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When the Cloud Isn’t the Cloud

TechCrunch has a lengthy, if not perhaps buzzword-happy, article on the rampant appearance of pseudo-cloud offerings by a growing number of hosting providers.  You can read the full dig here, but this is my favorite quote:

Collison describes the technology as the DNA of building blocks designed to deliver the velocity through the pipeline. In essence, it integrates infrastructure as a service (IaaS) with platform as a service and software as a service (SaaS) into one platform.

This buzzword-laiden marketing-speak (sorry TC) perfectly exemplifies what, exactly, is wrong with today’s cloud offerings:  There’s no standard, industry-wide definition of “cloud”, so marketing hype has taken over.  The result is not only difficulty comparing offerings from provider to provider, but also a large number of customers over-paying for conventional web hosing services.

Let’s look at what cloud hosting should be:

  • Scalable on demand:  Cloud hosting needs to grow and shrink with your needs.  When your site goes viral or gets a sudden surge of traffic, your cloud instance needs to be able to immediately and seamlessly grow to handle the load.  And once things settle down, it should reduce its footprint accordingly.
  • Redundant and resilient:  A hardware failure shouldn’t bring down your site.  Cloud hosting environments are usually made up of hundreds or thousands of dedicated servers.  When one of those servers fails, your site traffic should be routed to another functioning server automatically, transparently, and instantly.
  • Secure:  Although security is ultimately up to the end user, the host needs to do everything possible behind the scenes to help mitigate threats.  Be it software exploits, social engineering, or network-based attacks, the host should provide a secure foundation for deployment.
  • Reliable:  This might sound obvious, but cloud hosting is all about reliability.  The whole package must come together and play well.  If your site goes down, then it isn’t reliable.

There’s currently no standard, industry-wide definition of “the cloud”, so any given host can claim to offer cloud hosting without meeting all (or even some) of the above criteria.  That’s why we currently don’t offer cloud; nobody, hosts included, really agrees on what “cloud hosting” should be.  We could easily rebrand our virtual servers as cloud servers — and in fact, some hosts already do exactly that.  But that is, in our opinion, cheating.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s definitely a need and a market for cloud hosting.  But as we saw last week, it isn’t always the right choice.  And in some cases, you might be paying a premium for conventional hosting services.

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