What is cloud hosting?
Traditional hosting sees your website harnessing the power of a 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 a server. The result is many annoying power limitations and the inability to handle heavy traffic surges. For better service, you can pay for a virtual private server or even a dedicated server of variable power. In all these cases, you’re relying on a server, and that’s everything. However, cloud hosting puts that single-server hosting model on the sidewalk. With cloud hosting, your website pulls resources from multiple servers.
Using multi-server cloud hosting gives you advantages over traditional hosting. For example, if your website experiences a sudden spike in traffic, you can pull resources from another server to prevent slow page loads or, worse, the site going down. Plus, 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 type of hosting (e.g. shared to VPS or dedicated) to get the power your website needs.
Please 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 (usually in the shared or VPS categories). We are mainly focused on these small business-friendly cloud hosting solutions in this roundup.
Enterprise-grade infrastructure-as-a-service cloud hosting from Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Rackspace is also available. Although these are technically cloud hosting services, they are not what stands out here. To learn more about that expansive (and potentially more expensive!) cloud hosting flavor, visit our story on the best infrastructure-as-a-service solutions.
Which cloud hosting service is better?
The table above focuses on the web hosts that have the best cloud hosting plans of all the services we’ve reviewed. Please note that we are still in the process of examining cloud hosting offerings, as this is a new category – we will be testing more services in the coming months. Still, with the reviews we’ve done so far and a lot of research, we’ve figured out what you should look for in a cloud hosting service.
Many cloud web hosts offer unlimited monthly data transfers, so other factors can 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 fine print to make sure there are no surprises. In other words, make sure your definition of unlimited matches the definition of the hosting service. They can be two very different things.
Speaking of storage, we’ve found that cloud hosts typically offer hard drives or solid-state drives ranging from 100GB to 200GB in size. That said, you’ll occasionally find a web host that boasts unlimited storage. (Again, the usual warnings apply regarding “unlimited” anything.) Solid-state drives are typically faster than their HDD-based counterparts, but they are typically smaller in terms of storage capacity. If you’re looking for pure volume, a traditional hard drive is the way to go.
When it comes to server operating systems, Linux is usually the default choice. Still, some services also offer Windows hosting. If you have specific server-side applications that require Windows, such as SQL Server or a custom application written in .NET, you need to make sure that 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 24/7 responsive customer support. Forums, knowledge bases, and tutorials are all useful tools, but there’s nothing like putting another human on the speaker (or at least in a web chat) when problems arise.
Safety is also of paramount importance. If your goal is to get into the ecommerce game by selling products or services, you should look for Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS). Those technologies encrypt data traveling between a customer’s computer and their company’s servers to safeguard information from people with bad intentions.
is Critical for Cloud Hosting
In each of our reviews, we dedicate an entire section to uptime because it’s so important. Simply put, if your site is down, customers or customers won’t be able to find your business or access your products or services. They may find what they are looking for elsewhere and never return. At the very least, customers will be upset, and it won’t help your business image. Neither is a good result.
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 do everything else right, sites with uptime issues aren’t eligible to get the highest scores. All services go through ups and downs, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. Those sites that do not address the problem are penalized accordingly. Mike Williams contributed to this story.