5 Best Cloud Web Hosting Companies of 2018

Find the best cloud web hosting that is fully managed. A review of the top cloud web hosting services and what to look for in a cloud hosting plan.

Our guide to the best Cloud web hosting

Cloud web hosting is growing into a popular choice for small business websites and is no longer only used only by developers who need powerful computing resources and scalability for developing large projects. There are numerous cloud web hosting providers out there to choose from and choosing the right cloud web hosting service for your needs is essential for the success of your website. In this article, we’ll cover the best cloud web hosting companies that are fully managed, along with a complete guide on what to look for and how to determine what cloud hosting service you really need.

The Best Cloud Web Hosts at a Glance

Here's a quick overview of the top choices for managed cloud web hosting and the different purposes we would recommend each one for:

Web HostStarts at:Recommended for:Learn more
HostGator$4.95/moAffordable hybrid cloud hosting for small businessesView Plans
Cloudways$7.00/moManaged cloud hosting for “big data” requirementsView Plans
InMotion Hosting$29.99/moPowerful Hybrid cloud VPS hosting plans for businessesView Plans
Liquid Web$99.00/moPowerful & Reliable Cloud Hosting for EnterprisesView Plans
SiteGround$80.00/moManaged cloud hosting that's powerful & reliableView Plans

Rack of servers in a data center

What to Look for When Purchasing a Cloud Hosting Solution

Cloud web hosting solutions are rapidly transforming the data center industry as IT corporations, start-up companies, and systems integrators launch new public, private, & hybrid cloud architecture for businesses on the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model. Many of the largest web hosting companies now offer both managed cloud and elastic web server frameworks to their customers on an affordable basis as an upgrade from shared hosting, VPS plans, and dedicated servers. Established online business owners and independent web publishers need to begin the process of deciding which of the service providers to choose in order to take advantage of the latest innovations in cloud hosting for their websites, as well as which particular plan is most appropriate for their project requirements in production.

As with any business investment, the various features in each cloud hosting company's service plans can be viewed in relation to the overall cost to procure, as well as in terms of the additional income that the technology will provide through implementation. This method will favor platform innovation, as many companies are often willing to pay extra for services that keep them ahead of the competition or offer functionality not found through other providers.

Below, are the most important factors to consider when evaluating a cloud hosing plan.

Factors to Consider:

  • The Type of Cloud Web Hosting Required
  • Continual Platform Innovation & Development Tools
  • Elastic Web Server Orchestration & Scalability
  • Software Stack Snapshots & Disk Images
  • High Traffic Caching Solutions & Load Balancing
  • System Resource Allocation & Low-Density Servers
  • Web Traffic Analytics & “Pay As You Go” Billing
  • Data Security & Integrated Backup Services
  • Customer Service & Technical Support

Business owners should consult with their programming and development teams, as well as systems administrators, to have a clear understanding of what the logistical requirements of a particular web hosting project is before evaluating service providers. Many website owners will upgrade to cloud hosting solutions from existing shared, VPS, or dedicated accounts to increase performance and page load speeds, or to support higher levels of web traffic. In most instances, however, it is the budgetary price constraints of a particular project or business need that becomes primary in making the final decision on a cloud hosting plan.

Determining the Type of Cloud Web Hosting Required

In determining the right cloud hosting solution, it is necessary to first distinguish between the various types of cloud service plans currently available on the market and then make a purchasing decision based on the particular project requirements of the web/mobile app to be deployed. Web traffic demands at scale are the overriding aspect determining the choice of cloud hosting solutions to be implemented, with website optimization, programming language requirements, the cost of integrated hardware/software services, and data security all recognized as additional key factors. In today’s marketplace, there are many varieties of cloud hosting available, for example:

  • Public Cloud Solutions: Primarily Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) web hosting made available by the largest IT companies with many options for small businesses, start-ups, & enterprise corporations.
  • Private Cloud Solutions: Similar to traditional enterprise data centers, installed either on a business premise or in a remote location, where all of the hardware is owned or leased by the same company.
  • Hybrid Cloud Solutions: Created by programmers through API connections, these solutions allow hardware and software from different service providers to be woven together in new applications.
  • Managed Cloud Hosting: Entry-level accounts that compete with traditional shared web hosting on a cost-efficient basis but make new innovation available to retail users through smaller companies.
  • Elastic Cloud Web Servers: Virtualization & container systems that scale into elastic clusters to provide more resources to high traffic websites than a single dedicated web server can provide.

