Inside: Cloud or VPS Web Hosting?

vpsvscloud(Ping! Zine Issue 68) – In a world where virtual private servers (VPS) and cloud hosting are so similar, which should you opt for to meet the demands of your company? Jack Bedell-Pearce of 4D Hosting discusses the similarities and differences of each, along with benefits and potential pitfalls of using the different services.

The first question is what do you want to do? Is it to host a few applications, or do you want to operate a large, high-throughput e-commerce website?

What features should you look at when considering a VPS solution?
Virtual servers and virtualization technology has been available for years now and since inception, is one of the most popular options for companies to host their IT services on.

In the early nineties the revolution of virtualization meant that for the first time a dedicated server could have a simple piece of software installed to perform at maximum efficiency by using it as multiple, smaller machines rather than one large resource. The benefit for a host is that it can divide the machine into slices of varying size to meet the demands of the client.

VPS therefore, is scalable. Most SMEs will start off requiring very small resources, but as they grow so do their demands. Here the VPS will shine and upgrading virtually can be done in minutes.

However, although VPS resources can be upgraded at any time, this cannot be done ‘on the fly’ and will normally involve a small amount of downtime to perform a reboot of the machine.

Also, a VPS cannot burst in the way a cloud service can, therefore if you have an inconsistent amount of traffic to your website, a cloud solution may be the better option.

Generally companies who use virtualization software and run VPS solutions have invested large amounts of money, but leasing a VPS from a host costs about the same as a monthly mobile phone contract.
With a VPS you can budget for the monthly cost for pre-allocated resources. To get extra savings you can sign up for 1, 2 or 3 year deals, but this often comes with expensive break clauses.

Control and security
A hosted VPS will allow you to login to your server and gain administrative or root access, providing control and a good level of security for your application/s. The security of a VPS is greater than a shared or cloud environment. You can store what you like on it; no-one else has access to it, meaning it is a truly private resource.

Control is a key benefit of a VPS over cloud hosting as it has more options for customization without huge cost.

You can stop, start or even reinstall your VPS with the click of a button, meaning you can instantly restore the server to its original state, as well as take instant backups that can be restored at any time.

The only downside of all this control is that you may end up needing a dedicated VPS administrator, or at the very least some form of managed support for your system.

VPSs can be used for a variety of computing tasks, usually ones which are non-resource intensive applications, such as accounting programs, intranets and CRM databases, that won’t run in a shared environment as they require administrator access to configure. Other uses of VPSs include hosting of complex or high traffic websites.

Cloud hosting
On-demand, or elastic hosting, are terms often used to describe cloud hosting. The functionality is very similar to VPS, but the main differences are within the scalability element of the services. The cloud can provide on-demand and near limitless resource without any form of downtime for the client.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is the most common form of cloud hosting and is made up of multiple virtualized machines that share the same resources.

Some things to consider when buying a hosted cloud solution

Cloud is typically billed for on a ‘pay per use’ basis, like gas or water, and this is why it is sometimes referred to as utility computing.

However, having a limitless resource at your fingertips does come at a price. It may seem cheap to be charged a few pence an hour, but running 24/7 quickly adds up, so cloud can be up to twice as much the price of a VPS service.

Cloud hosting scalability is based on having resources distributed across multiple servers, allowing continuous availability as well as flexibility for peaks in demand. However, you may have no control over where data is stored, especially where your provider has several storage locations, including units overseas. Do check where data will reside.

Cloud security is advancing but there are still concerns over putting sensitive or private data on a public cloud.

Private clouds however, can guarantee a high level of security, but will be more expensive as they require hardware dedicated to that hardware.

Cloud servers are made up of multiple, virtualized servers so this means that if one fails, the others will be able to take the load and you should see no disruption to the service. This form of redundancy cannot be found in a VPS where, if a critical failure of the machine were to occur, there would be a small amount of downtime.

The cloud is accessed through the Internet, so if your host is experiencing downtime then so will you. Often suppliers will have a backup power supply, but ask if yours has invested in diverse connections to the Internet (few do).
Hybrid systems
This is another option to consider. The cost savings for cloud hosting in this instance can be very appealing, but in reality, integrating a legacy system with a new cloud solution is often difficult, requiring extensive IT consultancy or specialist help to achieve a functioning hybrid system. In the case of a VPS, you can often easily set it up to integrate more easily with a legacy system, often avoiding headaches associated with mis-matched platforms

At the end of the day the choice between VPS and cloud platforms depends on your business needs; it may well be that you opt for a mixture to get the right blend of flexibility, security and cost.

Tips for Small Businesses

  • When you start out consider Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions for applications such as accounting and CRM. These are often the most flexible and cost effective way of starting a business on a small budget.
  • VPS is always going to be best for hosting custom applications and retail websites as it will give you most control at a predictable monthly cost.
  • Data security can be a concern for a small business, and I would advise you to keep all customer information on a VPS, but details about prospects can go on a cloud application.
  • Do your research. What’s the support like? Check the location of the host’s cloud and VPS environments; ask to visit them. If you can’t find this information easily, then there’s a good chance that they are hiding something.


About the author
Jack Bedell-Pearce has over 13 years of commercial, operational and technical experience, and joined 4D Data Centres and 4D Hosting in 2007 as managing director.
4D Hosting re-launched in 2013 with a focus on providing premium hosting packages and 24/7 support from its own engineers to technology companies, developers and geeks.