What Are Cloud Service Providers?

Cloud Service Providers

Cloud service providers ( CSP ) is the name given to any of those companies that offer some component of cloud computing as a service. You know the ones? They all have initials that end in “aaS”. So, you’ll see infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS). Let’s take a look at what each one of these common acronyms means.

IaaS Providers

IaaS means that the cloud service provider owns and maintains all the hardware and software that the customer would normally have to buy and look after in their own data center. This means that the building that contains all the many boxes with their CPUs, memory, cooling, power supplies and all the rest of it live elsewhere, and the customer only needs to connect to use it.

The IaaS cloud service provider will also monitor everything, protecting it around the clock from cyber attackers, and providing other services like load balancing.

SaaS providers

SaaS gives the customer access to a number of business technologies like productivity solutions, customer relationship management (CRM) software and human resources management (HRM) software. The SaaS provider looks after it all, so again, the customer just dials in to use it.

Lots of software suppliers have made the move to cloud-based services now, so there’s often no need for customers to buy physical media from them.

PaaS providers

Platform as a service combines cloud infrastructure and services together, and it’s often used in software development. The difference compared to IaaS is that PaaS vendors will add  more of the application stack to the underlying infrastructure; things like operating systems and middleware.

Cloud providers can also be divided up according to whether they provide public, private or hybrid cloud services.

Common features and offerings

Cloud service providers typically allow users to purchase their offerings or subscribe on an ongoing basis.

Some cloud providers have tailored their products to the requirements of particular vertical markets. They’ve adapted their services in the cloud to meet the requirements of specific industries or they’ve customized them so that users can meet particular regulations. For example, a number of health-related cloud products are on the market and they allow healthcare providers to store, maintain and back up their users’ personal data.

Major cloud service providers

There are many cloud services providers out there, but it’s likely that you’ll only have heard of the really big ones: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

Amazon was first to become a major cloud provider in 2006 with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Microsoft came along with its Azure platform and then Google with its Google Cloud Platform. The market has grown and now these three dominant companies jostle for the lead share in many different corners of it.

At the moment, they are all working on cloud-based services that make use of emerging technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and containerization. Major cloud providers beyond the top three include Apple, Citrix, IBM, Joyent, Rackspace and Salesforce.

How to choose a cloud service provider

Choosing a cloud service provider involves looking at a number of factors. Cost is the main one, and you will normally pay depending on what you use, but you should be aware that this isn’t the only type of payment model.

What it’s going to cost you is of course important, but you might also want to consider where the servers are actually located if they need to deal with sensitive information.

Reliability

Reliability is crucial for the same reason that security is: your data is being kept somewhere else, so your ceding control of it to someone else. Reliability means knowing that you can access it all the time, and if you can’t, then that can spell big trouble for your business.

It’s worth noting that many cloud storage providers will promise 99.9% uptime in their service-level agreements (SLAs), and they will also spell out what kind of compensation you stand to receive if they can’t meet their promised level of service provision.

This sounds reassuring, but you do take care to read the small print in SLAs because some providers won’t count down time if it doesn’t exceed 10 minutes. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, then great. Perhaps your business can stand that kind of outage. But 600 seconds could be an eternity of dead time that costs companies in the financial sector (for example) a fortune.

Security

Security is an equally important area, but without visiting their premises poking around, it’s often hard to know how secure a cloud service provider really is. One thing you can look for here is the blessing of recognized bodies which set minimum standards.

Organizations like the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) will certify cloud providers that meet their requirements, so check whether your cloud provider is certified by them.

The CSA’s Trusted Cloud Initiative program is another scheme to look out for. It was set up to aid cloud service providers in developing secure and interoperable identity, access and compliance management configurations and practices that are recommended by the industry.

Hidden Blockchain Opportunities (3): Decentralized Cloud Storage

Hidden Blockchain Opportunities - Decentralized Cloud Storage - Plesk

Decentralized Cloud Storage is one use case that’s growing very fast and aims to solve one of the biggest online challenges today. Cloud storage is controlled by a few super large providers (Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Amazon, and so on). Raising questions about data protection, privacy, licensing, control and ownership of data. It’s yet another hidden blockchain opportunity for hosting and cloud providers.

