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Cloud Servers - updated

We are all familiar with the hosting account where we can upload and provide our website for public presentation. Typically the hosting account is oriented to the not so technically minded person who wants a simple management approach to their internet needs. In this scenario you pay for your usage in a packaged way and usually on a subscription basis. Your hosting provider does all of the technical work for you up to the definition of your website, email accounts and so on.

A cloud server works along the same lines except that the technical details are your department, typically from the selection of the type of server software you would like to run on your server. You can pick some options such as geography of the server, how many processor cores it will use, disk space and type of disk space (ssd=solid state, no moving parts disk), memory and in some cases the transfer allowance in terms of data in and out (TB=terrabyte). You can also scale these factors up as your needs increase.

Some providers don’t have much in the way of geography, meaning the physical location of the machine your cloud server is sitting on, while others make it part of your selection process. That may or may not matter to you, as it really comes down to your requirements and why you want to setup a cloud server to begin with. Some providers may have your geography but poor internet bandwidth so even though the geography is good the internet performance is poor compared to a provider outside your geography.

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In our case we simply wanted a way to do what we wanted with our web platform without the technical barriers put in place by hosting providers need to keep it simple. In addition we wanted the ability to establish redundancy, expand to other geography and apply our other technologies to the platform. For companies that don’t have the real estate but have more than basic website requirements, cloud servers are a fantastic option.

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So our simple, initial web application didn’t start with loading our website onto our cloud server as it would in a hosting account scenario. It began with selecting a flavour of  Linux, we had to choose what to install that would provide for the hosting, the database, programming support and so forth. For Linux a simple LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP stack) did the trick, along with some help from the Linux provider which was available online via documentation and past experience we got the site running.

Initially it didn’t perform as well as the hosting account did, but rather than increasing the cost of the cloud server by increasing the specifications, we looked to pagespeed from google, varnish cache and established our own caching within the web code and added that to the equation to give us a performance boost, easily done on a cloud server. We think we have it performing at the same level now, which is a good start for our next steps in our project.

This is a pretty decent example of the difference between a hosting account and a cloud server for something as simple as a website with wordpress and perhaps a package like zencart, magento and so on.

Some good places to look are Godaddy.com for a USA based server. Digital Ocean and Elastic Hosts are good and economical places to look for hosts within a geography, they have their locations listed as part of their offering. Presently all three of these providers have Linux cloud server capabilities with Windows cloud offerings on the horizon.

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For Windows cloud capabilities you can look at Microsoft Azure, IBM, Rackspace, Google and Amazon (haven’t spent much time with the Amazon one). Google has a 60 day trial with a 500$ usage credit on right now with Microsoft offering a compatible promotion at the $250 mark for 30 days. IBM looks like they will be providing something similar shortly promotion wise.

Azure provides a great solution for the Windows platform with a multitude of options. Once on the platform you will see the extent to which Microsoft has invested in bringing their platform to the cloud server community along with their development tools and web services platform, although not for the lay person it definitely opens up the platform to a faster implementation for clients and companies interested in delivering their technology to customers faster.

Most of them have great costing tools that are part of your subscription process and from what I have seen these providers do a good job of getting you a cost effective cloud server solution. There aren’t vast differences in costs on the Linux platform but I would have to say the Windows cloud servers are more expensive and differ between providers more so. It’s best to look at all of them but it certainly isn’t difficult to switch from one to the other as well.

We will add more as we continue with our project. If your looking to improve your website hosting performance a cloud server is a fantastic option for you. If your looking to add support to a market such as Asia, Australia that performs better for those users, a cloud server in that geography can make that happen for you too.