We’re used to seeing the word ‘cloud’ stuck in front of basically every technological term out there. And while tech-savvy individuals have a decent grasp of what ‘the cloud’ is, the same can’t be said for all its potential applications. Cloud hosting, for example.

In comparing cloud hosting to more traditional forms of shared hosting, it’s important to stress the benefits of a cloud-based solution, and how next-generation cloud platforms are really in a league of their own.

So what is cloud hosting?

When we talk about cloud hosting at Fasthosts, we’re talking about web hosting built on our CloudNX platform.

On CloudNX, cloud hosting takes the form of Managed Stacks: bundles of pre-configured software that can be used to run a wide range of web applications. Optionally, you can launch a pre-installed CMS Application: a stack with WordPress, Drupal or Joomla pre-installed on top.

Both Managed Stacks and Applications could be considered cloud hosting, since they provide a web hosting environment on a cloud platform. This means they draw computing power from a pool of dynamically allocated resources across a large network of physical components, not a fixed set of hardware.

What about cloud servers?

While cloud servers can also be considered a form of web hosting in the wider sense, on CloudNX we differentiate cloud hosting (stacks and apps) from Root Servers.

With a Root Server, you get a whole server with its own operating system and full root access. Of course, this is on a cloud platform, so a Root Server is a virtual machine rather than a physical one – but it comes with all the flexibility and performance you’d get from a physical box.

And shared hosting?

Shared hosting is a web hosting solution where each customer receives a portion of server hardware to run their website or application. Shared hosting is often the most economical way to get a project online, because the service provider houses multiple customers on a single web server, resulting in lower costs overall.

While shared hosting can be perfect as a cost-effective platform for less demanding projects, it certainly has its limits. With several customers sharing one set of physical hardware, individual users can’t rely on a guaranteed level of server performance.

This might not be an issue for sites and applications with minimal requirements or low visitor numbers, but when it comes to running intensive, business-critical processes, many users find that shared hosting isn’t up to snuff.

A contentious issue

The reason shared hosting isn’t suitable for intensive applications? In a word: contention. The full power of the hardware will always be pulled in several directions at once, with different websites and applications in constant competition for processing power.

Imagine one customer on a shared platform gets a sudden spike in traffic. Luckily, other websites on the same server are quiet, so some resources can be allocated to cope with the extra visitors. But what happens when several websites are popular at once?

The server only has a finite amount of resources to parcel out, so intensive applications will regularly struggle to get what they need. The end result is inconsistent performance, slow loading times and a shoddy experience for the end-user. If your website is a major source of leads or sales, this presents a serious shortcoming.

Even with high contention, shared hosting can still use sophisticated technology to provide decent performance, at least for sites with low or medium requirements. But the fact remains: demanding sites will never get predictable, consistently high performance on anything other than a dedicated platform.

Cloud servers and cloud hosting: always dedicated on CloudNX

Cloud hosting, cloud servers, shared hosting. These definitions are useful, but there’s still room for misconceptions. One of these is the idea that cloud hosting – when it doesn’t involve complete servers – offers performance comparable to a normal shared hosting solution. With CloudNX, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whether on a Root Server, a Managed Stack or an Application project, every single resource you configure in the CloudNX control panel is dedicated to you alone. Processors, RAM and SSD storage provide guaranteed performance on CloudNX hosting, exactly the same way they do on complete servers.

In practice this means your WordPress blog or Drupal site can run with the same high level of performance you’d get from a dedicated server. Expecting higher visitor numbers? It’s a simple case of configuring increased server resources. The only difference is the lack of root server access, and the additional managed service provided by Fasthosts.

Where does the ‘managed’ bit come in?

On Managed Stacks and Applications, CloudNX provides a managed service for the underlying platform. In practice this means that while you’re in full control of your web server, databases and scripting, the platform is automatically maintained for you, with regular software updates and security patches.

This isn’t possible on Root Servers, which are virtual machines that provide the customer with complete control and nearly unlimited customisation options – so you’ll need to apply updates and patches yourself. But on Managed Stacks and Apps, Fasthosts takes care of the operating system and server admin. So if you don’t have the time or expertise to manage it yourself, you can still benefit from a powerful cloud platform, safe in the knowledge that your software is always up to date and secure.

In a way, the managed element of cloud hosting makes it more like shared hosting, even if it can ultimately offer far more in terms of performance.

With server hardware divided between multiple users, a shared platform is basically managed by definition, since root access for one customer would obviously interfere with their co-tenants. The provider also needs to ensure that the underlying platform is kept secure and up to date, since individual customers don’t have the ability to modify it themselves.

You could think of Managed Stacks and Applications as offering a more ‘hosting-like’ experience, in that no server admin is required.

Like a shared platform, everything can be managed from one central control panel, but with the flexibility to manage files via SFTP, install and update applications (e.g. WordPress), manage databases and DNS, and manipulate source code.

But of course, the big difference is that unlike shared hosting, CloudNX hosting offers fully dedicated resources that can be scaled on demand for guaranteed performance. A kind of ‘dedicated hosting’ option for users who want the increased power of their own server, but don’t want to deal with server management.

Finally, we’ve created this table as a quick guide to the differences between cloud servers, cloud hosting and shared hosting:

Hopefully this exploration of ‘cloud hosting vs shared hosting’ has cleared up some misconceptions. If you’re still unsure about the best way to meet your web hosting needs, we’ll be happy to advise you by phone, live chat or email. Just visit the Fasthosts website for more details.