Decentralized Cloud Storage in the Blockchain age

A few Blockchain companies have started working on proper alternatives, providing opportunities for cloud and hosting providers too! They all operate in a similar way:

(Read part 1 of the Blockchain series if this is not clear yet)

  • Instead of running storage through a company that controls it centrally, a decentralized Blockchain network stores the data.
  • The technology is open source and there’s no company controlling the data within this Blockchain network.
  • Compared to a centralized network, decentralized cloud storage ( decentralized networks ) represents not 100s or 1000s of computers/servers, but often millions. The price to store data is lower and the availability of such network is significantly higher than traditionally centralized networks.
  • The data is encrypted and each user controls their own encryption keys. Making the Blockchain concept a rock solid, unhackable and unbreakable solution.

Examples of such Blockchains are:

  • STORJ: (Funding: 35M USD) – Version S3 compatible V3 will be released soon
  • Sia: (Funding: 1.5M USD) – in production
  • Filecoin: (Funding: 257M USD) – no product yet, just a file system so far
  • IPFS: (Funding unknown) – in production and already used by developers worldwide.

Where’s the opportunity for cloud and hosting providers?

Because of the way these Blockchain networks operate, there are two use cases that hosting & cloud service providers can pursue.

  1. Consume storage:
    For example, use the storage of these networks to have an additional way of storing special or sensitive data, at a super cheap price.
  2. Contribute your spare/idle infrastructure:
    Add it into the Blockchain network to help keep it up and running. Get paid in tokens.

We’re still in the early stage of decentralized storage, but the expectations are high. This considering the investment sizes and advantages this approach provides, compared to centrally-controlled cloud storage. So I recommend you have a look now and make sure you’re ready for it as early as possible.

Decentralized Computing powered by Fog Computing (aka Blockchain)

Imagine running a decentralized approach for computing power across millions of computers on a Blockchain. It’s probably one of the most complex Blockchain areas being built.

Traditional cloud computing, especially the hyperscale cloud providers, consists of a few large companies – Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Alibaba. They have central control over thousands of machines, used by millions of users. Plus a couple of thousands of hosting providers, but they’re 100x smaller than the global hyperscale giants.

There are now organizations, funded with millions of USD, that are trying to change this. So that cloud computing can become “Fog Computing” – a globally scalable network of computing power based on a Blockchain. Millions of computers connected decentrally – without central control. Making computing power usage on a global scale not only more secure, but also much more inexpensive.

Where’s the opportunity for cloud & hosting providers?

Computing power:

  1. Even if those new approaches are decentralized, the computing power behind is still required. But it will be layered and connected across the world through a secure and scalable Blockchain layer. Such computing power (spare, idle infrastructure) can be easily contributed into those networks and get paid in tokens.
  2. In case you need in-expensive computing power in a secure and scalable way, those offerings will be much more cost effective than traditional offering.

Here are a few well-funded companies working hard to launch or have already launched their network. Some even go as far as to develop apps on these infrastructures using the new standard, Webassembly.

Next Blockchain steps for Hosting & Cloud Providers?

Despite its early stage in a super fast growing and developing space, there already are multiple initial Blockchain use cases. So it’s definitely the right time for the cloud and hosting provider industry to be part of it. We recommend checking all the use cases mentioned above and in part 2 of our Blockchain series and seeing if they work for you. Be active, grow your business.

Recommendations for further reading:

Hidden Blockchain Opportunities (2): Masternodes & Enterprise Blockchain Hosting

Hidden Blockchain Opportunities - Masternodes and Enterprise Hosting - Plesk

If you remember the concept of “Proof of Stake” (e.g. no “mining” with special hardware needed), most of alternative cryptocurrencies out of Bitcoin and Ethereum still require a good amount of “full nodes” that keep the decentralized network up and running. Masternodes are the back-end network of proof-of-stake cryptocurrencies.

1. Masternodes and Blockchain

A wallet, or a whole blockchain instance, runs on millions of computers worldwide keeping the various blockchains up and running. Masternodes do that in real-time, with more advanced setups, and often running in data centers.

This is where the opportunity is for cloud and hosting service providers. The modern way of mining – keeping public decentralized blockchain networks up and running.

Why are Masternodes gold for cloud and hosting providers?

