What is the Difference between a Hosting Provider and Cloud Provider?

When shopping for hosting services, many customers find themselves confused by the difference between hosting services and cloud computing. That is not surprising given that many hosting companies have simply rebranded themselves as cloud providers, though what they offer is really not a true cloud service. The two actually have some important distinctions, and it is important to understand what each offers.

What is a Hosting Service?

Hosted services offer you or your company space on physical servers running in the service provider’s facilities. Access is achieved through a direct network connection that may or may not run over the Internet. Most hosting services offer features such as website hosting, email servers, off-site backups, and data warehousing.

A dedicated server is usually one or more computers to which you and your organization have exclusive access. The server has a processor, RAM memory, and hard drive storage, just like a desktop computer or laptop, but it is open to outside computers that can access the information stored on its drives in different ways.

A shared or "virtual" server is a similar concept, except that you or your organization do not have exclusive control over the physical server on which your data is stored. Instead, you are given a partition of the system’s resources on a server that is shared with other users. You have exclusive control over your partitioned resources, but you cannot control the amount of system resources other users may employ and your data is much less secure than in a dedicated server solution. This is more of a budget solution than a fully dedicated server.

What is Cloud Service?

Cloud service, unlike hosting, is more about services than about simply renting space on a server. Cloud computing relies on sharing computing resources to store information, run applications, and provide other services. Cloud services enable you to share resources across the Internet or an intranet in a way that can often dramatically reduce infrastructure costs and planning.

As with hosting services, there are a number of different types of cloud computing. The most common are SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) is the most popular and ubiquitous form of cloud computing. It provides all the functions of a traditional application, but instead of taking up local computer resources, the functions flow through the Internet via your web browser.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides virtual servers where you can run existing applications or develop new ones without having to maintain local operating systems, server hardware, infrastructure, etc.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides virtual servers, networks, storage, and systems software designed to augment or replace data centers or individually networked computers.

What are the Real Differences?

Security. If you or your company handle highly sensitive data, then a hosting service on a dedicated server is the way to go. It provides the greatest degree of security, as the server’s resources belong exclusively to you or your company. A dedicated server allows you to who sees your data, under what circumstances it is maintained, etc. On the other hand, a cloud solution shares information and resources; you simply do not have the same level of control. With a cloud solution, your sensitive data may live alongside data from hundreds of other companies, and should anything go wrong, it could potentially be accessed—either intentionally or accidentally—by other parties.

Accessibility. For improved accessibility, a cloud solution may be superior. Cloud computing takes advantage of the many ways in which people connect to their data. Rather than limiting access, it enhances and improves the ability to reach that data. Cloud solutions are excellent choices for things that require a lot of collaboration or situations when you want to make it possible for people to get to information via the myriad of web browsers and Internet connected mobile devices available today.

Cost. Another big difference between a hosting solution and a cloud solution is cost. Notably, cost should not form the foundation of your choice, as your use for the service is much more important. However, in those situation where either approach may be equally functional for your needs, cloud services tend to be less expensive. In many situations, cloud providers only charge for resources actually used, rather than the typical flat fee to rent a hosted server regardless of the amount of traffic it receives. Cloud providers have also begun adding additional services that hosting services could not provide: suites of software, virtual terminals, and automatic reallocation of resources and bandwidth based on network traffic. Providing similar features in a hosting solution would involve an exponentially greater cost.

Which Choice is Right for You?

So, is a hosting service or a cloud computing service the better option for your business? It really all depends on what you need and where your priorities lie. If your primary concern is minimization of operational expenses and virtually limitless accessibility, cloud computing could be the option for you. On the other hand, if you want more security and require fewer services, hosting on a dedicated server is probably the better option. In either case, you will need to make sure that the service you choose provides all of the features and functions your organization requires.