A Cloud Hosting Primer

Sometimes it can be easy to forget that every little piece of data on the Internet must be stored on a physical hard drive (or server). From the tiny four page mini-sites to the million page giants of the web, everyone that wants to spread their message to the world must have some sort of hosting plan. One of the most popular options for web sites and web applications is cloud hosting. Understanding cloud hosting is as simple as considering how people store and access data online. With cloud storage, you can choose just how much flexibility you have with your online data storage. More importantly, you can determine how secure your data is when it is placed online.

Before you choose a hosting plan for your webiste initiative, it is important that you understand the most popular hosting option online – cloud hosting.

The Different Types of Cloud Hosting

In general, cloud hosting can be split up into two different categories: public hosting and managed private cloud hosting (also known as enterprise cloud hosting). With public hosting, you share a set of virtual servers with other web masters. With managed private cloud hosting, you have your own dedicated servers for your storage needs. Enterprise cloud hosting solutions provide all of the benefits of a cloud hosting solution while allowing you to manage your servers yourself for security measures and greater data storage flexibility. Enterprise hosting is perfect for larger businesses or webmasters that deal with sensitive data on their servers – data like intellectual property that could be vulnerable on a public cloud.Cloud Computing: Public vs Private and How it Works Diagram

To understand the differences between these two major cloud computing types, think of how you might eat a pizza.

With the public cloud, imagine that you are eating a pizza with a few of your friends. Everyone can take a piece of the pizza when they want it but nobody has their own pizza – and you have to eat the pizza put out for you instead of being able to choose the toppings. With managed private cloud hosting, you can think of everyone as having their own individual pizza – where they can choose the toppings.

This relates to cloud hosting because a public cloud hosting solution allows multiple web masters to access the same virtual server network but they cannot control some aspects of the hosting option. For example:

  • You cannot control where your data is stored (which individual server).
  • You lose some security features with public hosting (your information is stored along with others).
  • You cannot control the speed at which your web space loads (most public cloud servers are limited to about 10 mbps).

So, public cloud hosting might not be the best option for web sites that regularly handle a large amount of traffic or deal with streaming high definition video. However, the public cloud also has its share of benefits. For example:

  • You can trim your IT budget – all servers are virtual and hosting plans are cheap when you are willing to share the servers with others.
  • You can save time – the public cloud does not really require any management on your part. You just choose the data that gets stored and your third party cloud hosting provider handles the rest.
  • You can forget about maintenance – your public cloud hosting provider will also maintain the physical servers so you don’t have to clean and maintain a set of physical servers.

With enterprise cloud hosting from Rackspace and others, you have several options for cloud computing. For example, you might have a few physical servers in your possession. However, you regularly need more processing power or memory during peak traffic hours or to test out a new web application. Enterprise cloud hosting allows you to use a virtual layer of servers as either your own dedicated server network or as an addition to any physical servers you might own. The primary difference between a public cloud and a managed private cloud is that you have full control over the following with private cloud hosting:

  1. Who can access your data.
  2. Where your data is stored.
  3. Who manages your storage needs and server networks.
  4. How your network is organized.
  5. Who can access your data at any given time.

With an enterprise hosting solution, you can also boost the performance speed of your servers. For instance, the typical managed private cloud hosting solution could run at 100 mbps. With a collection of physical servers also supporting the network, the sky really is the limit with storage space and processing speed.

There are a few disadvantages to a managed private cloud server. One of the most important is that it costs a little more than public cloud. In addition, you must usually sign a long term contract from a cloud computing company. Of course, you are also responsible for managing your enterprise cloud hosting solution. Luckily, as you will read in the next section, doing so is easy.

How to Manage an Enterprise Hosting Solution

Enterprise cloud hosting solutions provide users with their own dedicated and discrete collection of resources – both physical and virtual servers. Each network is managed with a collection of virtual servers that act as the flexible portion of your network. So, if you maintain some physical servers but need more storage space or bandwidth, you can instantly add a virtual server – a far cry from the days when you would need to purchase additional physical servers when the need arose. Doing so locked you into the purchase, of course, if your additional data needs dropped off and you no longer needed multiple physical servers; not an issue for enterprise hosting solutions.

Building an Enterprise Network Server

Although dependent on your specific service provider, most enterprise hosting solutions will come with software that allows you to organize your individual storage units across different web site or applications. You can also compare the amount of storage, memory and processing power that you have purchased with the amount that you are currently using.

Each of your individual networks, if applicable, should be divided into separate environments for easy access and management. For example, if you manage hosting for several large e-commerce web sites as well as a company database for your employees, you would likely want to split each of these individual areas into different environments – especially if each one requires a great deal of storage, perhaps with different security implementations like fire walls and password protection.

When building your server, you will have two different options: to use a template server to quickly inject your physical and virtual storage or to create a custom template for your storage needs. It is important to carefully evaluate your storage needs. If there is not a template that fits your business model, there is no need to use a template when it takes only a few minutes to create your own custom environment.

Bringing an Enterprise Hosting Network Online

Once you have implemented your server environments, you can begin deciding which servers will go online with which public IP addresses. In order to bring a server online, you must simply select the IP address that will be associated with that server environment and choose your preferred protocol. Finally, you can create a name for the network as it appears online and save it to your workspace. Many services will then require you to create a node to bring the servers online. Creating this node is as simple as re-entering the information for that server environment to attach it to the Internet. This is where managing your enterprise hosting solution can allow you to enter multiple public IP addresses or customize access to those servers.

Could Cloud Hosting be Right for You?

A managed private cloud hosting solution allows you to take advantage of the flexibility provided by cloud hosting and combine it with security features that you would expect on a private cloud hosting network. This type of managed hosting network does require some management on behalf of the user; one of its primary benefits. Managing an enterprise hosting solution is easy with a high quality service provider as you can use custom or prefabricated templates to set up your network(s) and add or remove storage as you need it – quickly and easily.

Public cloud hosting allows you to save money on your cloud computing but does not afford the same security benefits as managed private cloud (the lack of a firewall, for example). When you use a public cloud hosting solution, you are sharing storage space with other web masters to cut costs but lose control over where your data is stored and how much control you have over that data as it appears on your virtual servers.

One of the major concerns with VPS hosting options (virtual private server) is that there is no guarantee that you will receive all of the resources that you need – or pay for. With VPS nodes, other users of that same node can begin bleeding into your resources, limiting the amount available to you. Many VPS hosting users switch to cloud hosting for this reason alone – you are guaranteed the resources you need and can scale on-demand. Finally, cloud hosting solutions give you the benefit of being able to customize your servers any time you need to do so. With VPS hosting, this can be very difficult.

When you choose cloud hosting from a third party hosting provider, be sure to evaluate your specific business needs before choosing a type of cloud hosting plan. After all, you never want to be stuck without enough storage space or processing power to accomplish your business goals. Think carefully about whether you are fine sharing your pizza with others, or if you want a whole pizza to yourself.

This article was written by Anthony Benedict, who helps run and maintain Rackspace.com which delivers enterprise-level hosting services to businesses of all sizes and kinds around the world.

Anthony Benedict

Anthony Benedict helps run and maintain Rackspace.com which delivers enterprise-level hosting services to businesses of all sizes and kinds around the world.

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