Understanding the difference between these various approaches to cloud web hosting is important in the contemporary marketplace where data center innovation proceeds rapidly, web server hardware advances continually, new software solutions are challenging established views of what is possible online, and major IT companies compete against agile start-ups to introduce new products & services constantly. Cloud web hosting plans are now available targeting almost every established niche of web publishing & mobile app development.

Public Cloud Solutions

In the last 10 years, many of the major IT companies have spent billions of dollars in developing cloud data centers, both for their own browser-based software services and also for the business-to-business outsourcing of web server hardware. Google and AWS (Amazon Web Services) are recognized as leaders in public cloud orchestration, with each company offering literally thousands of different products and services through their data center facilities. AWS changed the web hosting industry by introducing the EC2 platform, one of the first elastic web server solutions on the market, as well as the S3 storage system which allows websites to host large archives of files, downloads, and media on slower hardware separate from the web server at a lower overall cost. After 10 years of running “Borg” & “Bigtable” in production, Google made these software platforms available to the public under open source licensing standards where they became the development foundation of Kubernetes and Apache Hadoop. Kubernetes is a cloud cluster server orchestration system which uses container virtualization to operate, loading a micro-OS with much less system overhead than a full operating system installation on VPS or dedicated servers. Both Google and AWS now offer Kubernetes solutions to enterprise companies, start-ups, and mobile applications which can scale to support millions of container-based web servers at a time. Bigtable uses the MapReduce framework to allow companies to manage the largest databases at scale online. Kubernetes & Bigtable are both major aspects of public cloud solutions for many Fortune 500 corporations and used extensively in enterprise software development.

RackSpace diagram of open cloud hosting environment
This diagram from Rackspace shows the use of a cloud hosting environment to support a high traffic eCommerce website using a VPS cloud network to serve files to users through a CDN.

Following the lead of Google & AWS, companies such as IBM (BlueMix), Microsoft (Azure), and Oracle (OCP) also launched major public cloud service offerings for their enterprise clients. Many of the corporations contracting with these companies spend over $100 million dollars per year on data center outsourcing, which includes a complete package of computer hardware, elastic web server orchestration software, advanced database frameworks, large suites of programmer utilities, and API-driven services that can be integrated into existing applications. One of the main principles of the public cloud is that the large IT companies have huge resources for software development and data center management that are well beyond what even other Fortune 500 corporations can manage, and that they can make these products available to other companies at scale as part of a network of cloud data centers with literally millions of rackmount servers running simultaneously. For example, with the AWS DynamoDB platform, businesses can build applications with the same software that Amazon.com developed for serving millions of simultaneous users at a time on their ecommerce website. Small businesses, start-up companies, and entrepreneurs can then secure access to these development tools and data center facilities with elite hardware configurations at a fraction of the cost that it would take for them to program or build the same solutions independently.

Private Cloud Solutions

Private cloud solutions are very similar to a traditional enterprise data center where many web servers can be hosted on the premises of a business or remotely in the cloud. Private cloud architecture can also be used internally at a corporation, for example, when many office workers share computer resources in conducting daily business operations. One of the main advantages of cloud solutions in general for companies is that the IT majors can offer data center solutions at a lower overall cost per year than the business would be able to manage in-house, with the significant investments required for hardware, trained staff, software licenses, and continual upgrades of equipment. Private cloud architecture addresses the issue of data security particularly, where many corporations are unwilling to permit the sensitive information found in their databases, email communications, and customer software to be managed by third-party companies at all. A private cloud can be built from the same hardware, networking technology, web server software, etc. as a public cloud with greater limitations established on user access and facilities. OpenStack, originally developed through a partnership between Rackspace & NASA, is very popular in private cloud orchestration, as is CloudStack and Apache Mesosphere. For proprietary software solutions, Microsoft, VMware, Mirantis, & Parallels are popular solutions providers. The difference between open source and proprietary solutions is primarily in the software licensing fees. Although many consider Linux to be a “free” operating system for web servers, many of the main development companies behind Linux distro development such as RedHat, OpenSUSE, & Ubuntu all have enterprise-grade packages available for corporations to purchase for building private cloud solutions that is part of their main business model, while the free version of the software often includes scaled-down features.

