Web Hosting

Cloud Hosting vs Traditional Hosting

Most of us take the sophisticated technologies that are woven into our daily lives for granted, without ever thinking too deeply about how they work. With the internet, for example, as long as we’re connected to WiFi and pages are loading, what more do we need to know?

Things change a little when you are a business wanting to get a website online. Then you do have to look a little deeper into the mechanics of how it all works. And when you do, you come across something called web hosting.

To understand web hosting, it’s helpful to remember that websites are software applications. The magic of the internet, of course, is that you can access software like websites (and these days, many, many other types) remotely from anywhere you can connect to get online. But that software still has to run from a physical machine somewhere. That’s where web hosting comes in.

‘Hosting’ a website means storing all the code, content, databases and other elements that make up a site on a networked server, ready to be accessed on the client/user side whenever someone clicks a link to your site or types a page URL into a browser.

Web hosting companies hire out server space in data centres and handle the technical stuff. You also find web hosting bundled in with other services like website development – a service we provide here at Key Element using our own dedicated uk web hosting infrastructure.

There are also different types of web hosting, reflecting different types of infrastructure. All have their own benefits and drawbacks. As a website owner, it’s important to understand the differences and choose the type of hosting that benefits you the most, both from a cost and performance/experience perspective.

In this article, we’re going to split hosting into two broad camps for comparison – what you could call ‘traditional’ web hosting, which involves hosting sites on an actual physical server somewhere. And the more recent, cutting-edge evolution of cloud hosting, which is interesting both from a technological point of view and for what it means for website owners.

Read on to find out more!

Understanding Traditional Hosting

What we’re broadly defining as ‘traditional’ hosting can be further split into three types – shared hosting, dedicated hosting and virtual private server (VPS) hosting. What all three share in common is that they are centred on running websites from fixed, identifiable servers (or groups of servers) with fixed, finite computing resources (storage, memory, network bandwidth) available. You’ll get a clearer idea of why this matters when we explain cloud hosting.

But beyond that, these three types of hosting have some important differences, including offering different benefits to different people. Let’s dig into those a little.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting can be described as entry-level web hosting. It’s cheap, it’s simple and it works great for small business websites with moderate traffic demands. ‘Shared’ means that a single server or server group is used to host multiple websites, with all resources divvied up between them.

This keeps costs down, but comes with drawbacks. It means if your business/website grows, there will come a point when you outgrow shared hosting, as there’s a ceiling on the computing resources available.

It also means you have to be slightly cautious about your neighbours, from both a performance and security perspective. At peak times, another site attracting high traffic volumes can reduce available bandwidth for the whole server, slowing your site and others down. And lax security on one site can end up impacting an entire server.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is also referred to as dedicated server hosting, which gives you a big clue as to how it works – you get an entire server (or cluster of servers) all to yourself. The key benefits compared to shared hosting are extra resource capacity (you’re not having to share with anyone) and tighter security. The machines are all yours, with no one else’s code and data installed, and no other access. That also means you get more freedom to configure the server the way you want.

The main drawback is cost. Hiring out an entire server (or several servers) all to yourself is expensive, and only really feasible for very big websites with very large resource demands.

Web Hosting

VPS Hosting

VPS hosting is a little different to shared and dedicated hosting. Both of the above can be described as taking a ‘bare metal’ approach to hosting, meaning that website code and assets are installed directly on a server’s hard drive (or at least via an operating system).

VPS is different because it makes use of virtualisation. Virtualisation involves running an extra software layer (called a hypervisor) on a server. This layer takes the actual physical resources available and packages them up into unique, completely isolated packages called virtual machines or virtual servers.

A virtual server works exactly like a physical server, except it’s really a piece of software. You can run multiple virtual servers on the same physical machine, but they behave like completely different units.

From a web hosting perspective, VPS blends the affordability of shared hosting with the additional privacy and security of dedicated hosting. So, it’s a good compromise between the two.

Understanding Cloud Hosting

Like cloud computing in general, cloud hosting takes the basic concept of virtualisation and runs with it. Like VPS, cloud hosting replaces ‘bare metal’ server capacity with a virtual, software-defined equivalent.

But whereas VPS sticks to divvying up resources from a single server or server cluster, cloud hosting has much broader horizons. In fact, it’s next to impossible to pin down the resources your cloud-hosted website might be using at any given time to a physical machine at all. That’s because cloud computing combines server virtualisation with networking infrastructures to draw on resources from many different places at once, quite possibly from locations all over the world.

With massive, even global resource capacity, cloud hosting is more dynamic, agile, reliable and, in some respects, cost-effective than any of the more traditional hosting approaches. When you choose cloud hosting for your website, you’re not confined to a specific server or server cluster, but instead have your site run from a network of virtual servers. Moreover, rather than being kept in just the one place, your site data and assets are replicated across those virtual multiple machines.

This all lends cloud hosting some clear benefits compared to traditional models:

  • On-demand scalability: When you outgrow a shared or VPS hosting plan, you have to upgrade to the next level up, and you may have to wait until your contract renewal date to do so. By contrast, the unique way cloud hosting pulls resources from multiple sources means you can scale up (or down) on demand. One example of the benefits this brings is that your site will automatically respond to peak traffic demands with no impact on performance.
  • Pay-as-you-go pricing: As an extension of the on-demand resource capabilities cloud hosting offers, some providers also offer pay-as-you-go pricing. Instead of paying a fixed fee for a fixed package, pay-as-you-go pricing means you are charged only for the resources you use. The additional cost efficiencies this brings are most noticeable when you get a lot of fluctuations in traffic.
  • High availability and redundancy: Remember we mentioned that cloud hosting means replicas of all your code and data will be stored across multiple locations? With cloud hosting, there’s less risk of a server outage disrupting your site. If there’s a problem with one server stack in one data centre, the network can always pull in resources from another, including spinning up copies of your site from other locations for seamless continuity.
  • Local speed and low latency, everywhere: With traditional web hosting, where your host servers are located affects how fast and reliable your website is in different places. If you are running a website for UK audiences, for example, you ideally want it hosted in UK-based data centres for the most efficient performance. But if your site is also being accessed by users in the US, the distance to those UK-based data centres will cause latency or lag in how the site functions. Cloud hosting solves that problem by drawing on resources from many different locations.

Choosing the Right Hosting Option

There’s little doubt that cloud technology has transformed the world of web hosting in the past 10 years, offering exceptional flexibility, performance and cost efficiencies. Yet cloud hosting has by no means replaced the more ‘traditional’ approaches that came before it, and every website owner has a choice to make about which type of hosting suits them best.

For example, while pay-as-you-go hosting is highly cost-efficient based on use, for smaller websites, shared hosting can often still work out as the cheapest option. And if you already run a large website with significant but stable traffic demands, and want to prioritise security and control, dedicated hosting still stands out for offering exceptional performance.

One final thing to consider is that all ‘flavours’ of web hosting are available on a managed and unmanaged basis. Unmanaged means you pay for the server space and resources, however they are provisioned, but are left to your own devices thereafter. Managed hosting means all the ongoing technical administration is taken care of for you, leaving you to get on with running your business.

At Key Element, we offer managed web hosting as part of our digital services package. We’re one of the few digital agencies you can find to build and run your website in the same place, while also taking care of SEO and your other digital marketing needs. Get in touch to find out more.

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