5 Best Cloud Web Hosting Companies of 2017

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 official 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/moHybrid cloud hosting plans for small businessesRead Review
InMotion Hosting$29.99/moPowerful Hybrid cloud VPS hosting plans for businessesRead Review
Bluehost$6.95/moAffordable & Reliable Hybrid cloud hosting plansRead Review
SiteGround$80.00/moManaged cloud hosting that's powerful & reliableLearn More
RackspaceN/AManaged cloud hosting for “big data” requirementsLearn More

Rack of servers in a data center

What to Look for in a Cloud Web Host

In determining the right cloud host solution, website owners must first distinguish between the types of cloud hosting available and then make a purchasing decision based on the particular requirements of the website to be deployed. In the today’s marketplace, there are three main varieties of cloud hosting available: enterprise solutions, managed cloud hosting, and “hybrid” accounts. Understanding the difference between these approaches is the key to deciphering the way cloud networks are designed for advanced applications, deployed in data centers, and billed by the web hosting company plans.

NOTE: There are 3 main varieties of cloud hosting available: enterprise solutions, managed cloud hosting, and “hybrid” accounts. The first step is to decide which one is best suited for your website.

Enterprise Cloud Solutions

Enterprise solutions target corporations with traditionally large data centers and “big data” requirements. These companies may have millions of registered users on a website and require hundreds of servers to manage corporate operations. Enterprise cloud solutions encourage companies to outsource their internal data center infrastructure to specialist companies with advanced techniques for website optimization and database management to support the highest levels of traffic on the web.

Some enterprise solutions are designed for “private” clouds which seek to replace the in-house server networks at a corporation with the outsourced use of computing power at data centers to save money on systems administration and regular hardware upgrades. “Public” clouds are used to host the websites of the largest corporations online while managing the highest levels of user traffic, which may see thousands of simultaneous users accessing a database or browsing through multiple sub-domains.

Managed Cloud & Hybrid Solutions

Consumer solutions targeting small business and start-up websites fall into the categories of managed cloud hosting and “hybrid” accounts. These approaches use the same innovative technology found in “big data” solutions for enterprise, but repackage and reconfigure the servers for websites that typically only need a smaller number of server instances to manage traffic. Hybrid solutions are designed for websites that need more processing power to support web apps and better performance of hardware for page speed. Both managed and hybrid cloud solutions are competitively priced to compete with traditional shared hosting and VPS accounts, making the latest innovation in information technology available to consumers at an affordable price level.

What to Look for in a Cloud Hosting Solution?

The difference between the types of cloud hosting solutions available are primarily based on “economies of scale” which reflect the abundance of computer hardware available wholesale to the largest data center companies. The competition in the cloud hosting industry leads to price reduction for services through the commoditization of processing power and data storage space. Thus, while pricing remains the overriding aspect influencing the decision to choose a cloud host in most situations, there are a variety of other features which should be compared between the company platforms in order to determine which solution offers the most value for the money invested.

AWS elastic load balancing diagram

NOTE: 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.

Innovation

The first and most important factor that should be considered when evaluating a cloud hosting solution is the level of innovation the company is developing in the sector. Companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have thousands of the world's leading experts in information technology employed on staff, with billions of dollars in research and development expenditures available. All of these companies have long and successful track records of innovation in data center management and “big data” solutions. When small businesses and start-ups are able to apply the same cloud hosting solutions developed for the largest corporate applications to their web accounts, it represents access to a tremendous amount of collective innovation in IT made available at a low, introductory price.

Data Center Power

The fundamental principle with cloud computing is that clients are purchasing processing power and storage from remote data centers, then using a wide variety of software applications on the servers. Consequently, there is a massive amount of variety between the software being used in cloud computing, but much less in the actual hardware. Cloud server software is designed to optimize load balancing using the latest aspects of multi-core processing developed by Intel and AMD for rack-mount hardware. Servers with solid state drives (SSDs) have been benchmarked to perform over 20x faster than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) in cloud web applications.