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

Hybrid cloud solutions represent data center architecture that makes use of a combination of public and private cloud resources. For example, a company may keep some servers on premises and lease other hardware in the cloud, using more advanced software defined networking software and APIs to build web/mobile applications for legacy databases. Another simple example of a hybrid cloud business solution would be a company choosing to use gMail for worker email accounts rather than host a local server, or using spreadsheets and word processing software in the cloud for cheaper overall licensing fees vs. desktop installs. Serverless hosting solutions like AWS Lambda promise to introduce an entirely new paradigm in web/mobile application design at scale, where functions can be written that execute in parallel according to triggers and are processed by a remote web server on demand. This model of computing is often referred to as Function-as-a-Service (FaaS). Another example is the increasing integration of machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL) applications into enterprise computing to take advantage of the latest developments in neural nets, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. Many companies already use these services in production, for example, to recommend content or products to customers based on their interests and browsing history. The hybrid cloud model allows programmers to build complex solutions that integrate different resources found from many software development companies and online service providers into a single web/mobile application at scale, while saving costs overall by selecting the resources with the best prices. Many integration companies currently specialize in building hybrid cloud solutions for business clients to allow them to modernize their legacy software, database information, and data center technology to be more competitive in the marketplace.

Managed Cloud Hosting

Managed cloud hosting is more familiar to contemporary users of shared hosting plans and represents primarily a filtering down of the latest innovations in IT by the industry majors to retail customers such as those running WordPress, Drupal, Magento, or other CMS websites online. The majority of these websites are based on MySQL & PHP, so that web hosting companies which already have millions of active customers on their data center hardware have developed new plans that optimize these platforms particularly for better performance. The retail hosting sector has completely different needs than enterprise corporations and are often only paying $10 to $20 per month for a service plan rather than millions of dollars per year. These customers are simply looking for better performance on small CMS-driven websites that can be implemented through solutions like low-density hardware, increased allocation of CPU cores & system RAM, improved website page caching, integrated CDN services, and reverse-proxy load balancing on web traffic. In many ways, the web hosting companies themselves function as cloud service providers with Platform-as-a-Service products provided to their clients, although not all of the major brands and start-up companies in the sector actually manage their own hardware in autonomous data centers. Some web hosting companies have switched to the larger cloud service companies for hardware, some manage their own equipment in shared colocation centers based in major international media markets, while generally only the largest brands actually have their own server farms housed in data centers owned independently by the business. For retail web hosting clients, managed cloud hosting plans have many new features and programming tools to make use of at a low cost, allowing them to compete with larger companies for the same business online or to innovate on the entrepreneur model.

Elastic Cloud Web Servers

By definition, the word “cloud” basically means a remote data center with thousands or millions of rackmount web servers that are housed together in a facility and used to provide business services to customers through the internet. However, a secondary use of the word also connotes the deployment of web servers in elastic clusters that can scale to provide support for web traffic beyond what a single hardware unit can provide. Previously, Apache web servers would only support around 10,000 simultaneous users at a time on dedicated hardware machines before crashing. Systems administrators, network technicians, and programming teams were forced to build a number of different solutions to override this limit, essentially until the industry changed with the introduction of elastic cloud web server technology, primarily by AWS & Rackspace. Even now there are only a few major software platforms that provide elastic web server orchestration capability that is comparable to the AWS EC2 platform and most of them are built around Kubernetes, which was only made available to the public under open source licensing standards around 2014-15. Almost all of the available elastic web server platforms make use of container virtualization, primarily using Docker, with the containers running a micro-OS like Rancher, CoreOS, VMware Photon, or Microsoft Nano Server in production. Much like VPS platforms, containers include a shared OS kernel which includes the virtual drivers etc. required for systems operation, but whereas a VPS will often consume 2-3 GB minimally on an OS install, the micro-OS files installed in containers can even be less than 50 MB. This makes container-based servers able to launch in under a second in production. Elastic cluster servers can then be scheduled with hardware resources to automatically launch to support web traffic demand. These platforms also include advanced software to synchronize the database and storage files of web/mobile apps across multiple simultaneous instances.

