I recently undertook an extensive review of our hosting situation with an eye towards maximizing flexibility, cost effectiveness and reliability for myself and my clients. During this process I came up with a list of potential service providers and what they had to offer. Being the analytical kind of guy I am I selected a number of criteria and applied a rating for each. Looking at the candidates I was faced with one major choice – the type of server space I would need. This came down to three main options;
1) A dedicated standalone server as we have had for the last few years. Highly reliable, good service but not easily scalable and quite pricey.
2) A “VPS” system. VPS stands for Virtual Private Server and is basically like a server timeshare. You are allocated a portion of one servers resources to use for your needs. There are many choices here and as a result the pricing is very competitive. In most cases they can be scaled up or down as needed and allow for more or less the same level of control as with a dedicated solution. Some even come with solid state drives for fast response times and good reliability.
3) Move to a cloud-based solution. Computing in the cloud is like VPS on a massive scale. Rather than sharing the resources of one physical machine your resource sharing is potentially spread across an entire network of servers. The cloud uses sophisticated traffic management and routing software to optimize the allocation of computing resources. You may end up with several smaller sites on one virtual machine, a large site on its own and all of the long term storage and file backups on a storage service. All of these can talk to each other through one control panel and the use of security protocol between them. There are several large players in this space and for a while it was dominated by Amazon. But recently Google has entered this arena, and Google does not do anything on a small scale.
So as you may have gathered I have chosen option 3. Why? Well after a lot of research I have come to the realization that this is the best solution for the future. Computing is going this way, big time. Just the other day Bill Gates, when asked where computing was going in the next 10-15 years mentioned that one of the biggest trends will be the separation of devices and data. Many more devices will operate anytime, anywhere using data from the cloud. Its not too hard to imagine a world in the near future where we can travel anywhere anytime with almost any device and access any or all of our data pulled down securely and seamlessly from the cloud.
From a practical business perspective the cloud also makes a lot of sense. Rather than being locked in to a specific amount of storage and computing resources, a cloud-based solution can expand or contract as the needs of the business change. In the case of Google Cloud Computing you only pay for what you use and for the amount of time you use it, and of course we can take advantage of Google’s immense computing resources. I think by now they now a thing or two about managing huge amounts of data across many data-centers…
So far I can only see one downside to this and for me that is learning curve. Moving to the cloud requires learning some new tools and re-familiarizing myself with some old ones (Linux). Its been a real journey over the last month or so, not short of moments of frustration, but now most of the sites in our network are moved over and running beautifully. I’m pulling my head out of the clouds and so far I like what I see.
The biggest advantage of all however is yet to come. Operating in the cloud with secure, instant access to a limitless amount of data will offer a real advantage to our clients in the future. Think easy backups of critical data, integrating back end data with the website and access to a whole world of apps that can perform any manner of function.
So stay tuned, I’ll be talking more about the cloud in the months ahead.