtual servers.
No investment or owned hardware is necessary, and it can be self-managed from any computer via a web interface or API. All you need to do is to pay the bills based on the resources you rent.
Cloud Servers: The smallest unit you can buy in the cloud is a cloud server. This resembles a traditional VPS - you have a dedicated computing capacity and storage you can harness relatively freely - but it provides much higher flexibility due to the virtualised environment of the cloud. You can run your own OS and set up a custom application environment, and you are free to add and remove storage, change the server specifications with a few clicks.
The principles of virtualisation and cloud computing can be used on dedicated physical machines to create a private cloud. Virtualisation brings scalability and high-availability to the party while the cloud platform managing the infrastructure adds self-service, automated management and usage-billing capabilities to the mix. If the private cloud is hosted on-premise, the hardware costs and limitations work just as any other on-premise infrastructure, but using a private cloud hosting service can turn even this aspect of the infrastructure into a service.
Using dedicated physical servers for the cloud offers security benefits and immaculate performance guarantees by compromising on the potentially limitless scalability and flexibility of the public cloud.
Hybrid cloud is not a de facto service but the name for using both public and private clouds in a connected network to operate an IT infrastructure. Companies can use hybrid clouds to keep the normal workload on-premise in a private cloud while maintaining the option to leverage the public cloud for extreme workload or backup situations.
Hybrid clouds offer the best of both worlds without really sacrificing anything but it's a complicated technical challenge to make the cloud work together reliably. Private cloud workloads must access and interact with public cloud providers, so hybrid cloud requires API compatibility and solid network connectivity.
Alternative cloud hosting categories:
Bare Metal Cloud vs Virtualised Cloud
Cloud hosting is by default virtualised cloud. It means that, although it's built on physical machines, the customers are hosted on virtual machines. The virtualisation requires an extra software layer, a so-called hypervisor, which oversees the virtual machines and provisions the computing and storage capacity. This enables hosting multiple tenants on the same physical machine but reduces performance.
Bare-metal cloud is an alternative to virtualised cloud services with a dedicated server environment that eliminates the overhead of virtualisation. It offers the scalability and efficiency of the cloud, e.g. you can fire up servers through a web interface - which are provided by a cloud platform that enables provisioning additional instances through a web platform and API. However, you can't set the server size yourself, since it's determined by the physical machines' hardware. Also, starting or rebooting a machine is much slower in a bare-metal cloud.
Managed Cloud Services vs. Self-Managed Cloud Services
By default, cloud providers don't involve themselves in how customers are using their servers; they give the infrastructure and the tools to use it, and users do the rest for themselves - hence the name: self-managed cloud. If a hosting provider doesn't state otherwise, it offers self-managed servers.
Certain cloud providers offer managed cloud services for an additional months fee. This assistance usually covers the initial steps of using a cloud platform (e.g. planning and building the cloud architecture) and the ongoing management of the server (e.g. configuring and updating the OS and basic applications) as well.
Virtual machines vs. containers
With virtual machines, such as the ones ElasticHosts also offers, each customer cloud server runs its own entire operating system inside a simulated hardware environment provided by the hypervisor running on the physical hardware. This is the traditional approach to providing cloud servers but suffers from the drawback that individual virtualised customer servers must be rebooted to be resized.
Containerization allows multiple Linux cloud servers to run in isolated partitions of a single Linux kernel running directly on the physical hardware. Linux cgroups and namespaces are the underlying Linux kernel technologies used to isolate, secure and manage the containers.
Performance is higher than virtualisation since there is no hypervisor overhead, and you are closer to the bare metal. Linux Container users still have full root access to install and configure their software on their cloud server. Container capacity auto-scales dynamically with server load, so customers are only billed for the CPU, memory, SSD storage and bandwidth that they actually use at each point in time.
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