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Hosting a High-Traffic Site: What Are Your Options?

2010-10-19 by Roko Nastic

Choosing a Web Hosting Provider for a High-Traffic Website

Jargon in today's web hosting field is at an all-time high. There are so many buzz words and overlapping terms being tossed about that it can be difficult to figure out where one hosting option ends and the next begins. For instance, what's the difference between cloud hosting and clustered hosting? Why does it matter when it comes to offering your users the most reliable service possible? These questions have plagued website owners since these services became more widespread, but the answers tend to vary depending on whom you talk to. We'll use the most generally accepted views to attempt to demystify this increasingly complex choice, but the industry remains a mine field, and in the end, you'll need to do lots of homework.

Dedicated Hosting

If you're a business with a fairly popular website, this used to be the go-to option. Dedicated hosting means that you have one server that does nothing else but host your site, whether that entails looking up database entries, sending video files, facilitating peer communications, conducting e-commerce transactions or all of the above. Traditionally, your server has a given amount of bandwidth available to it, and any usage over that amount is billed at a higher, sometimes dramatically higher, rate. If you're running low on storage, memory or processing power, you'll need to physically add more, whether that means replacing existing hardware or installing additional components.

As illustrated above, dedicated server hosting has several drawbacks compared to modern hosting options such as load-balanced clusters and cloud hosting. However, if you like to be able to tinker with your server directly and run whatever software you desire, a dedicated hosting solution may be right for you. Dedicated hosting also gives you peace of mind regarding security, since your server contains your data only. There's no chance for other user data to become mixed with yours. However, with cloud and even clustered hosting prices falling, dedicated hosting costs more money for less functionality in typical environments.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is the ultimate buzz term of the last few years. It's gotten to the point where hosts have used the term incorrectly or used "cloud" in their name simply to boost business. This has made it tricky to tell which services are true cloud services and which are not.

The commonly accepted definition of cloud hosting is a service that is completely scalable, which allows the host to scale up and down depending on usage and is billed accordingly. There are no setup fees, and additional resources can be added or removed almost instantly, with the use of a simple management application.

The cloud works by starting with a certain system configuration, say dual cores and 4 GB of ram and adding to or subtracting from it as usage indicates. This way, Users have total control of their resource utilization.

If your website is growing steadily, and you're not quite sure when the growth is going to flatten out, a cloud hosting solution is ideal. The distributed nature of cloud services means that if any resources become unavailable, the system can instantly switch to different resources and, if necessary, used a mirrored version of your data. Most hosting services will constantly mirror your data in multiple locations.

The cloud can host sites of any size, but sites that are already quite large and busy may run more economically in a load-balanced cluster environment. Sites that require enhanced security may be ill-suited for the cloud, since tremendous amounts of data are passed back and forth through the cloud at all times. Of course, this data is encrypted using 256-bit SSL in most cases, but for those who are particularly security conscious, this may not be enough, and they may wish to have control over their data at all times. For the vast majority of website owners, however, the cloud offers the ultimate combination of speed, scalability, value and security.

Load-Balanced Clustered Hosting

For particularly active sites that regularly utilize a large number of processing, storage, memory and bandwidth resources, load-balanced cluster hosting may be a preferred solution. This typically refers to a cluster of servers which may be partially or totally dedicated to the site. In this environment, though data and processing power is distributed amongst the cluster, it is not distributed to a larger cloud. What's the difference between clustered and cloud hosting?

That depends on who you talk to. The only real difference, however, is that the cloud typically refers to the use of a third party service to distribute your site amongst the cloud. Your data may reside on any one of the servers in the cloud at any given time. Clusters are similar, but they are typically privately held, meaning the data is only distributed within the cluster and not a larger cloud. Clustered hosting typically starts with a much greater amount of resources than does cloud hosting, making it primarily suited for larger sites. However, this is not always the case, and there are hosting providers that offer load-balanced cluster solutions starting at the same price of a cloud. Some providers offer "private cloud packages," which are typically cluster environments with management options similar to that of a cloud.

Is that enough to make your head spin? Let's cut the semantics. Clusters and clouds are very similar, except clouds are generally larger than clusters and offer greater upward and downward scalability. Clusters are typically private, and hence are more secure than a public cloud. Which Option Works for You will depend on your security and scalability requirements.

Where to Go from Here

Selecting a host for a high-traffic website can be a nerve-racking job. Articles like this one that purport to help can sometimes leave you more confused than when you started.

But there's no substitute for diligent research. Examine the offerings from some of the top cloud providers, and compare them to that of providers who offer clustered hosting options. If a provider pulls a bait and switch by referring to cloud in its name when they offer only clustered options, consider their dishonesty as you make your decision. Similarly, if a provider offers "private clouds,” make sure they offer all the benefits of public cloud computing, especially metered billing and virtually unlimited scaling. And finally, if you have a thriving site and want to manage it yourself and have complete freedom regarding applications, investigate the variety of available dedicated server solutions. If your site continues to grow, many providers will allow you to add your server to a cluster to multiply your resources five or ten fold.

Regardless of which option you choose, don't be afraid to ask questions and take note of the quality of answers you receive. That will do more to ensure you choose a reliable solution than any article ever could.

About the author: Roko Nastic is editor at WebmasterFormat. He enjoys sharing his knowledge about latest trends in website development industry, effective internet marketing strategies and best web hosting services.

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Roko Nastic

Roko Nastic

WebmasterFormat

Roko Nastic is writer and editor at WebmasterFormat. He enjoys helping other webmasters and website owners succeed in creating better, faster and more profitable websites.

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