  1. You can setup more/better targeted solution offerings for people who are interested in hosting their cryptocurrency masternodes with certain pre-configurations.
  2. Cloud and hosting providers can run their own masternodes with spare hardware and monetize this new opportunity.
  3. When running masternodes as a cloud & hosting provider:
    • If you run pre-configured masternode VPSs that you sell to end customers, you can charge a premium for the managed service (security or monitoring, for example) and simplify the automation of masternode VPSs.
    • If you run one or multiple masternodes yourself, you can monetize spare infrastructure or hardware in a much better way.

How to make money from running masternodes

Generally, the masternode concept, like Dash or Zcoin, is an investment. So besides helping to keep a blockchain network up and running, you are:

  1. Investing in cryptocurrency money upfront, limiting entry to those who really mean business.
  2. As soon as you have the node up and running, you’re getting a share of the transaction fees. At the time of writing, crypto prices are low, so you can sell high later. And considering the run into Blockchain worldwide was so fast, it’s likely prices will rise again soon.

Here’s a good resource on masternode types and their relevant ROI.

But before you set up your own Masternodes, please:

  1. Make sure you understand the technical platform, team and project behind each masternode concept. And be certain there’s a real cryptocurrency and blockchain running behind it.
  2. Diversify your investments and don’t put all your money into one single masternode concept or cryptocurrency.
  3. Comply with AML (Anti Money Laundering) and/or KYC (Know Your Customer) Laws.

Masternode providers today:

2. Enterprise Blockchain Hosting

So far we’ve been talking about public Blockchains. That means zero central control and all of them decentralized. Some would call them “uncontrolled” despite the built-in consensus mechanisms those blockchains have.

However, for some time, there’s been another approach – private/permissioned Blockchains. This rising star will convince large enterprises to benefit from Blockchain technology because all stakeholders can easily share data across multiple companies and competitors in a secure way. And this wasn’t available before at reasonable cost.

The main difference is that they’re only available to a set of stakeholders with read and/or write access. Often, an association of adjacent companies or competitors use such stakeholders for a secure proof of record for a selected set of data. This is based on distributed consensus algorithms – and still not seen by the rest of the world.

This means great Enterprise/ permissioned Blockchain Hosting opportunities for cloud, managed and infrastructure providers. Because they can build, run and manage such Blockchain infrastructures for their customer or multiple customers.

There are several example projects in production already, even outside the classic financial use case. Including identity systems, real estate, supply chain and more. Ultimately, they provide a better approach than traditionally centralized databases.

Companies and organizations to check out if you want to learn more:

Stay tuned for the final part of the Hidden Blockchain Opportunities series next Monday. We’ll talk about one more use case for hosting and cloud service provides – Decentralized Cloud storage!

Hidden Blockchain Opportunities (1): Hosters, Cloud Providers & Plesk

Hidden Blockchain Opportunities - Hosters, Cloud Providers and Plesk - Plesk

Cryptocurrencies lost a chunk of their value in the last nine months – and I lost most of my money! Blockchain and legal cryptocurrency issues – Ring any bells? You may have heard about the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto inventing the first cryptocurrency in the world – Bitcoin (more details in this Bitcoin whitepaper). And thus, hidden Blockchain opportunities for hosting and cloud providers.

Being active in global closed Blockchain user groups, like Crypto Explorers and Nextblock, I learned from higher profiles than myself. Now I’m a Chainstack advisor, which is like Plesk for Enterprise Blockchains – a spin-off of our partner, Acronis. And here’s my take on all the Blockchain hype.

Blockchain opportunities across different levels

Blockchain started by solving what any cryptocurrency solves: the “double spend problem”. So if you think about copy/pasting files today, they’re all identical files. With cryptocurrencies – that can’t happen. And there’s more to come.

Like storing in a secure, decentralized (not controlled by a company/person) system that nobody can change. Since they’re decentralized, they’re all open source!

Moreover, the organizations owning the intellectual properties are mostly consensus and direct democracy-based foundations. This is to make sure intellectual property survives any commercial failures a company may have. Here’s a 2-minute video that sums it up nicely:

But that wasn’t enough. Later came Ethereum, based on a more advanced concept allowing a “smart contract” on top of Blockchain. Basically, self-executing computer programs that are legal contracts. But with more dependencies and automatic execution of clauses than possible with a traditional contract. Here’s a 90-second Ethereum overview and how smart contracts work on top of a Blockchain:

This not only changes legal models across many industries, but economic ones too! The following 15 minutes dig into a range of opportunities for kids to experienced adults to experts:

And what about other cryptocurrencies like EOS, IOTA, Tezos, NEO, DASH and more? They’re just different blockchains (decentralized encrypted computing networks and protocols), similar to Bitcoin, but mostly to Ethereum.

