Cloud Hosting vs Shared Hosting – Basic Explanation

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No one is sure about how to use these terms anymore! Previously we had the following upgrade plan:

  1. Shared Hosting
  2. Virtual Private Server (VPS)
  3. Dedicated Hosting

Now a fourth type of web hosting is on the market, and it’s causing a great deal of confusion to everyone. This beginner’s guide will explain in simple terms how cloud hosting differs from traditional hosting, and whether or not it’s right for you.

You can see the current prices of cloud hosting plans so you can compare between hosting providers.

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What is Cloud Hosting?

Cloud hosting means that none of the following are tied down to a single machine:

  1. CPU
  2. Memory (RAM)
  3. Hard Disk Space
  4. Bandwidth

Cloud hosting spreads your website across several servers instead of just one. There’s no one server on which your site is hosted. So you don’t shop by disk space etc like normal hosting plans, because there are none! Instead, you can increase or decrease the resources available to you on the fly.

Now that you understand the basic idea, let’s see how it differs from shared hosting.

“Cloud” Shared Hosting Doesn’t Exist

I know what you’re thinking. Why can’t we have “shared hosting” that simply scales as the site grows? Why not have cloud plans that are cheap when traffic is low, and which scale up when more traffic comes in?

Unfortunately, this will not happen. Cheap shared “cloud” hosting will never truly exist, because it’s not enough to say “scale up when traffic increases”. When you pay for shared hosting, you’re paying for a certain number of resources. The more you pay, the faster your site becomes. Technically, there’s no limit to how fast you can make your site!

So what will cloud shared hosting really give you? No one knows. It’s very ill-defined. Even though there are web hosts like DreamHost, that have just one shared hosting plan, they too have limits and will happily kill processes on your site that are taking up to much CPU time.

The Cloud Allows Unlimited Customization

Cloud technology allows web hosts to provide you with options like never before, because they’re no longer bound by the constraints of a single server. So a hosting provider like RoseHosting, can offer complete customization of their servers like this:

Configure Custom RoseHosting VPS

Cloud hosting allows servers to pool their resources together, to create massive virtual machines, that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Why the Confusion Between “Cloud” and “VPS”?

The explanation above shows the reason for the confusion between “cloud” and “VPS” offerings. The cloud allows you to create virtual machines…which are nothing but Virtual Private Servers!

Many web hosts themselves are unsure of what to call their offerings! Some providers like SiteGround, don’t have a VPS offering at all, and instead refer their customers to their GoGeek plan. Others simply show the same plan for both cloud hosting and VPS hosting.

Early Confusion with Hosts like GoDaddy

When the term “Cloud Hosting” was new, everyone was cashing in on the trend. GoDaddy for example used to promote cloud hosting as the next great thing at prices even cheaper than shared hosting plans! I remember thinking at the time that this was absurd. Their promises were too good to be true. And indeed, things have settled down since then. Hosting providers have realized that cloud hosting is its own separate offering that’s a good fit for some people, and a bad fit for others.

So let’s understand quickly what cloud hosting is, before exploring its differences compared to regular hosting.

Increase Hardware Resources on the Fly with the Cloud

With traditional hosting, you hardware resources have to keep up with your traffic. As your site grows, you need more memory, more diskspace, and more bandwidth. After a certain point, you need to switch to a higher, and more expensive plan to keep up.

Cloud hosting removes the need to change plans. You can simply add more hardware like memory etc as you go along. This is the benefit of not running from a single machine. Everything is in the cloud, and provisioning resources can be done in minutes.

This makes it difficult/impossible for a cloud server to go down from a sudden short term DDoS attack for instance. Since you can automatically scale your resources, you always have as much power as you need. The downside to this of course is that if you’re not careful, you can rack up huge bills 🙂

The Cloud Removes a Single Point of  Failure

No matter how reliable a hosting service is, there will be some periods of downtime. Either for server maintenance, or some configuration error, or due to a misbehaving website on the same server. But since your cloud hosted website isn’t sitting on just one machine, your site will never go down. If there’s some local problem, another server will take up the load. So the uptime of a cloud service should be close to 100%. No issues with scheduled maintenance. The cloud is always on.

It also means that your data is always mirrored to different locations. A server crash won’t wipe everything out. It’s always backed up across multiple data centers!

Cloud Hosting is more Expensive than Shared Hosting (Obviously)

It should be obvious by now that cloud hosting requires a lot more management and technical expertise compared to ordinary shared hosting. The benefits and additional resources you use make cloud hosting far more expensive compared to traditional hosting. Now that the initial excitement over cloud hosting has settled down, the price difference between the two types of plans is clear.

You need to opt for cloud hosting only if you want the power, reliability and flexibility it offers. Choose cloud hosting if your site needs to dynamically manage its resources, and if you’re not comfortable with even a moment of downtime. The cloud can provide you with an extremely powerful and robust website that’s difficult to take down. And it will scale with your business as it grows.

On the other hand, if your website is just starting out and has fewer than say 100,000 visitors a month, another hosting plan will be better for you. You can always migrate to cloud hosting later on when you see the need!

About Bhagwad Park

I've been writing about web hosting and WordPress tutorials since 2008. I also create tutorials on Linux server administration, and have a ton of experience with web hosting products. Contact me via e-mail!

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