If you are looking for a cloud web hosting solution, choosing one that’s right for you is trickier than it seems. Some reading this might look at the title and think ‘aren’t all cloud web hosting services pretty much the same?”
After all, a cloud platform is just a fancy way of saying “shared hosting”. Some clever marketing person worked out that ‘Cloud’ had more technical marketers ‘bang’ or ‘mojo’ to it than ‘pay as you go’ or ‘rental hosting packages’.
However, there are significant differences between one cloud web hosting plan and another, including storage plans, customer support if things go wrong, overall customer service, data transfer speeds (and/or latency), and much more.
Before we dig into detail on our list of the five best Cloud Web Hosting offerings, we need to first dig a little deeper into exactly what Cloud Web Hosting is (and isn’t). Let’s start with the basics of what is cloud anyway.
#1 Computer Storage 101
Way back in the beginnings of mass use of computing, storage needs were met with internal computer memory coupled with physical direct-attached storage (DAS) such as tape or disc. You still see that today (external hard drives, RAM-based USB sticks and external high volume optical or tape drives are just examples).
Here is our first secret: Keep it Simple.
You can of course run your web proposition on some physical server you go out and buy, and gets someone to cobble together all the bits and pieces of software to make it all work – and that Capex method maybe won’t be going away anytime soon. But as we’ll see later a ‘bag of bits’ approach based on DAS has big drawbacks for Web Hosting (as does NAS or SAN shared architectures) compared to Cloud. What’s more, who is going to maintain it? You? How about the geeky person who put it together – supposing they quit their job?
That’s why the Opex-based and way simpler Cloud-based web hosting solution makes more sense.
There are two main forms of cloud. First, there is the private kind of Cloud (maybe a single server plus backup within the organization), or an arrangement with a data center. Again this might suit some large organizations but of course, someone is going to have to put all the elements of web hosting together, manage things and (in the case of an in-house server) offer 24/7 support, keep performance up to speed, maintain security, allowing potentially risky root access etc.
So, in this article, we’ll be focusing on the pros and cons of various types of web hosting such as managed hosting, shared hosting, etc. but based on a public cloud architecture.
# 2: Top 5 Best Cloud Hosting Providers
Here is our second secret. There is no single ‘best’
There is no single ‘best’ cloud web hosting – it all depends on what you need. So we are offering a useful guide for the types of cloud hosting, with an honest assessment of the pros and cons against specific use cases in this article. There is more than one kind of tempting offering around commercial web hosting services based on public cloud storage.
Here’s our rundown of the 5 best cloud hosting providers:
SiteGround benefits in more detail:
SiteGround are great for speed of reading/write and lower latency. The distance of your device from a cloud providers’ data center will affect the transfer time latency (keyboard and mouse lagginess and stickiness too). SiteGround has data centers in North America (Chicago), Europe (Amsterdam) and Asia (Singapore).
What’s more they have great caching with their SuperCacher plugin that includes three levels of caching you can choose.
There’s also good security with their Hacker Alert. It crawls across your site looking for nasties and for malware will email you if and when it finds questionable activities. There is also eSSL, great if you accept payments via credit card. It helps create a secure connection between you and your customer with PCI compliance.
Also there are lots of plan options. Their plans list starting from basic to deluxe include Startup with 1 website and one GB from about $5 per month, GrowBig with unlimited websites and 20 GB from about $6, and GoGeek with 30 GB and unlimited websites at about $12.
We only have two main cons with SiteGround – the storage can be a bit small compared to some competitors and migration of larger amounts of data can be a bit of a hassle. Other than those, we recommend SiteGround to you budding entrepreneurs, startup founders, and future captains of industry who have the very little budget today. Don’t forget Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson etc. all started small. SiteGround has lots to offer – much more than we’ve looked at here – check them out to find more.
inmotion benefits in more detail:
Fully scalable Bandwidth & Space: If you have the cash then space and bandwidth are pretty much unlimited. That will suit some companies and some people more than a fixed tariff product that is priced in inflexible blocks.
Uptime is very high: In fact InMotion can and does hit at least 99.97%. That’s important if you have especially demanding and time-critical customers or clients of your own and you want to make sure they are serviced too.
SSL Certificates: These are free, so that’s a peace of mind plus. One less thing to worry about.
Great ECommerce tools: You can run e-commerce apps like OpenCart, WooCommerce for WordPress, PrestaShop, Magento, etc. and payment methods include PayPal, Google Pay, and Credit Cards.
Free Domain Name: For your first year. That is great to get you started.
Free Email: Another feature we like as it is another hassle-free aspect of this product.