What’s Plesk doing in the Blockchain space?

We have a network of 382,000 servers, hyper-decentralized across various data centers worldwide. So we’ve already developed prototypes. Soon you may be able to offer your Plesk server’s spare hard disk space on the decentralized storage network. And vice versa, backup your server or website into decentralized storage.

Soon, we’ll launch a new Plesk Extension: Cloudbric. Cloudbric is a spin-off of Penta Security Systems in Korea, and one of the leading cyber security companies in the Asia-Pacific region. Cloudbric offers an advanced WAF (Web Application Firewall) and is transforming into a Blockchain-based company. Soon available as a one-click experience within the Plesk ecosystem.

Plesk is also an alpha partner of STORJ, the decentralized cloud object storage that’s affordable, easy, private and secure. STORJ is Amazon S3 compatible and will be integrated as a Plesk Extension early 2019 as STORJ goes into production.

Besides focusing on simplifying the lives of web professionals, Plesk will add more useful tools and products on top of the platform. Helping cloud and hosting providers increase their success. Such tools might be extended with Blockchain use cases over time, so watch this space!

Current Blockchain drawbacks we can solve

First of all, you might have heard that operating any Blockchain network requires a lot of power and parts. Bitcoin and Ethereum need mining – computing puzzles that a decentralized network participant needs to solve to append the decentralized leger. The leger is where info is stored, unchangeable and encrypted via “blocks” that build a “chain”.

Bitcoin Mining requires hard-to-get ASIC chips and Ethereum needs scarce graphic cards. This process is inefficient and expensive to operate. However, it’s very secure, and is technically “Proof of Work.” Now, although Proof of Work is an operational requirement for many Blockchains, it isn’t the preferred way.

First of all, it’s expensive and only worth it if prices are high. And because of special hardware requirements, it’s not for everyone and not at scale. This is why other Blockchains and their cryptocurrencies invented “Proof of Stake” – something that Ethereum are still aiming to reach this year or next.

Blockchain benefits for hosters and cloud providers

Proof of Stake would result in being able to operate Blockchains on completely standard infrastructure and hardware – without any special requirements. Basically, making it available for everyone. And this is where hosting and cloud service providers come in.

You have 100s or 1,000s of servers on stock, and many of them idle or not fulfilling full potential. So take this opportunity to join a new world and spend computing power on a potentially more useful concept. Check the market leaders in the field – hyperscale cloud providers Amazon, Azure, Google and IBM – They’re already on it. What about you?

Stay tuned for part 2 of the Hidden Blockchain Opportunities series next Monday where we’ll dive into detailed use cases for hosting and cloud service provides!

How to scale up your server to serve more traffic

Product launch coming up? Huge ad campaign? Then you’re expecting an increase in website traffic. This can be heavy on your server, leading to longer load times and errors. But a high traffic event doesn’t have to be a bumpy ride. You can keep it all running smoothly by following these seven tactics on how to scale server to serve more traffic.

Tactic 1: Get VPS to up your site’s tolerance

When you first build the infrastructure of your site, do so with contingencies in place for dealing with increased traffic. Instead of using shared hosting, consider adopting a Virtual Private Server (VPS) plan. Giving you built-in tolerance to cope with added traffic long term.

Tactic 2: Speed up loading times with CDN caching

Scale Server using Servershield by Cloudflare

Integrating a Content Delivery Network – like ServerShield by Cloudflare that Plesk supports, is a good technique before an event. A CDN lets you store copies of your site, known as caching, on data centers worldwide.

Find out how to enable NGINX caching on Plesk here.

So, when the increased traffic sets in, visitors will be directed to a copy of your site from a data center, instead of your web host’s main servers. The result is faster loading times for visitors and less strain on the server.

Check out how to reduce server load with Memcached too.

Tactic 3: Make your site as light as possible

Strip away what isn’t necessary to make the essentials as streamlined as can be. Lighten the load for pages expecting more visits by excluding images or Flash wherever possible. Use text instead of images in the site navigation and put most of the content in HTML. Choose static HTML pages over dynamic ones as the latter places more load on your servers. You can reduce server load further by caching the static output of dynamic pages.

