Web hosting is the act of storing data on a headless computer (no keyboard, mouse, or monitor), known as a server. A website requires a web server. Sometimes, you may need separate servers for different tasks:
- File servers
- Email servers
- Database servers
- Game servers
A web hosting plan resides at a remote location, accessible via the internet: web browser, Secure Shell (SSH), etc. This is where the generic term “cloud” comes in. Web and cloud server hosting are sometimes used interchangeably. This is because web hosting plans are intended for hosting primarily websites and applications.
Cloud technology has improved to a point where it’s almost always a worthy consideration for your web applications. The advantages to cloud hosting are easy to digest. You don’t need to worry about:
- Hardware maintenance in a data-center (cables, hard drives, HVAC, etc.)
- Natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes and floods)
- 24/7 Physical security
The tricky part is choosing the correct hosting method for your needs – shared, dedicated, cloud, or virtual private server (VPS) hosting. Below we’ll cover:
- What is a Cloud Server?
- Types of Cloud Server Hosting
- Advantages of Cloud Server Hosting
- Should You Choose Cloud Server Hosting?
What is a Cloud Server?
Linux cloud servers have many names depending on the marketing trends at any given time: self-managed VPS, cloud VPS, unmanaged (by the hosting provider) VPS. It’s a type of platform as a service (PaaS), usually built within a highly available (HA) infrastructure for top speed and uptime. What sets cloud server hosting apart from Managed VPS Hosting:
- Lack of server management software – usually cPanel with WebHost Manager (WHM)
- Flexibility to install different Linux operating systems (OSs) as you desire
- No free technical support due to the complexity of each individual server environment
The web hosting provider maintains the hardware, virtualization, and base OS installation. You maintain everything else:
- OS configuration
- Backups and snapshots for disaster recovery (DR)
- Web server preference and customization (e.g. Apache, Nginx, Lighttpd)
- Security measures – firewall, antivirus (AV) scanner, distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection
- Server analytics and log analysis for performance baselines
This requires strong knowledge of, or willingness to learn, the Linux command-line interface (CLI). Because of all this, base cloud servers are only recommended for users willing to resolve their own issues. Those willing to take the challenge gain:
- Greater control over system resources and customization
- Lower costs since you’re not offered technical support or software with licensing fees
We should also quickly mention virtual private cloud (VPC) hosting. The differences between a VPS and VPC are minimal but important for niche use cases:
- Resource elasticity to meet peaking usage
- Pay per usage in seconds/hours that the server is online instead of weekly/monthly subscriptions
System administrators (sysadmins) and developers like VPCs for the low costs of intermittent testing.
Types of Cloud Server Hosting
Types of cloud servers available vary per hosting provider.
Cloud server plans usually just provide a list of base OSs without bloatware – software that may be helpful but unnecessary for your use case. We offer the most common Linux distributions used for web servers: CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu Server. Some may provide more Unix OSs for niche users including Gentoo, Arch, and even FreeBSD spinoffs.
Let us know what other Linux OSs you’d like us to support in the comments below.
Earlier I said cloud servers are mainly base OS environments. But some hosting providers also offer pre-configured cloud servers for specific web applications. This is sometimes referred to as a software as a service (SaaS). For example, we offer Linux-based Ansible Control Nodes for automating redundant tasks across a large number of remote systems.
Some of the most popular types of application servers are:
- Server management applications including cPanel, Webmin/Virtualmin, Vesta Control Panel, and CentOS Web Panel (CWP)
- Web applications and content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress and Nextcloud
- Web application firewalls (WAFs) like pfSense which provide DDoS protection, similar to Sucuri and content delivery networks (CDNs)
- Load balancers such as HAProxy for using domain name system (DNS) records to spread web server requests across multiple synced servers
- Virtual private networks (VPNs), similar to a forward proxy, for using OpenVPN or WireGuard for online privacy
Advantages of Cloud Server Hosting
You can read more general info about VPS versus other hosting in our blog titled “What is VPS Hosting?”
Cloud Server or Shared Hosting
Shared Hosting is the cheapest option that includes technical support, even after industry-wide renewal promotions. It’s also the most restrictive. You don’t have root access, the ability to change your OS, or dedicated resources for your web applications. You have no idea what types of websites are sharing your server IP address or bandwidth.
If another user on your shared server is having performance issues due to a cyber attack, you might start having issues as well. This might not be much of an issue if you’re:
- New to web hosting and inexperienced with the Linux CLI
- Just looking to install WordPress and setup email
- Using web hosting for a short-term project (e.g. college project)
Cloud servers start off cheaper than shared hosting (excluding promotions) because the web hosting provider isn’t paying licensing fees for server management software or providing technical support for issues unique to your individual instance.
Cloud Server or Dedicated Hosting
Physical, Dedicated Server Hosting is great when your business demands outgrow the abilities of VPS hosting. The entire server is dedicated to serving your data only.
Want to recompile the Linux kernel for deep server hardening? Have fun.
Need to connect a hardware firewall to your server? Alright. We offer a Cisco ASA 5500-X hardware firewall with our dedicated hosting plans.
But that free rein for the strictest security comes at a high cost, literally. Managed and unmanaged dedicated servers are the most expensive of the options. This is why experienced Linux sysadmins sometimes start with a bare cloud server where they can use allotted resources as they wish. Then, they upgrade as necessary.
Cloud Server or Managed VPS Hosting
Managed VPS Hosting, sometimes called a virtual dedicated server (VDS), is the cost-effective middle ground between shared and dedicated hosting:
- More stable performance and security than a shared server (including a dedicated IP)
- Less costly than a dedicated server
- Still able to receive free technical assistance
Like managed dedicated servers, a managed VPS will cost more than the cheapest cloud server options and withhold resources for server management software – cPanel, DirectAdmin, etc.
Should You Choose Cloud Server Hosting?
This depends on your primary goals, CLI skills, and budget. You should consider a bare Linux cloud server if you need:
- Consistent performance, unaffected by DoS attacks to neighboring cloud instances
- Server resources used only for applications you’ve installed
- Root access for administrative functions
- To only pay for what you need
- Little to no technical support other than how to set up SSH keys
The biggest deciding factors are whether you have the technical expertise and time to build your custom solution. If you are still on the fence about whether or not this is the right decision for you, see our article on Managed VPS or Cloud Server Hosting.