Free Google ads: You get $150 advertising credits for Google Adwords.
Free Website Creator: InMotion comes with a basic website creator tool to help get you started. Our only con to this is that it is a bit limited.
Our only other con with InMotion we’d highlight (which frankly won’t affect everyone) is their servers are located in North America only, so they are a bit less of an international/global proposition than SiteGround if you or your target users are globally located.
InMotion has been around since 2001 and has a good reputation with their user base. We’ve only really scratched the surface here of their full cloud web hosting product offering and we’d recommend you take a more detailed look.
DreamHost benefits in more detail:
DreamHost is a specialist in WordPress hosting and is actually recommended by WordPress. So, this is a niche (albeit a very large niche) offering that isn’t really in direct competition with general web hosting vendor products.
Their lineup of plans is quite complex with three product types and sub-tiers within those, so we’ll pick out some highlights and encourage you to check out more.
Basic Plans: The Dreamhost range starts with their WordPress plans, three sub tiers starting at a low entry price of less than $3 per month – WordPress Basic – however, that’s very much a beginner-level product and not one we’ll dwell on here if you are a bigger organization. It’s great for starting though, as included in the package you get 1 website, a free domain, unlimited traffic, WordPress pre-installed, free automated WordPress migrations, a WP website builder, and a free SSL certificate. The downside is you don’t get Email – it’s a chargeable option. Their next WordPress offering a step up – WordPress Unlimited – is the real sweet spot if you are planning to grow bigger, as you get all of WordPress basic but also get unlimited websites and free email, at around $5 per month.
Advanced Plans: The next product range is DreamPress – managed WordPress hosting – which also offers three different price points depending on the number of site visitors. Their base $17 per month version is DreamPress with 30 GB storage and up 1,000 visitors per month. Pay a bit more and you get DreamPress Plus with 60 GB and 3,000 site visitors. The top managed package – DreamPress Pro – comes in over $70 per month but allows over 1 million monthly visitors.
High-end Plans: The final product range is DreamHost VPS, which are four Virtual Private Server product plans. These are a sort of private cloud arrangement, for scaled-up operations with beefed up security. One important feature is “Reseller and Sub Account” which allows creating an unlimited number of sub-client accounts and contractor website access, FTP, and secure charging.
DreamHost isn’t really comparable to generic cloud web hosting vendors and are not ideally suited to that kind of application. However, they are great at the specific use cases they specialize in.
Hostinger benefits in more detail:
Hostinger is a relatively new kid on the block and they seem hell-bent on gaining market share through aggressive pricing and well-featured products. Their plan seems to be working too, with more than 29 million users.
Hostinger very clearly positions itself as a very cost-effective hosting provider, with deals coming in at less than a dollar a month for a basic plan package.
Cost effective plans: At those prices no wonder they are a fast-growing company that offers shared hosting, WordPress hosting, and cloud hosting. The sub -$1 plan is very basic but steps up to $2.15 per month and you get a good package for your money, including a 30-day guarantee, unlimited SSD disk space & bandwidth, the free domain name (except on the sub-$1 entry-level plan, and free SSL certificate.
Extra Features: Some rich additional features include Bitninja security which is very cool and worth looking at for a second. It’s a unified real-time protection suite that will prevent nasties like XSS, DDoS, malware, script injection, and other unpleasantness.
We also like the 1-click WordPress auto-installer, and the uptime is very good, as are response times. Pay $3.45 per month and the already-good response speed gets even faster.
How do they do it at this price? Well, there is nothing wrong with the products themselves, the cost savings seem to be in their support. While their support people are very good, it can be difficult to get hold of them, especially if you have an urgent problem. Also, be careful of the headline price. As we discuss elsewhere, it’s all about the total cost of ownership. For example, you will want to buy their added security package (the equivalent of which is standard with some competitor plans) and then suddenly that headline price just doubled.
That’s not to say the packages aren’t good value for money or good quality – they are, it’s just you need to get behind the marketing facade to find out the real costs.
HostGator benefits in more detail:
Our final pick is the user-friendly HostGator family of plans. They offer a wide range of solutions, including, Shared, Cloud, WordPress, VPS, and Dedicated Servers.
Easy to use: Starting with their friendly cartoon mascot, this range of plans is all about making you feel confident about setting up and running your web presence. The first reassuring fact is that uptime hits over 99.9% and that load times can be as low as 399ms. What that means is people trying to access your content should get a smooth and reliable experience.
Extra stuff: As well as WordPress, HostGator supports Joomla, Drupal, and Magento. You get a bunch of goodies including, unmetered bandwidth, free email accounts, free domain (but only in the 1st year), and free SSL security. What’s unusual about HostGator is that they don’t meter storage but instead charge based on the number of sites you host.