Huge performance gains can be found through server hardware optimization. Look for cloud solutions in data centers that are based on the latest hardware with the highest number of cores for CPU multi-processing, large amounts of installed DDR4 RAM, and solid state drives (SSDs) for best performance. When configuring virtual servers, the cost is invariably based on these same factors which are determined by the wholesale pricing made available to the data centers by the manufacturers. Generally, there is not a big difference in the speed or bandwidth of the fiber optic connections available in the different data centers, so the hardware basis of the servers and their software configurations are the most important factors for determining website and remote app performance.

Stack Customization

Similar to the difference between shared hosting and VPS or Dedicated servers, “stack” customization is not something required by every website but essential to many custom-coded applications which require unique server extensions or specific programming language frameworks to operate. The level of stack customization available distinguishes many of the enterprise cloud solutions from “hybrid” or managed accounts. With stack customization, web developers and systems administrators have the full flexibility to control the version of the operating system used and what specific server extensions are installed for the database, programming language, and cloud performance optimization. Typical examples of stack customization involve the use of different Linux distributions, installing Nginx or MongoDB rather than Apache and MySQL, or using Perl and Python for development instead of PHP.

Advanced Virtualization

Advanced virtualization is another essential characteristic of most cloud web hosting solutions. Based on innovation from VMware and other companies, virtualization allows for the creation and operation of many simultaneous versions of an operating system stack on a server through disk partitions. CPU processing optimization and multi-user load balancing on the root drive is required to manage all of the simultaneous instances of virtual machines. Virtual Private Servers (VPS) operate on this framework and cloud computing uses techniques from the approach to quickly clone or duplicate servers that can be launched into clusters when the user traffic outpaces the processing power that a single server or VM can support. Advanced virtualization provides the technology behind the clustering of servers to meet peak traffic demands that defines cloud solutions through their ability to scale to meet the requirements of many simultaneous users. The system can also be used for automated back-ups and creating multiple copies of a site online in case one server unexpectedly fails.

Varnish for load balancing and page caching

NOTE: High traffic enterprise sites are increasingly using Varnish Cache & Nginx for advanced server load balancing and page caching in cloud hosting environments to increase website performance.

Cloud Load Balancing

Considering the way a web server functions, in hosting a single site or thousands of websites on the same hard drive, there will inevitably be a large number of simultaneous process requests making calls in different ways to the installed software scripts. For example, HTTP requests for loading web page files, HTTPS requests requiring encryption, FTP/SFTP requests for file transfer, POP3 & SMTP requests for email, and MySQL requests to the database. Cloud hosts use load balancing software to optimize server performance using multi-threaded processes based in multi-core server CPU hardware. While there is no single, standardized method of achieving optimal cloud load balancing in a web hosting environment, it is important to research the different options provided by the companies when comparing between service plans. The largest sites on the web by traffic are all actively innovating in cloud load balancing techniques, because the most common reason for server failure is related to the overload of systems by too many simultaneous user requests. Hybrid and managed cloud hosts usually included pre-installed load balancing software for server management with optimized configurations.

Page Caching Solutions

Database-driven websites with dynamic content often require extensive processing power to generate every page view. This can cause serious problems on a server as the number of users increases. Page caching solutions address this problem by creating static HTML pages that are kept online for a certain periods of time and then updated with a new version. These pages are primarily served to anonymous users and reduce the need to run the entire codebase of a site to deliver a single page. Many page caching solutions function together with cloud load balancing techniques as part of an over-all performance optimization for high traffic websites to scale more efficiently. Sometimes even the entire database is cached and updated in an asynchronous manner in order to conserve server resources in high performance environments.