AWS elastic load balancing diagram
This diagram from Amazon Web Services (AWS) shows the use of elastic load balancing with server clusters in a cloud hosting environment using a CDN & S3 storage to optimize website performance.

Continual Platform Innovation & Development Tools

Because cloud web hosting is such a new and rapidly evolving industry, many business owners, entrepreneurs, and independent web publishers look for a company with a strong record of continual platform innovation. There are many advantages to being able to support the most advanced web standards, programming languages, and database frameworks online, particularly for start-up companies developing their own code with new functionality for clients. Enterprise corporations looking to modernize operations are advised to consider where they want their business operations to be positioned competitively a minimum of three years in the future, and then establish a development plan that increases sales and productivity while reducing overall costs through innovation. Many small businesses look for access to the same tools currently used by the largest corporations to increase efficiency in operations and challenge these companies for market share. Start-up companies with their own programming teams have the ability to disrupt established business models or even create entirely new means of communication. Cloud hosting companies specialize in placing programming tools in developer hands so that they can build innovative applications and launch new services to the public.

QUICK TIP: “Big data” websites and applications are increasingly being custom coded around new database frameworks like MongoDB, Amazon Aurora, & Redis designed for cloud cluster support to provide better performance at scale than MySQL. These apps can also use Google's Big Query for analytics.

Elastic Web Server Orchestration & Scalability

Elastic web servers are a key component of scalability, not only for enterprise corporations, but also for lean start-up companies that need to scale services quickly based on user demand and capital investment. The advent of the mobile era of computing has changed the landscape of web hosting, programming, and development significantly, where many mobile applications rely on cloud hosting plans exclusively for operations. Elastic web server orchestration allows systems administrators to schedule resources to meet consumer demand. For example, when web traffic spikes during weekend hours, holidays, special promotions, or social media marketing campaigns, businesses can simply set certain parameters for the cluster orchestration engine and the software will automatically scale web server instances in production to meet demand. Many cloud hosting companies offer elastic web server orchestration under a “pay-as-you-go” approach to billing, so rather than having to over-contract dedicated web server hardware for traffic spikes that will sit idle when not in use, the business simply pays for the exact amount of resources needed. This billing method can apply to CPU usage, bandwidth, or the total number of server instances deployed depending on the cloud hosting service plan. Many managed cloud hosting plans targeting CMS sites like WordPress & Drupal in the retail sector do not offer any elastic web server orchestration at all on their platforms.

Software Stack Snapshots & Disk Images

Another major innovation in cloud hosting plans is the ability to provision web servers from software stack snapshots and disk images that can speed up web development and system administration times immensely. A web server software stack consists of the operating system (Windows/Linux), the web server framework (Apache, Nginx, IIS), the programming language extensions (PHP, Python, Java, RoR, Perl, etc.), and the database framework (MySQL, PostgreSQL, MSSQL, MariaDB, MongoDB, etc.). On top of this an email server package may additionally be installed, although generally these are included with Apache & IIS along with other file transfer protocol support. Web developers then install a web script like WordPress, Drupal, Magento, etc. on top of the other layers of software, uploading required media files like images, sound, video, etc. to build web pages primarily with HTML, CSS, & JavaScript for use in a web browser. In practice, there are thousands of open source CMS, CRM, blog, ecommerce, wiki, forum, & helpdesk scripts that can be found online or in archives like Softaculous. What web server snapshots accomplish is allowing developers to install the complete software stack including a vast array of programming language and database formats along with the web script in one complete package. With the command line and a Git repository, this can be accomplished in seconds rather than hours or days, leading to a much more efficient web development process. The use of disk images can also be automated to deploy in containers for complex web/mobile apps in elastic web server constructs.

