I’ve recently seen a growing number of people encouraging businesses to look at ‘cloud hosting‘ solutions such as Amazon’s EC2 and Rackspace’s Mosso.

Cloud hosting takes the concept of cloud computing into the realm of hosting.

The appeal of cloud hosting is that, in theory, it makes scaling a website/web application much easier. The top cloud hosting providers have built impressive infrastructures complete with massive server clusters, load balancing, etc.

As your website gets more popular, cloud hosting allows your website to tap into the cloud for greater resources ‘on demand‘ to accommodate your resource requirements.

A client of mine recently read about cloud hosting and asked me if he should move his website “into the cloud” because he had been sold on the benefits of cloud hosting.

The problem with cloud hosting, in his case, was that, given his website’s current resource usage, I calculated that it would be far cheaper to continue running it on its current VPS hosting account than moving it into the cloud.

Amazon EC2’s “pay only for what you use” sounds great, but when all was said and done, no cost savings were to be found when I ran the numbers.

Mosso’s monthly minimum cost is $100 – $40 more than my client’s current hosting setup. Flexiscale, a UK cloud hosting provider, was also more expensive.

In the end I told my client that he had no need for cloud hosting, and he finally realized that it made no sense for him, because not only were the costs were greater, the theoretical benefits didn’t apply to his website.

I think the majority of businesses are in the same boat and after my experience, created a checklist for other clients who might ask me about cloud hosting.

I would recommend that you only evaluate cloud hosting if you meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • You run a demanding web application that has the ability to use a significant amount of resources.
  • You’ve experienced sharp, shorter-term traffic “spikes” that have brought your existing hosting setup to its knees or have a realistic reason (not hope) to believe these may occur.
  • You have optimized your web application as much as reasonably possible (i.e. implemented caching, checked for and eliminated inefficient database queries, etc.).
  • You have found it difficult or cost-prohibitive to scale with your current hosting setup and have already tried optimizing that setup (i.e. you already have x servers and have sensibly structured how they’re used).
  • You have enough data to show that you will save money using a cloud hosting provider.

Most businesses probably won’t meet any of these criteria and will find that most of the “hosting issues” they may run into can be resolved with optimizations to their website and existing setup or a moderate expansion that will probably be cheaper than using cloud hosting.

Cloud hosting offers clear benefits to certain types of businesses but isn’t ideal for every business.

In conclusion, before you put your website in the cloud, use the list above to make sure your head isn’t in the clouds and that your feet are still on the ground.