Cloud Hosting – Does it live up to the hype?

By | May 1, 2012

I have been using cloud hosting for my sites for the past year, and the short answer is “yes”, it is by far the best hosting I have ever had (see my previous post about my hosting problems). It is much more reliable, and from a webmaster’s perspective is not really any different to use it than any of my previous hosting accounts, so I don’t have to learn anything new.

Although the technical aspects of cloud hosting are impressive, many large website owners like me were using a different kind of “failproof” type hosting a long time ago. As far back as the early 2000s I used to use a load balancer with multiple servers to make it so there was little risk of downtime due to hardware failure, and it was always pretty easy for me to add extra capacity whenever needed even without the cloud (I never once had the need to expand capacity faster than the day or two it took a host to manually make the changes). But, for various reasons, I still had lots of downtime (corrupt mysql database, DDOS attacks, load balancer problems, power outages, etc.). And, I had to keep an eye on the servers 24/7 because I had no faith at all that they would be running correctly. There was never a vacation that I took where I didn’t have a server crisis, or at least have to constantly check things to make sure there were not problems. What is different with my cloud hosting is that all the servers are fully managed, which means the web host automatically detects and fixes any problems for me. And, because cloud hosting is setup much more efficiently than traditional hosting, it is usually much faster and easier for them to fix the problems.

There are many cloud hosts, but two of the largest are RackSpace and Cartika. I am using Cartika for my cloud hosting, although I also had a non-cloud server at Rackspace for many years. The technical aspects of cloud hosting are different with each host, but the general idea they promote is that instead of your site being on a single server that can easily go down or have other problems, it is in their “cloud” of servers which is much less likely to have problems. Seductive phrases such as “Fully redundant”, “High availability”, and “Self healing” are used. And, you only pay for the disk storage/RAM/CPU capacity that you need, and as soon as you need more it can be added on the fly.

All that is great, but no matter how reliable the hosting sounds, there can still be problems such as connectivity issues, server patching errors, and hardware failures. In the past six months I had one 6 hour period of downtime and another 2 hour window of downtime, neither of which had anything to do with my sites in particular. What is good about Cartika though is that when problems happen, they detect them and respond almost instantly on my behalf. I feel like they are always looking out for my best interests, and their tech support workers are acting as my workers. In the past I paid a monthly fee to server monitoring/management companies (such as we3cares.com) to detect when my servers are down and then get them fixed, but the problem with this is that they usually have to depend on filling out a support ticket with my web host to get the server fixed, so if my host does not respond, the server does not get fixed. It is much more efficient for the web host to detect and fix the problems themselves. Plus, whenever I email Cartika sales or support, they always respond right away and go out of their way to give me the info I need.

One of the other reasons I switched to cloud hosting was that I was in the process of looking at setting up a better backup system than I have now, and had decided on r1soft.com , but it cost around $3,000 for my 6 servers and would have been a big project for me to setup. Luckily, before I made the purchase, I stumbled on Cartika’s website and saw they offered built-in R1Soft backups for free (Rackspace also offers backups). The backups are 100% automatic with no setup needed on my end and Cartika support can easily access them anytime in case my data gets lost for some reason and needs to be re-installed. Cartika hosting also comes with free virus and malware detection and removal, which is unusual for a Linux host.

In conclusion, as far as I can tell, there is no downside to cloud hosting. It is generally the same price as normal hosting, and some webmasters will even save money with it. With upsides such as proactive server management, flexible capacity, automated backups, minimal downtime, and great technical support, it is really a no-brainer to choose cloud hosting.

Note: I am not getting paid in any way to promote cloud hosting and have no relation at all with any cloud hosting company, other than as a customer.

UPDATE: Ironically, seconds after I posted this, all my Cartika sites went down. Cartika posted a message saying:
“There has been an issue with network congestion and flooding within our Dallas facility. This has resulted in intermittent and inconsistent network connectivity. This is causing some connection and performance issues for all customers. Cloud instances will be most noticeable because of its reliance on network for storage. We are investigating and will provide updates once they are available.”

UPDATE 2: My sites were intermittently down for around half an hour but are fixed now.

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