Signing up for a simple web hosting package will usually buy you a defined block of resources on a single server: this much web space, that much bandwidth, maybe a set amount of RAM or CPU cores.
While this works well for many websites, having fixed resources can be a problem for larger projects. There’s generally no way to temporarily allocate extra RAM or bandwidth if you experience an increase in traffic, and even a simple plan upgrade might require your website to go offline for a while.
Cloud hosting plans look much like virtual private server (VPS) products, where you’ll initially pay for a set amount of web space, RAM, CPU time and bandwidth. But these resources are spread across multiple devices instead of just one, and changing your plan later – adding another gig of RAM, for instance – is generally as easy as dragging a slider, with the extra power coming online within moments.
This flexibility is great for delivering extra power when you need it most, and starting prices can be similar to regular VPS hosting (from £10 or $14 a month). Costs will rise as you add resources, but typically you’ll only pay for the time in which you use these resources.
DigitalOcean’s monster 192GB RAM, 32 vCPU and 3,840GB SSD product costs $960 (£685) a month, for instance, but this pay-as-you-go approach allows you to try it out for $1.429 or £1.02 an hour.
Cloud hosting still won’t be for everyone, and small, simple websites are likely to be better off with regular packages. But the technology has a lot to offer anyone with larger or more ambitious projects, and many hosts run free trials which make it easy to explore their abilities for yourself.
Best cloud hosting – at a glance
- Micrososft Azure
1. Microsoft Azure
Cloud hosting for websites and business data
Business data bundle
Overkill for just a website
This isn’t a solution for small businesses looking to simply host a website, but it’s a great place to go if you have additional computing needs as well and you want to bundle everything together into a single place. The advantage then is that you can move all your business data and apps into the cloud and run them from a single unified platform.
Additionally, by keeping to a single provider you can avoid all the complications of having to deal with cloud management for hybrid clouds and on-premises data. On top of this, Azure boasts more compliance and security certifications than any other cloud provider.
However, moving to a major cloud platform isn’t for the faint-hearted, but if you have the IT skills in house, or if you can utilize third-party cloud support services, the move could make a lot of sense even for smaller businesses with a lot of data.
And for the larger small business up through medium to enterprise businesses, the move the a cloud platform like Azure may be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
Cloud hosting for only websites
Simple to use
Solid range of plans
Temptingly priced with initial discounts
If you only need to host a website rather than additional business data, then HostGator’s cloud platform could be a more ideal choice. Unlike normal web hosting, Hostgator’s cloud hosting platform spreads your website load across multiple virtual server instances for more reliable and scalable hosting, but it’s as easy to use as standard shared hosting, and only costs a little more.
For example, the baseline Hatchling Cloud plan gets you support for one domain, unmetered bandwidth and storage, a share of up to two cores and 2GB RAM, and distributed Varnish caching to speed up the loading of static content. You can get started for as little as $3.13 (£2.50) a month if you buy three years upfront, although the price leaps to $8.95 (£6.40) on renewal.
If you need something more powerful, the top-of-the-range Business Cloud plan supports unlimited domains, gives you up to six cores and 6GB RAM, and includes private SSL and a dedicated IP. Another chunky introductory discount means you can pay as little as $6.28 (£5.10) a month over three years, but after that you’ll pay $17.95 (£12.80) per month.
Benefits of the cloud plans include (up to) twice as fast load times, along with more site statistics, and because your site is mirrored across multiple devices, the ability to switch your site to another server in the event of a hardware failure.
But the key advantage of all cloud hosting schemes is scalability. If your site can’t cope with demand, you can scale up to eight cores and 8GB RAM with a click. There’s no waiting around for someone to process your order and no downtime while your web space is reallocated – you get the extra resources right away.
Also, while prices go up after the initial discount promotion, they still remain extremely competitive.
A neat compromise between power and ease-of-use
User-friendly yet powerful
At first glance, cloud hosting products seem to be divided into two clear groups: enterprise-level technology from Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and more, or simpler and more user-friendly products from hosts like Hostgator.
