Scalability in cloud hosting

Scalability in cloud hosting

In the beginning, websites were fairly simple, and hosting them used to be fairly simple too. Sites lacked the sophistication that they have now; they took up less space, and less was expected of them. Website hosting involved renting part of a server, and sharing it with other sites, hence the name ‘shared hosting.’ There was no such thing as scalable cloud hosting, so when a site became so popular that its traffic increased beyond what the shared server could provide, a solution had to be found. In the absence of scalable cloud hosting, the next logical step was to migrate to either a Virtual Private Server (VPS), or to a dedicated server, where the website had the server all to itself. A few people bought their own machines and fewer still rented space in a datacentre. This wasn’t common but it was possible.

As technology has evolved, websites have become an essential part of a business’s marketing mix, not just giving information as before, but striving to attract visitors and convert them into paying customers. This means that the sudden success of a marketing campaign might cause a spike in web traffic and test RAM, data transfer speeds, disk space, to the point where they are overwhelmed and the site crashes. Companies became aware that they couldn’t afford to risk downtime, so as well as paying for shared hosting, they would also invest in VPS, so that it was ready to step in and share the load when demand increased. In the same way, companies that already used VPS hosting would invest in a Dedicated Server account, keeping it in reserve as a kind of safety net, albeit an expensive one.

The cloud hosting management alternative

It’s fairly obvious then, that businesses were doing the equivalent of buying snowploughs and waiting for it to snow. If it did, their money was well spent, and if it didn’t it was wasted. Unlike snowploughs, keeping IT resources running all the time required staff, sometimes whole departments of them.  And as businesses migrated more of their activities, putting everything from accounting to human resources onto servers, the costs increased even more. It was convenient, but that convenience came at a price.

Against this background then, the introduction of the cloud was a paradigm shift. It came about when some major companies realized that they were maintaining a lot of servers that they didn’t always use. Someone had the bright idea of networking all of these idle resources and renting them to others. It’s this networking of them that represented such a departure from the old model of renting space on an individual machine. The extreme interconnectedness that became available now meant that scalable cloud hosting was possible.

Scalable cloud hosting

Scalability turned hosting into more of a utility like gas or electricity, because just like them, companies were now able to dial up or dial down their usage according to need. Instead of paying for lots of redundant machinery, they would now only pay for the disc space and CPU cycles that they actually used. The service could dynamically respond to demand, and you they were charged accordingly. Scalability in cloud hosting gave companies the option to change the type and number of processors used when the workload demanded it, then restore the system to its original configuration once usage had dropped back again.

The fact that scalability is a term that can be understood by non-technical people has been a key driver for the cloud computing business model, but even though CFOs and CEOs were enthusiastic, the process of migration from existing systems to the cloud was still a huge logistical hurdle for some.  Once all the initial enthusiasm for scalability had died down, some businesses found that the cloud was far costlier than they realized, and many feared that security would be compromised when so much of a company’s private information was held off-site. Was it really safe from attack, they wondered?

Cloud hosting management today

As with any new industry, cloud hosting has taken time to catch on, but mass adoption has made it the norm. Companies can now take advantage of whatever they need, from a single server all the way up to entire data centres.

There are now many scalable cloud-based services available – Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS); Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS); Software-as-a-Service (SaaS); Storage-as-a-Service (STaaS); Security-as-a-Service (SECaaS); Data-as-a-Service (DaaS); Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS); Test Environment-as-a-Service (TEaaS); Desktop Virtualization and API-as-a-Service (APIaaS), to name just a few.

Players such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google, offer scalable public clouds, along with ‘Private Clouds’ (more akin to the old ‘intranet’ model) which can only be accessed by staff with the correct permissions. Hybrid services have also been developed to offer businesses cloud scalability blended with existing hardware and infrastructure.

The drawbacks

As more and more businesses make the move to the cloud, they will place themselves in the hands of only a few players in the market.  Amazon Web Services (AWS) is currently the dominant force in cloud hosting management. With a 47.1% share of the public cloud market during the first quarter of 2017, its 4-hour service outage in February of that year made a huge impact. Sites like Netflix, Spotify, Pinterest and Buzzfeed, along with widely used apps like Slack were down for the whole period. Also affected were the thousands of SMEs that use AWS for their sites and mission-critical applications, and ‘affected’ in this case means ‘invisible’ and thus unable to do any business during that time.

A five-hour outage had also occurred in September 2015, and while these are relatively small occurrences compared to the uptime from AWS, it was a wake-up call. Businesses were suddenly made aware of what could go wrong and have had to balance the benefits of scalability against the possibility for disruption.

Scalable cloud hosting saves money, or does it?

As well as the potential for disruption, businesses have had to come to terms with the fact that even though large providers can offer scalable services, cloud-based software also has the potential to go wrong. Poorly designed software can continue to consume resources over time, which raises the cost of cloud-based convenience considerably. Some companies have experienced this and reverted to on-site solutions, knowing that for all their inconvenience they are more easily manageable.

The Cloud’s promise of apparent predictability, scalability, and reduced costs have been a major draw for Start-up companies. However, many have been burdened with costs which turned out to be anything but predictable. Even the likes of large companies such as Uber have moved their information off the cloud now due to excessive costs.

For some companies, it still makes good business sense to operate physical servers. The costs are fixed, and the boxes are on site, not way off in a data centre somewhere. The truth is that to be cost-effective, scalable solutions need to be carefully managed, and careful management costs money too.

Server Management Software for Cloud Hosting

Managing scalable cloud services can be made much easier by using automation software such as Plesk Onyx. It works with Linux and Windows-based hosting service providers to give server administrators a much simpler way to manage and administrate websites and virtual machines. Plesk automates a wide variety of tasks and is certified to run on the largest cloud players such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and all major virtualization and container platforms.

The Future of Scalability in the Cloud

Despite the issues, scalability is still a huge advantage that the cloud has over traditional server solutions. In time, innovation and competition will lead to cost savings and better services, but there are already a great many solutions that enable IT teams to control and monitor cloud costs. Likewise, a range of solutions exist which harness Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track and predict usage and issues that might increase scaling costs. Such advances will mean that at some stage in the future the scalable cloud will become a genuine commodity with predictable costs that people can accurately forecast and be entirely comfortable using.

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Elvis Plesky
Our fun and curious team mascot's always plugged into the latest trends. He's here to share his knowledge and help you solve your tech problems.

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