High Traffic Caching Solutions & Load Balancing

One of the most popular new features available on managed cloud hosting plans for CMS-driven websites is the implementation of new web page caching features and network traffic load balancing on PaaS products that can be installed easily through cPanel integration. The use of Nginx independently and with Apache servers is popular because it provides both reverse-proxy load balancing on network requests as well as improved caching of system requests that allow websites to scale to support more users on the same hardware. Another popular solution is the installation of Varnish Cache for improved web page caching. Most of the managed cloud hosting plans designed to optimize WordPress and other CMS website performance offer Nginx and Varnish Cache solutions pre-integrated into a web server software stack to retail users without the need to install and configure the software independently. Other web page caching tools common on managed cloud hosting plans are Memcached, APC, & OPcache, although these can often be turned on as PHP extensions under cPanel on shared hosting plans. The use of Redis in managed cloud hosting plans is also becoming more common. HHVM is a run-time engine for PHP developed by Facebook that can also be used to improve the performance of CMS websites. Platform-as-a-Service products that offer these utilities pre-installed in a web server software stack can save literally thousands of dollars in systems administration costs for small business owners and speed up CMS website page load speeds significantly. The inclusion of a free CDN account like CloudFlare or SiteLock is also commonly found on managed cloud hosting plans.

System Resource Allocation & Low-Density Servers

Another way that managed cloud web hosting plans improve performance for small business websites is by increasing the allocation of system resources to include more dedicated CPU cores, RAM, & concurrent I/O processes that permitted under shared hosting plans. In this manner, the managed cloud hosting plan actually is configured much like a VPS account, and will include various tiers with increasing amounts of CPU cores and RAM tied to the price. Many of the major web hosting brands are using these features along with premium hardware and low density account provisioning on hardware to improve the performance of CMS-driven websites significantly. Many CMS websites consume a lot of web server resources when running and are normally limited to operating with around 512 MB of RAM on shared hosts. When increasing the dedicated RAM & CPU cores, the CMS has more system resources to load pages faster, and this can be improved even more through efficient use of web page caching services. Lower account density on hardware promises around 80% less registered domains on the same web server than found on most shared hosting plans. Thus, rather than running a CMS website with 10,000 or more domains hosted on the same web server, and suffering lower performance when web traffic to all of them spikes at the same time, the webhost will limit the domain number to 1500-2000 on the same hardware configuration, leading to better response times and faster overall processing speeds. As these plans are also configured on premium hardware compared to shared hosting plans that are relegated to older machines, web hosting companies can sell the plans at a few dollars more per month under a managed cloud framework. Although this may seem gimmicky in some ways, it is a guaranteed way to improve CMS performance cheaply and a main aspect of many contemporary managed cloud hosting plans offered by the major brands.

Web Traffic Analytics & “Pay As You Go” Billing

Advanced data analytics are critically important to enterprise corporations and media companies which spend a lot of money on advertising, sales & marketing. Data analytics can be used for searching through “big data” resources such as the huge amount of customer information kept on file by large corporations. Data analytics also provide information about website traffic to site owners in real-time, including where their users are located geographically, how long they stay on the site, how many pages are visited per session, and which content is the most popular with visitors. This data can then be filtered in different ways to make management decisions about company operations. Data analytics can be very important to ecommerce sites in referencing which products or promotions are most popular with consumers. Google's “Big Query” and Webmaster Tools are the leaders in this field, but many specialist companies are innovating in the sector, especially in providing niche services to marketing companies and advanced analytics to enterprise corporations. Many of the same real-time monitoring tools for websites can also be used by web hosting companies in developing “pay-as-you-go” billing to customers based on the actual resource consumption of a website or mobile application. Sometimes it makes more sense for large websites to save money on dedicated server plans by using a cloud hosting account with a “pay-as-you-go” approach to CPU usage, bandwidth, etc., but many small business sites can actually save more by going with a fixed rate managed cloud hosting plan. Since many of the managed cloud hosting plans for the retail sector have tier-level provisioning for accounts similar to VPS plans, it is recommended for small sites to stay with this approach unless they require the developer resources of more advanced elastic server platforms.