Cloudways represents an interesting middle path. The company offers managed cloud hosting which is powered by your choice of the top providers – Amazon, Google, DigitalOcean, Kyup, Linode or Vultr are supported – and comes packed with features, yet is configured from a simple web console which is just as easy to use as the more basic competition.
It’s an impressive platform. Cloudways’ ThunderStack covers all your core performance needs: Nginx, Apache, Memcached, MySQL/MariaDB, Varnish Cache, PHP 7, PHP-FM and Redis. There’s one-click cloning, backup and restore, integrated Git and team collaboration tools for developers, and no less than 60 data centers strategically placed around the world (over 25 locations).
Despite all this high-end functionality, Cloudways products are generally simple to operate, and prices start at a beginner-friendly $10 (£7.15) a month for one core, 1GB RAM, 25GB storage and 1TB of bandwidth. It’s all supremely configurable, and a free trial allows you to check out the product, with no credit card details required. Furthermore, a referral system is available, where both you and your friends can receive free hosting credits.
4. Clook Managed Cloud Servers
A leading independent UK hosting provider
Reliable and worry-free
Clook is one of the UK’s leading independent webhosting providers, who offer Managed Cloud Servers among their various hosting services.
Again, it’s targeted at more basic web hosting needs, but if you’re looking for this in the UK market then Clook is up there with the best.
Unlike many other web hosting providers who chase the lowest prices while cutting corners on service, Clook instead invest in some of the best support in the business. This does mean you pay more, but it also means you can enjoy piece of mind because if something goes wrong then you can be assured that Clook are already working hard to address it.
Additionally if you have additional support queries Clook are fast to respond, and rather than script-reading frontline support you’re actually talking directly with people who have direct system administration experience of their server network. This avoids the frustration of running round in circles and instead means the job simply gets done.
Because this is a company run by sys admins, it also means that the hardware and network is very solid, and their managed cloud servers are no different. This is a managed service as well, which means you don’t have to worry about a thing. While other providers might aim for high uptime, Clook ensures their customer actually enjoy it, resulting in a headache-free service.
Overall, there are cheap hosting providers and complicated cloud platforms out there, but if you simply want rock-solid webhosting and are looking at the UK market then Clook is one of the best options you can go for.
Hosting for the more demanding user
DigitalOcean puts the cloud hosting focus on data as much as websites, providing a background of cloud computing services that make it the ideal place to host and run your own applications in the cloud.
While cloud hosting schemes always involve pooling resources from multiple devices, most do their best to keep you away from the low-level details. You may be able to scale your plan by adding CPU cores, RAM or storage, for instance, but the console will present this to you as a single system.
DigitalOcean’s Droplets are based around similar resizable and customizable virtual machines, but that’s just the start – the technology has much more to offer.
For starters, the system supports Droplets of different types. If the standard plans aren’t enough – priced from $5 (£3.55) a month for one core, 1GB RAM and 25GB storage – Optimized Droplets aim to ramp up your performance by using the best Broadwell and Skylake CPUs, and providing more RAM and storage space.
Individual Droplets have more features than you might expect, including performance monitoring and alerts, snapshots and automatic system-level backups.
There are various interesting ways to work with your Droplets as a group, including setting up a cloud firewall, and using a load balancer to distribute incoming traffic across your infrastructure.
DigitalOcean’s transparent pricing is a highlight. You’re billed hourly, with monthly caps, ensuring you only pay for the resources you use. Many of the features come for free – monitoring, cloud firewall – while others follow very simple pricing rules. Snapshots cost $0.05 per gigabyte per month, for instance, while backups are priced at 20% of the cost of the virtual machine – easy.
If all you want to do is host a scalable WordPress site, this will probably be overkill, but developers, sysadmins and other more demanding users will appreciate the power and flexibility DigitalOcean offers. Browse the lengthy list of tutorials (which numbers 2,400+ at the time of writing) on the DigitalOcean site to find out more.
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