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Cloud Hosting Series Part 2: VPS to Cloud?

I have to admit, I’m a bit baffled by some of the messages I’ve heard coming from our competitors and from customers recently about what Cloud Hosting means to our industry. I often get questions from customers and read advertising from other hosting companies that equate Cloud Hosting to being the obvious replacement for dedicated server or VPS hosting. We hear things like, “upgrade to our Cloud solution” and “host your website in our Cloud,” as if your website wasn’t working on its current platform, or with the advent of Cloud, your website would stop working all of a sudden.

Don’t get me wrong, Cloud Hosting has its place in the market, and it will become increasingly relevant with time. In fact, as a platform, Cloud will become a necessity over the next few years. But, right now – are you ready for it?

In the SMB realm, our industry continues to sell hosting as it has since pre-Cloud days. It’s all still server, VPS, or instance focused. Everything goes back to a software architecture and design philosophy that places the greatest emphasis on managing your operation on the server level, and automating as much of that operation as possible, hence the the proliferation of control panel software over the past 10 years. Control panels attempt to simplify web hosting management, a task that was previously highly technical and arcane, requiring deep knowledge, typically gained after years of experience.

If, as a customer, you think of Cloud Hosting through this server-centric lens, you won’t reach the promise of Cloud. You can have your server in the Cloud, but it won’t give you and your hosting company anything more than a way to more quickly and flexibly provision and bill for VPSs. If you’re looking at hosting the way most do who have been consuming hosting services in the era of mass-market server virtualization, Cloud Hosting offerings in the market today can seem marvelously underwhelming. It’s virtualization with provisioning automation, or — put another way — it’s hosting where provisioning control has been given to the consumer.

Okay, so then why does anyone care about Cloud? What has truly captured the attention of the industry is not what Cloud Hosting currently is for the SMB community, it is the promise of what it can and will be. Cloud will revolutionize hosting, but not in the way that some seem to assume right now. It is not going to make server management more simple, or optimize the software platforms of today. And it won’t simplify your life. Cloud will, however, make possible a paradigm shift in the way that applications are hosted on the Internet.

What makes Cloud revolutionary is the mental shift that it allows in developing web-based applications. The ability for the hosting consumer and/or software developer to control resource provisioning allows development that goes in a completely new direction. Cloud Hosting creates a world in which server instances are transient and disposable. The instance is no longer important — the communication and cooperation between instances is. The developer writes provisioning logic into his application because, by breaking the functional requirements out into logically separable parts, he can build a system that can auto-scale to meet individual application requirements.

The problem is that many seem to assume that they’re going to bring their old applications, control panels, and knowledge to the Cloud, and that it’s all going to work even better. That’s not really the case. You will
be able to bring these things to the Cloud, but they will not take advantage of the true benefits of the Cloud. One solution to this problem is time – time for developers to begin writing applications to Cloud APIs and using technologies that allow for simple inter-server cooperation and synchronized data sharing and manipulation. This will naturally occur over the next few years, and it will come as a result of the creation of new development frameworks that make splitting hosting tasks into logical chunks a simple process.

Ultimately, Cloud Hosting is cool, and it is revolutionary. But right now, if you want to rush to the Cloud, ask yourself what problems you are trying to solve and who are you relying upon to solve them. For your own sake, make sure you know how your Cloud vendor will improve your operation. Otherwise, you might just end up getting sold a good old dedicated server “in the Cloud” — which you might even pay more for.

About Matthew Loschert

Matthew Loschert is the Chief Technology Officer of ServInt.

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