Despite the keen pricing (the mid-price standard plan is under $7 per month) you get high-quality support too, including 24/7 live chat. Better still you get a free site transfer.
The HostGator cons: It is those Marketing folks again with complex pricing that has great headline figures but in real-world use, those numbers creep up.
#4 What is Cloud web hosting
Unlike traditional web hosting based on conventional non-cloud storage, Cloud web hosting service providers take care of the total service. A premium web hosting service provider says ‘we’ll do all the heavy IT lifting, you just get on with what you need to do’. Why should you care what’s going on with some other CPU cores? Why would you want to do IT yourself? Let someone else do it. With Cloud, all the massive complexity of performing tasks using remote resources – storage but also rendering and complex calculations – is typically hidden behind an easy to use control panel user interface. That’s it – so far as you are concerned.
That is not the case with web services using physical storage like a DAS, NAS or SAN. You may not even be in an organization (or a small business that has no in-house IT customer support). Unlike Cloud which can have a quality of service clause, with DAS there is no money-back guarantee if it all goes wrong. A good premium web service cloud contract takes care of all that hassle.
#5 Pro and cons of Cloud hosting
Compared to putting together a multi-vendor ‘mix and match’ web hosting on DAS (direct-attached storage, like USB sticks, flash drives etc.) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) this is how Cloud web hosting shapes up:
- Just as CPU’s have – up to a point, followed the so-called Moore’s Law curve of progression, (so the argument goes) so has DAS storage. You get a lot of DAS (or NAS) today for not very much and you could just try a ‘homebrew’ solution. That’s not in reality a great argument as we’ll see below.
- As a way of storing data, DAS has obvious downsides versus Cloud: It’s not great for collaborative working, it can get lost, it can get stolen, or destroyed in a fire or flood, or otherwise damaged etc. etc. And you have to buy DAS via Capex (and it can be hard to know how much to buy).
So, what about web services using shared DAS – like a NAS or SAN? The pros and cons of Cloud are a little different when compared more deeply to NAS or SAN topologies:
- An organization-wide shared NAS or SAN on Ethernet or for SAN a fiber network topology, for central storing, has all the advantages of DAS plus more ability to move or share.
- However, NAS & SAN solutions come with downsides, like big complexity to setup and ongoing maintenance.
- Cloud is in theory infinitely scalable. With a NAS or SAN, a scale-up is another complicated topic.
#6 The 8 Secrets of what to look for purchasing Cloud Web Hosting
- Speed. Speed of writing to and reading from the cloud can be mission-critical for some people. It’s horrible working with any kind of lag, pretty much whatever you are doing. It’s especially an issue if for example, you want to stream video – there you are making that great client presentation on your slick marketing video freezes. Be sure of robust delivery.
- Caching. This is often related to speed – does the service provider cache your frequently needed or high volume content for faster access? If so, how much?
- Uptime (no downtime). Protection from outages or reduced user performance due to maintenance, or the amount of traffic, or faults, or DDoS is another major topic. How good is their disaster recovery in reality? You don’t want apologies, you want guaranteed performance. Also – is there a live chat with a human?
- Price. Do not be fooled by headline-grabbing prices. Look at the real TCO (total cost of ownership) i.e. all aspects of costs vs. benefits when comparing vendors.
- Disc (storage) space. The whole point of Cloud is that it should scale more easily and cheaply than a DAS storage solution. If it doesn’t scale as much as you need at a price that looks fair, go look elsewhere and see if there is a better deal.
- Security. Does it include SSL (Secure Sockets Layer?) You may have very sensitive information. You want it kept secure. Do you get a free SSL certificate? Is it HIPAA – compliant?
- Bonus features. Does it include email? A free domain? How slick is the backup of your work during the day?
- How is migration handled? If you want to move or consolidate data, how hard is that to do? How well does it work, how long might it take and what are the real costs in practice?
Your choice of cloud web hosting should be done based on objectivity and a bit of homework, not just on a headline. For example, we have seen in two of our five candidates that you need to be really clear upfront about what your use case looks like going forward, as there can be hidden costs that will bite you later.
You also need to know what tools you will use – is it WordPress site hosting or something else? Might the way you work need to change in the future?
Finally, great features and low prices are all very well but make sure you are happy with the performance and the support. How much money have you saved if your service is poor or even down? Your target audience is always only a click away from leaving your site.
In a nutshell, never go on headline features or prices, it should always be the total benefits and costs of ownership that matters.