Because of the complexity of server management and the wide variety of different database protocols available for development, there is a great amount of variety in the cloud solutions being developed for high traffic websites. Page caching is one of the most popular solutions to the problem, as it reduces the dynamic content to static HTML pages that are served to many simultaneous users without a significant strain on the CPU resources. Some solutions also use compression on these files to reduce page load time by decreasing the amount of data being served. Nginx solutions seek to replace the Apache architecture on a LAMP stack entirely, while solutions like APC and Memcache use server extensions available through PHP. Varnish Cache is another page caching solution used by many of the most popular sites on the web, but will require a custom installation of the framework on the server as well as code enhancements on the website to integrate

NOTE: “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.

Software Toolboxes

Software toolboxes which simplify the process of server management using performance enhancing software extensions can be quite valuable in the development process. These proprietary hosting solutions operate as a control panel for customizing the stack, adding or removing server extensions, and accessing data analytics for site traffic. A “bare bones” cloud hosting provider will require a systems administrator with extensive command line experience to configure. Managed and hybrid cloud solutions simplify this process for the consumer market by adding a GUI layer on the command line functions, and making the installed server extensions display in more easy to manage lists. Toolboxes may also include the ability to make or retrieve site backups, and deploy new server instances with a back-up copy. While not critical to server performance, toolboxes make it more easy to manage a cloud hosting account through the web browser.

“Pay As You Go” Billing

“Pay as you go” billing relates to virtualization and load balancing in cloud computing, as there is not necessarily a need to pay for all of the server resources required to manage a website during peak hours continually if the data center permits the upscaling and downscaling of resources through cloud clusters according to user demand. Similarly, if the web development team optimizes a site using advanced page caching techniques, the amount of processing power required to operate it can be reduced 50%-90%, leading to big savings under a “pay as you go” approach. Unfortunately, this same issue can rebound negatively if a simple CMS site is placed on a “pay as you go” approach without page cache optimization. Site owners can overpay significantly by hosting a CMS site under this framework when the same site likely would have performed fine with shared hosting if properly configured. Because of this uncertainty in billing, many small site owners will prefer a flat rate payment system as commonly found with hybrid or managed cloud hosting accounts.

RackSpace diagram of open cloud hosting environment

NOTE: 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.

Data Analytics

Advanced data analytics are critically important in enterprise and to media companies which base their business model on advertising. 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, 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 or used 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. Google's “Big Query” and Webmaster Tools are the leaders in this field, but many companies are innovating in the sector, especially in providing niche services to marketing companies and advanced analytics to enterprise.

Customer Support

Technical support with a data center is not always easy, 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 servers directly. Most user support requests will relate to 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 companies offer no technical support at all to clients, which can be frustrating, while other web hosts 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.

Final Thoughts on Choosing a Cloud Web Host

In summary, enterprise cloud hosting and consumer cloud hosting target different markets with different goals, but use many of the same hardware and software solutions for both sectors. In choosing a cloud hosting solution, the data center infrastructure, server architecture, and software innovation with the company involved makes the biggest difference. Because there is a lot of consolidation in the cloud hosting industry, small businesses and start-ups are advised to choose the company that provides the most powerful optimization tools for enterprise clients and then take advantage of the platform specializations for their own unique website requirements.

In differentiating between cloud hosting solutions, there is a lot of variety in the software provided in hybrid and managed accounts for load balancing and page caching. These services need to be price compared to the cost of a custom stack installation and developing new solutions with Nginx, Varnish, APC, & Memcache. Managed and hybrid cloud hosts usually focus on being price competitive with shared hosting or VPS, and may provide speed gains on page load and optimized hardware, but lack the ability to scale past a single server instance with traffic. “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.

The largest companies in cloud web hosting are able to provide more features such as a custom administration panel, software toolboxes, and data analytics that can be helpful in managing a server without a dedicated systems administrator. In most cases, site owners will need to fine tune the web site through developer specialists in order to get the most performance gains with page caching. There is no recognized industry standard for server load balancing, so many companies are still innovating in this field. Thus, an overriding deciding factor in choosing between cloud hosts can also be how much programming work the site owner is required to invest in building an optimized server environment, making “plug & play” hybrid and managed cloud solutions a better option for many small businesses than custom stack development.