by Christophe Primault
Published on 14 October 2010
The Cloud is getting more popular than ever and by now most of us, including my grandmother, have some information hosted somewhere in the cloud. As a consumer, think Gmail, FaceBook, Twitter messages or Flickr photos - just to name a few of the most used cloud-based services.
But for my business, what does Cloud Computing really mean? How can I benefit from it? And how do I choose a Cloud hosting company?
Currently, the most used hosting technology is called "shared hosting". Cloud hosting can be considered as the new generation of shared hosting where instead of sharing multiple clients, applications and websites on a single physical machine, data centers host multiple clients, applications and web sites on any physical server part of a large "farm" of machines, interconnected through operating technology called virtualization.
Benefits of Cloud hosting
Thanks to this approach, more clients can be stuffed on less servers, which means less hardware, power and maintenance costs. So hosting prices should be lower and will probably continue to come down. You also pay as you go. Yes, like you do with gas, water, electricity… so you can increase or decrease capacity as your traffic shifts up and down (Benefit #1, it is cheaper).
Because data can easily move from one server to another and machines can be added and removed form the grid, it also means that your sites, apps and data are always online and do not suffer from shutdowns from incidents and maintenance. With Cloud hosting, you can expect up to 99.9% availability, should be 100% but let's be conservative! (Benefit #2, better availability).
With Cloud technologies, resources are distributed more effectively and quickly, which means that you can demand more processing power either to respond to peak activity or for steady usage growth. With Cloud hosting, you eliminate the risk to going past your traffic limit (Benefit #3, scalability and elasticity).
In public Cloud data centers, your data is stored in multiple copies on many servers, so if a server fails, your apps and data should still be safe and available. In fact, you might not even notice that something even went wrong at some point! (Benefit #4, reliability)
What are the downsides then?
The perceived downsides of public Cloud hosting are security risks and loss of control. Some businesses tend to think that if their apps and data are not withing their perimeter, they may not be safe or they could lose control over it. Without getting in too much detail, we believe that this is a largely erroneous perception and that the vast majority of Cloud hosting companies will offer a much higher level of security that what most businesses could normally afford.
Another concern is the loss of control and data privacy. Again, most businesses should not worry about this unless they hold sensitive information and/or operate in a highly regulated environment. In these cases, you should consider a private Cloud where achieving compliance for data confidentiality and integrity is easier. This is relevant mainly if you need to comply to regulatory requirements such as HIPAA , Sarbanes-Oxley Act and PCI-DSS, just to name a few.
Another route to consider is an hybrid utilization of public and private Clouds, although it may raise some issues in terms of interoperability and portability that are beyond the scope of this post.
How to choose a Cloud hosting company?
In most scenarios, the benefits of choosing a Cloud hosting solution will be far greater than the inconvenience but still you need to choose a reputable hosting company. The most popular choices are the giants, such as Amazon Web Services, NetDepot and Rackspace, but you should also consider smaller players that are able to provide a more personalized and often cheaper service.
These are some of the things you should bear in mind before making your choice:
Make sure that they have a great technical and customer support team. Call their customer service to understand how they run their operations. See how competent and quick they are to respond (Check #1, customer service).
They need to be offering a highly open and flexible platform to respond to your individual requirements. Open standards offer not only easy migration from traditional solutions (such as dedicated hosting) but neither locks you or your data in the cloud (Check #2, openness). It is a very competitive market and vendors are working aggressively to acquire new clients. Both on-demand and subscription pricing should be available, with the minimum billing period being as little as a few minutes (Check #3, compare the prices).
Most companies will guarantee high availability and performance through SLAs. Their modern servers and infrastructure should provide a high level of redundancy, and a 99,9% service-level agreement should come as given (Check #4, SLAs).
You should be able to manage your Cloud servers through a web-based interface that includes a full API access to guarantee a smooth transition, should you decide to change supplier later on. Security and guarantees on your data integrity and confidentiality should also be part of your check list (Check #5, security and a way out!).
There are many companies out there that fit the bill, and most of the mainstream providers should pass your scrutiny. We can directly recommend a Swiss company with global reach that is paying special attention to cost-efficiency, security and customer service. CloudSigma [disclaimer, CloudSigma is a GetApp.com sponsor] meets all these requirements and is the Cloud hosting platform of choice for demanding corporate users. They offer a free trial which makes it a risk-free option for getting started in the Cloud.