How to Choose a Cloud Hosting Service
The top performers in our review are InMotion Hosting, the Gold Award winner; Arvixe, the Silver Award winner; and Just Host, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the best web hosts.
Cloud hosting provides you access to multiple servers that are connected to compromise a cloud or group of online servers. While cloud hosting comes with its share of concerns, including security, it has many benefits and offers more flexibility than your typical shared hosting plans.
The term "cloud" in cloud hosting is a standard one that is used to describe any web hosting service that is provided via the internet. In the business atmosphere we deal with, you can go as basic as possible with Cloud Storage or advance to the extreme with Cloud Computing.
Applications of Cloud as a Service
Cloud Hosting is differentiated in three different ways. First, there's Software as a Service (SaaS), which is the standard method of transferring software over the web. Then, there's Platform as a Service (PaaS), which typically refers to a development that requires constant interaction between a user and the developer. Lastly, there's a pay-as-you-go format called Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
Why We Chose Cloud Hosting
Our perspective on cloud hosting services became very focused as we considered small and medium-sized businesses. We looked for services that are able to run SaaS efficiently and that use a monthly payment structure.
The kind of Cloud we focused on uses virtual private servers that have far more room for growth and storage than basic shared hosting services. This enhanced level of support goes further than standard hosting. It includes the distribution of software and file sharing as well.
Using VPS as a Cloud Host
For the companies we tested and evaluated, we took their basic Cloud VPS packages and found the ways that each would benefit a small business. These plans feature fantastic storage methods by creating redundant data over several hard drives. This, along with the use of an SSD, improves page-loading speed and mitigates failure due to the account duplication. The flexibility of these VPS accounts allows you to scale your account as your business intends to grow.
Our Purch sister site, Business News Daily, describes cloud hosting for small businesses in this guide, which explains cloud hosting, who uses cloud hosting and types of hosting services businesses in detail.
The cloud hosting market is saturated with competition. In our review and widespread comparison, we research, tested and ranked each cloud hosting service to find the best fits for your small business. For more information about this industry, look at some of our articles about cloud hosting.
Cloud Hosting: How We Tested, What We Found
To test the lineup, we purchased subscriptions of the cloud hosting basic services. These plans typically auto-renew and in most cases include a free domain name as part of the package. The numbers we gathered for dedicated disk space, memory and bandwidth are based on the introductory plans for each service.
Cloud hosting packages should be flexible, giving your website room to grow as your business expands. We measured the flexibility of a service based on how many cloud hosting packages it offers and by talking to its support staff about how easy it is to upgrade a plan, even midcontract.
Four is the average number of cloud hosting plans that a company offers. A few companies on the lineup, like iPage, give you three options, while others, like HostGator and GreenGeeks, offer up to five plans for you to choose from. The best is Arvixe, offering a full six plans for you to choose from.
Important features found in typical cloud hosting plans include unlimited domains, dedicated disk space, memory and bandwidth. With cloud hosting, you are designated a certain amount of space on a shared server. While you are sharing access to the server and CPU cores, you are allotted your own space, which is dedicated to your account. This setup gives you the flexibility to help your business grow without having to make the jump to the extreme of dedicated hosting.
Customer service is an important attribute for any service but becomes especially important with cloud hosting since companies often assist you in managing your account. If you decide to use a fully managed cloud hosting server, the company will conduct all of the server administrative tasks, like managing setup, configuring updates and installing the most up-to-date versions of the software.
Quality customer service is also important because as a website and business owner, you are relying on solid uptime with your site. When a server temporarily fails, cloud hosting companies need to be able to respond immediately to help you get your site running again.
To test the quality of support provided by cloud hosting companies, we called multiple times at all hours of the day; after all, you never know when something could go wrong with your site. We reached a score by ranking five separate criteria in help and support. A customer service representative needed to have a working knowledge of the hosting packages, rather than just directing us to various links within the company's website.
In support calls, we looked to have problems solved and took away points if a company tried to push a sales agenda rather than focusing on the current issue. We also considered friendliness in our scoring. Personability, both over the phone and through live chat, is a major factor in customer support. Wait times were another large consideration; we measured the initial wait times and times between responses once a chat was established.
