You might think that the best solution is to do it yourself. This is how many, many companies got their start on the Internet and how larger companies still roll. At a minimum, you need a computer that acts as the file server plus a bandwidth connection. In-house that connection can be your LAN. If you want remote access, you’ll need a telecom line to get you to the Internet or as a private line connection.
An advantage of in-house hosting is that you have easy access to the equipment and complete control over what gets done to each server and when. Security is enhanced when everything is done over the LAN with no outside connections.
The downside of being able to do everything yourself is having to do everything yourself. You need to buy the equipment, build the environmentally controlled data center, provide physical security, do all installations, repairs and maintenance, and keep a constant vigil in case something goes awry. As you know, there are always things going awry.
This is the reason many companies consider buying their hosting rather than being in the hosting business themselves. You can start by simply outsourcing the data center itself. Companies that provide public data center facilities offer colocation services. You colocate or move into a provider’s facility. That facility provides the equipment racks and cages, redundant electrical power, environmental control, fire suppression, physical security and easy connectivity to telecom bandwidth services. You provide the servers and other appliances, which you install or contract for the colo facility personnel to install.
Some colocation companies have gone beyond just providing space and hookups. You can now rent servers and the labor to install and maintain them. You are still responsible for what’s running on the server other than the operating system, but you’ll have a tech staff available 24/7 to monitor your equipment and effect repairs if necessary.
It’s only a small step from renting equipment at a colocation center to renting a hosting service and not having to worry about the equipment at all. Small companies and home-based businesses may be able to get by with shared hosting, where you share a single physical server with many other clients. You have no access to the common operating system, but can upload files for your business. Shared hosting has become a commodity service and only costs a few dollars a month now. However, the performance of your site can vary depending on how heavily others are loading the server.
To regain control, you’ll probably want to rent a dedicated or private server. This is a physical server that only runs your files. Most of the time you'll gain root access to the machine, something that you never get with shared hosting. If you need even more capacity, you can upgrade to a larger server with more memory, CPU cores and disk storage.
Cloud hosting goes a step further. Cloud services are virtualized, often under the control of VMware. The cloud facility consists of rack after rack of physical servers and hard drives. They are connected to the outside word by multiple fiber optic bandwidth services. The idea is to have enough physical resources to handle any conceivable customer request. You don’t rent a particular server in the cloud. You rent a virtual server. It behaves just like a physical server, but may be one of many virtual servers running on the same machine. It is also possible that your one virtual server may span multiple physical servers.
Both dedicated hosting services and cloud hosting services allow you to rent rather than own the IT resources you need. You also save the expense and staffing required to operate this equipment around the clock. This is referred to as trading CAPEX (Capital Expense) for OPEX (Operating Expense), or rent vs buy.
The cloud goes one step further in virtualizing all physical resources. Many clouds are self-healing, such that if one piece of equipment fails another is automatically substituted. Cloud resources are also rapidly scalable. You typically have a web-based control panel that you use to provision (order) more or fewer resources. Extra servers can be added in minutes rather than days or longer. They can also be released when they are no longer needed so you aren’t paying for unneeded resources.
Are you suspicious that owning and running your own IT data center resources may be costing you more that you really need to be paying? You’re probably right. Which solution is the right one is a decision specific to your company. Get more information and pricing for cloud hosting vs dedicated hosting services to compare with what you are doing now.
Note: Photo of data center equipment courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.