What is Cloud Hosting?

This came up because I’m considering moving to cloud hosting. I don’t have to, yet, and since it’d cost me an extra $25 to $30 a month, I’m not planning on it just yet. (Actually, it would be pretty much WHAT I pay now, if I drop cPanel, which is an extra. But for the extra $20 I get ‘cPanel + Fantastico as well complete support of base operating system and all cPanel services. Proactive service restoration is provided.’ I don’t care about Fantastico (and tend to uninstall it), but the base OS support is useful and cPanel just makes life easier for me. Yes, I’m lazy.) But wrapping my head around the ideas behind cloud computing was a weird trip.

A few years ago, I had a job as a Citrix tech, which meant my job was to take software normally installed on your PC, install it on a server, and somehow trick the PC into thinking ‘When I run Word, it’s actually running on this distant server, and not my desktop, but everything pretends it’s on the desktop.’ This was called a thin-client deployment, because the client (i.e. the PC), only has to have a very little bit of processing power to run things like Adobe Photoshop. By the way, fat-client means ‘everything runs on your desktop.’

For the really old hands at this, you’ll remember when all PCs were just dumb terminals that connected to the mainframes, and you ran everything off the mainframe. Guess what? Thin-client stuff is kind of the same thing. The programs you run via thin-client basically only exist when you run them. The rest of the time, they’re not available on your PC. This is good and bad. It’s good, because a company can save millions by pushing out low-end, weefy desktops to everyone. It’s bad, because they then have to turn around and spend the millions on the servers and the network. If the server or network goes down, no one gets to work.

What does that have to do with cloud computing? Cloud computing takes the thin-client idea of ‘on demand’ usage to a new level. Right now, ipstenu.org lives on a server (a VPS to be specific) with four other domains. I pay a flat fee for the server space, a specified amount of bandwidth, a limit of CPU, and some IP addresses. With cloud computing, I would pay a flat rate for hosting, but if I need more CPU, I can easily get more by clicking a button. And when I don’t need more? It goes away.

Suddenly my server is able to adapt! It scales up and down on an as-need basis. Think of it like your heating bill. In the summer, when you don’t need it, the cost per month goes down. In the winter, it goes up. And unlike the gas company, you don’t pay more during winter because it’s a set, year-round rate. Woo! Or, as the video I’ve linked to below would say, it’s like a Tax. The meter keeps running at stoplights, but it runs slower, so you pay less.

Now I will say the math for all how much all this costs, sorting out what you need, is a bit heinous. I ended up chatting with my webhost about what I would need, based on my current usage. They have their own traditional webhosting setup as well as a cloud service, and since I adore them to no end, I decided it would be smartest to just ask them about it. Yes, it would be a hassle to move everything, and likely my subversion stuff would break and need to be re-installed, but it’s definitely a better bang for my buck than to use something like a dedicated server.

There are downsides to all this. The biggest one is security, which panics a lot of people. On cloud computing, you’re back to the same sort of place you were for shared hosting. When you need more CPU, you get another ‘slice’ of the cloud (it’s a mixed metaphor, sorry). The slices still need servers to run on, obviously, and each webhost has the option of slapping together a bunch of servers quickly and poorly, or doing it the right way. And, sadly, a lot of webhosts are leaping into the cloud without looking, shoving servers together, and not thinking about security. To those people who worry, I remind them that cloud or not, your server’s security has always been about your webhost.

In August of 2010, it was determined that Network Solutions (a big webhost) had over 500,000 compromised websites. Reported on by Armorize Blog, they proved that any time you made a parked domain, Network Solutions put a widget on your site that served up malware and could infect PCs. This was a default widget, something that showed up if you didn’t check any boxes, on newly registered domains.

From the horses’ mouth, Network Solutions spokeswoman Susan Wade provided this statement when asked for comment: “Regarding the widget incident from the weekend, our security team was alerted this past weekend to a malicious code that was added to a widget housed on our small business blog, growsmartbusiness.com. This widget was used to provide small business tips on Network Solutions’ under construction pages. We have removed the widget from those pages and continue to check and monitor to ensure security. Reports of the number of pages affected are not accurate. We’re still investigating to determine the number impacted.”

Basically, Network Solutions own website was hacked and shot a ton of other sites.

You want to complain about cloud being insecure, go ahead, but remember that your security depends on your host being a good soldier, same as always. WHich is why I recommend LiquidWeb and their Storm On Demand Hosting.

The other thing people complain about with cloud is they can’t touch their physical server. Personally, I don’t care. The virtualization of data is a big thing, and most people actually never see their server. Mine’s somewhere in Michigan I think. Making backups isn’t easier or harder with a cloud, so you can still have a good backup of your data for emergencies. Everyone should have a backup.

Should you move to cloud? If you’re on a VPS and starting to get too big for it, then yes. The cost is a good reason but also you’re just going to get more flexibility. If my server needs grow (which is to say, if I start crashing the server again), I’ll be moving to cloud for sure.

Still confused? Watch this video and it will explain it in a very straightforward, amusing, manner:

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