Tactic 4: Minimize HTTP requests and file sizes

You can speed up load times by combining all JS files together, and all CSS files together. Also, by using CSS Sprites and combining most of your images into a single sprite, you turn multiple images requests into just one. And presto, you have another way to scale up your server to serve more traffic.

Tactic 5: Test out how to scale up your server

Don’t wait until the event to discover how well your site will perform under stress. Introduce load gradually to your website beforehand using a service, like radview or smartmeter, that does load testing with simulated traffic. Our friends at Digital Ocean sum up load testing nicely. The analysis and performance metrics available will help you to understand how much load your website can handle and where you need to improve.

Tactic 6: Go for automated server scaling

If you prefer to address sudden spikes in traffic without having to monitor constantly or intervene via live personnel, autoscaling is for you. You get an automated method to allocate resources so you can match the amount of traffic you’re experiencing. Autoscaling also provides essential support for website content at any scale if you need another way how to scale up your server to serve more traffic.

Tactic 7: Upgrade your infrastructure independently

To prevent a domino effect of failure, you should make sure critical functions are not too interdependent. Distribute your load across multiple servers and upgrade them. Your hosting provider can upgrade physical and virtual memories and increase I/O and entry processes limits.

With Plesk, you can choose from industry-leading hyperscale cloud services to ensure you always have reliable, high-performance resources on standby to ensure a growth spurt doesn’t bring you grinding to a halt.

So, there you have it – seven ways on how to scale server to serve more traffic. By being ahead of the game, you can ensure your site sails through each high traffic event smoothly.

Announcement: SolusVM joins the Plesk family

SolusVM

Today we’re happily announcing a new member of the Plesk family: London-based SolusVM from OnApp. Thousands of service providers flock to use this virtual server management system that offers Infrastructure-as-a-Service hosting. And we believe this acquisition will boost Plesk’s offering in multiple ways. Read on to see how.

Who are SolusVM and OnApp?

SolusVM is a virtual private server (VPS) and IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) management system. It’s designed for cloud service providers, their resellers and end-customers. With a web-based and customizable UI to manage infrastructure, it integrates popular billing systems and supports several of the most widely used virtualization technologies. Learn more about SolusVM here.

OnApp provides software, services and expertise to help thousands of MSPs and telcos build and grow successful cloud services businesses. Their offerings include OnApp Cloud, OnApp for VMware, OnApp CDN, and the OnApp Federation. Find out more about OnApp here.

How will the SolusVM acquisition work?

Plesk is acquiring all SolusVM assets and will carry on its growth strategy. Thus, elevating it from a single server control panel to a future-proof cloud platform. We’ll provide both cloud service providers and web professionals a single pane of glass application that will become the future of WebOps. 

The SolusVM team, led by Phill Bandelow, will become an integral part of the growing Plesk R&D team. This acquisition will also propel forward development and innovation of the next version of SolusVM. 

 “We’re excited to join Plesk, and become part of a changing force in the hosting industry. SolusVM fits naturally into the growing Plesk portfolio, providing new and compelling opportunities for our customer base. They can now expect a faster pace of innovation while being able to access the WebOps services and automation that Plesk is known for.   

Phill Bandelow, SolusVM Team Lead.

Why is this good news for Plesk customers?

Because of this acquisition, our leading WebOps platform will now have a complete solution. It will allow total control over as many VPS accounts as your hardware and resources can support. Our services will also cover the complete spectrum of modern IaaS solutions. And finally, you can now access the widest portfolio of hosting solutions to run, automate and scale your apps, sites and businesses.

We’re very happy to have Solus Virtual Manager and their complete VPS management solution on board. SolusVM lets companies of any size manage virtual machines - from one central user interface, with security and ease. Firstly, makes it a breeze for service providers, resellers and end-users to provision, manage and sell virtual machines. Secondly, it’s the first choice for providing cloud-based infrastructure hosting, based on the most popular virtualization platforms, like Xen, KVM, and OpenVZ.

 Nils Hueneke, Plesk CEO

How does this positively impact Plesk partners?

Clients and partners will get the same excellent support, product development and relationships they had before. But now, we have combined skills, resources, products and services to provide a bigger, more complementary, end-to-end solution portfolio. Furthermore, we’ll help our clients leverage their IT investments in SolusVM, while adding the requirements to meet their business needs.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Or drop us a comment below for questions, or just to tell us what you think!