The fastest responding company was Webhostingpad. The wait times, on average, were just over 10 minutes. The longest we waited to reach a representative among all services was 50 minutes.
Testing the quality of the support staff was critical to our testing process because it often sets companies ahead of the competition. While many companies boast 24/7 support or quick response times, only few deliver. Oftentimes we found representatives were unavailable or could only direct us to answers on the website rather than provide us new information. Other times the staff only tried to push sales agenda, instead of helping us fix our issues.
We also tested these services for usability. To do so, we built a landing page for a business and added images, text and other content. A number of examiners tested the cPanels from each service. To do so, they downloaded apps, like WordPress and Joomla, to test the compatibility of the platform. We determined the usability scoring by testing the hosting platform through scoring the dashboard and proprietary site builder.
The first step in establishing usability was based on setting up an account. If a company had a simple one-step process, it received points for usability. This score included easy account verification and domain approval through email notification. We based these tests on new-user experience; if a service is difficult to access, most users will simply pass and move on to the next service. Half of the companies we reviewed required identification cards and credit card statements before allowing you to sign up.
After our accounts had been established, we ran a test on each dashboard. The typical interface for cloud servers is called a cPanel. Some services, like iPage, use their own dashboard. We measured which features are provided in the basic shared cloud hosting packages and looked for tools like email creation and 404 error page customization. Only a few services on our lineup offer vital services like manual backup or one-click installation of apps.
Additional Considerations: Choosing the Best Cloud Hosting for your Business
While the features we tested are the most important things to consider, other factors influence which cloud hosting company is the best fit for your small business. Cloud hosting is an extremely competitive field, and often, it is hard to determine which company performs certain tasks best. While each company on the lineup offers promotional rates that encourage you to sign up, we looked for a few important features that will matter more long term.
What Does Unlimited Really Mean?
When you initially begin reviewing cloud hosting companies, you will see "Unlimited" attached to almost every service. It is common to see things like Unlimited Domains, Unlimited Subdomains, Unlimited Email Accounts. As a consumer, it is important to know what unlimited really means.
The term technically means that you do not exceed typical use, a range based on the average cloud hosting user. While many companies claim that 99.5 percent of clients will not exceed the typical use limits, you will still receive a usage warning from the hosting provider, saying you will experience delays or slowed service if you store large amounts of data.
So, unlimited truly means that you are free to create as many email accounts or domains as the dedicated space associated with your account can manage.
Every company on the lineup claims to provide service with 99 percent uptime. Technical problems can occur at anytime, though, and even a short amount of downtime on your site can cost you money or customers, if these are the main goals of your site.
When technical issues occur, there is very little you can do on your end, putting you at the mercy of your hosting provider. Choosing a company that offers reliable support can make all of the difference when these critical situations occur.
Your cloud hosting provider plays a key role in your website's life and determining how your site will run for the next couple of years. If you discover that the hosting platform you chose is not the right fit, you should be able to easily move your data and domain name to a different provider.
We kept an eye out for services that made it easy to move your data and export your site's content. One service that provided these services exceptionally well was InMotion Hosting.
Security is always a concern with cloud hosting. Many clients are still wary of the cloud and hosting confidential information remotely. Often users worry about someone else monitoring their data or the risk of cyberattacks. Other worries include the lack of standardization within cloud hosting. For more information on these concerns, see this article on cloud hosting from Business News Daily, our sister site.
If secure cloud hosting is a major concern for you, make sure to look for companies that offer an SSL certificate and SSD. One company we found that provided all the necessary security features for basic cloud hosting was Go Daddy.
Our Verdict and Recommendations on the Best Cloud Hosting Plans
With so many companies competing for your business, it is important to find the best fit for you. In our reviews of the basic cloud hosting plans, we were pleasantly pleased with the variety of standout features provided by different companies.
While InMotion, Arvixe and Just Host were our top picks, other companies on our lineup stand out in different ways. DreamHost offers an impressive amount of dedicated disk space and unlimited bandwidth with its basic package. If you are an environmentally friendly company, you might be interested in GreenGeeks, which specializes in green cloud hosting services.