Data Security & Integrated Backup Services

Data security is a critical element of cloud web hosting plans for every business or web publisher using the service with a database. The imperative to protect the personal information of registered users, including passwords and financial data, is even more important for ecommerce websites. Most browsers now require all web pages to be encrypted by SSL/TLS certificates or the website will be marked as “not secure”. The majority of network and web server security remains in the hands of the webhost for most cloud hosting plans with the exception of “bare metal” private cloud provisioning. Website owners are still responsible for managing their own platform security by keeping installed scripts, modules, plugins, and themes up to date with the latest security patches. Look for cloud hosting plans that include anti-virus software, automated anti-malware scans, brute-force attack protection on repeated login attempts, anti-DDoS features on CDN plans, and IP blacklisting for known spam sites as these are all considered as industry requirements. Integrated backup and restore features can be a big advantage if provided free with a cloud hosting account. Otherwise a business website will be required to implement these independently, either through the CMS or a third-party service provider. Cloud hosting plans that permit the use of server snapshots for backup and restore purposes are particularly recommended as these make it easy to recover data and get back online quickly in case of any problems.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Technical support with a data center is not always as easy as it could be, as there are multiple layers of customer service which include sales staff, phone operators, chatroom workers, and the people who are paid to respond to email requests. It may not always be possible to speak with the technical officers who are managing the web servers directly with a large company. Most user support requests will relate to web server configurations, issues with billing, or unexpected problems like company downtime. It is unrealistic to expect technical support at web hosting companies to help with debugging script problems in web development, but when they can assist with solving these issues, it can be a great help in the process. Some of the bigger web hosting companies offer no technical support at all to clients, which can be frustrating, while other webhosts require a long wait on the phone to talk to staff or do not reply to technical support emails quickly enough to be relevant. Therefore, if it is possible to find a company with a knowledgeable customer support staff who can assist in debugging website problems related to server configurations quickly and in a friendly manner, it can improve the entire web development process considerably, influencing the choice between companies. Whether or not most users prioritize customer service in web hosting over other criteria is an open question, however it largely depends on personal preferences and experience as to how much can be expected overall.

Conclusion – Final Thoughts on Choosing a Cloud Web Host

Enterprise data center outsourcing based on the public/private/hybrid cloud models, managed cloud plans for the retail sector, and elastic web server platforms often target different market sectors and business owners with divergent goals in website development, but many of these plans are still based on the same hardware and software solutions. Cloud hosting plans make the same tools the largest enterprise companies in the world use for web/mobile application support at scale available to even the smallest companies at affordable discount rates or under a “pay-as-you-go” approach to billing. When choosing a cloud hosting plan, the data center architecture, web server hardware, and software stack innovation of the service provider all combine to make the most difference in determining between available service options. Small businesses and start-up companies are advised to choose the cloud hosting plan that provides the most powerful programming & development tools, then take advantage of these unique platform utilities to create new, innovative web/mobile solutions based on their own project requirements. Elastic server frameworks can be used to scale popular websites and mobile apps to the meet the demands of the highest levels of web traffic.

In making the final decision between cloud web hosting plans, remember to compare:

  • The difference between public, private, & hybrid cloud platform architecture
  • The varieties of managed cloud and elastic web server frameworks
  • The billing method implemented by the service provider on the contract
  • The additional income that can be earned or saved through the resources
  • The level of platform innovation & advanced functionality vs. competitors

Overall, a lot of the choice between cloud hosting plans depends on the scale of the web or mobile application involved, the complexity of the programming requirements, the size of the development team, the expectations of the business owner, and the available budget to be spent on resource acquisition. For small business owners upgrading from shared hosting plans, implementing network load balancing and advanced page caching will improve CMS performance immediately, especially if based on low-density, premium hardware. Elastic cloud services need to be price compared to the cost of a dedicated web server, while managed cloud plans compete cost-effectively with the investment required in developing hosting solutions with Nginx, Varnish Cache, Memcached, & HHVM independently. Managed cloud hosts usually focus on being price competitive with shared hosting or VPS plans, and may provide speed gains on page loads through optimized hardware, but lack the ability to scale past a single server instance with traffic as on elastic cluster platforms. “Pay as you go” approaches can actually be more costly for small sites if the CMS or site code is not fully optimized before launching to the cloud platform. In practice, it is the web traffic support required, the need for advanced programming tools, and the overall price of a cloud hosting plan compared to budgetary constraints that will make the final determination of which cloud hosting plan to choose for any project.

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