When it comes to hosting, “The Cloud” is a broad brush stroke phrase that is likely to be flat-out misleading for site owners.
That’s right, I said it.
But wait, you may be thinking, I thought the cloud was the solution to everything for everyone! Isn’t it a magic online panacea that can do … anything, anytime, anywhere?
I hate to break it to you, but no. Despite what you may have heard, despite the hype, despite the incessant and nebulous marketing messages, the cloud – itself – is not a solution for you, the site owner.
Rather, “the cloud” is an IT term for technologies that make life easier for IT people. That’s who it’s a solution for. It’s a solution for people like us, here at Synthesis, so that we can provide real solutions to you, the site owner and content publisher.
The types of solutions you need?
- Technology optimized for your content management system.
- Services that will scale to meet traffic spikes that won’t penalize you with utility meter based charges.
- Peace of mind when it comes to security and malware.
- Operational procedures like backups and error detection.
- Support ranging from IT questions to SEO impact of CMS configuration choices.
Any high-end hosting provider is going to use cloud technologies to deliver these solutions to you, though perhaps not for the reasons you might expect. The cloud doesn’t just magically make all of these solutions happen, and it doesn’t necessarily make them happen better than non-cloud means would. But it does help us to keep costs down, which then allows us to provide advanced levels of support and innovative new features that make life better for our customers.
So the cloud is useful. Very useful in fact. It just isn’t a solution in-and-of-itself, like you may think of it. And how cloud technologies are employed is very important.
Here are a handful of fallacies about the cloud, which you should keep in mind as it relates to your WordPress hosting.
1. The cloud automatically scales
The cloud is not magic. I mentioned this already, but it bears repeating. The way some folks talk about the cloud (and the way it’s sometimes used in hosting) sure makes it sound like folks think some kind of magic is going on.
But there isn’t. It’s just complicated technology.
There seems to be a notion that the cloud will allow a website to scale to infinite amounts of memory and processors at the drop of a hat. But you don’t just go from the power of an iPhone to a supercomputer simply because you have a cloud account. You’ll still likely have to upgrade, configure, change software … you’ll have to do things to leverage the scalability. Will you know what you’re doing? Will your provider?
And where do you start? Most cloud providers sell services based on the estimated computing power that will be required for a given configuration. So you have to take a guess. Will you end up with more power than you need? Less? Are you maximizing your resources or wasting some?
It’s a little like drinking from a lake. The water has to get into a bucket or a cup or your hands or something for you to drink it. A plethora of resources and options are available with the cloud, but just because you sign up doesn’t mean you get them all.
Don’t confuse flexible with automatic.
2. Cloud technology = secure technology
Sure, the bits and pieces that make up what we know as “the cloud” are all housed in secure data centers, but application security is the real problem. As it relates to WordPress, this means PHP files being hacked, brute force login attempts on the admin user, and so on.
Unless your provider has specific software written for application-level malware prevention and detection, there is little value to the cloud in terms of security. If they do not provide WordPress specific security features for injection blockers and brute force login detectors, then the cloud really isn’t part of a security solution.
What is the cloud doing to protect you from these potential security breaches? Not much. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Instead, make sure any hosting provider has a non-nebulous, action-oriented plan to keep your site safe.
3. Cloud is a synonym for “your data is safe”
Speaking of keeping your site safe, how about your data? How safe is it? Again, the cloud can be part of the solution here, but it’s not a total solution itself.
Do you realize how many bits of information are backed up in the cloud every single day?
Your website may be the size of what can fit on a thumb drive, but it’s of the utmost importance to you. In the grand scale of petabytes worth of backups though, it’s barely a grain of sand on the beach up there in the cloud.
The question is, how long does it take your provider to find and extract your backup from the sea of of data? And what is in place to ensure that there isn’t some kind of failure during the process? Should you have to wait 24 hours to recover a single CSS file for your site?
4. Cloud technologies equate to better up time
There are really two kinds of clouds used in hosting.
One uses cloud technologies to facilitate operational processes. If underlying hardware is failing, you no longer have to endure days of issues as the touch of a button can place your site’s container on new metal. If you need more storage or memory, this can be added instantaneously without downtime or server migrations.
The other version basically ties a bunch of computers together in a complicated fashion using routing, caching, and database sync technologies to host lots of sites. This second type of cloud presents many problems when it comes to hosting, especially if it’s relied upon too heavily.
The reason is because every one of those complications has a failure point. And if one point experiences failure, it is going affect the rest of the configuration. When you hear terms like “latency” and “cluster disruptions,” this is what is being referred to.
There is actually probably a higher probability of the having issues due to the complexity. Complicated isn’t always better.
We use cloud technologies to manage our stack, but at the end of the day we still put small numbers of sites on actual servers, not cloud configurations. We still view the world at the server level. We simply use cloud technologies to remove the pains of server management from our operations.
5. Clouds are designed for publishers
Cloud technologies are being marketed more and more to publishers, but they are not designed to be solutions for publishers.
Again, cloud technologies are solutions for us. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that the cloud is a tool that helps us deliver solutions to you, the publishers and online business owners.
And solutions for you involve design, traffic, and traffic conversion in a safe and secure way.
So the cloud allows us to deliver a faster page load time? Great. That’s what you’re expecting. It’s like when an airplane lands. That’s what should happen. But what happens while you’re on board?
Copyblogger Media builds online publishing solutions. Through our suite of software — StudioPress, Scribe, Premise, and Synthesis — we provide you with the actual tools and the knowledge to take your publishing to the next level.
Don’t get lulled into thinking cloud-based hosting is going to miraculously make all of your web goals come true.
Now, there are cloud-based hosting solutions out there that are dedicated to WordPress, with WordPress.com being a prime example. But there are obvious limitations, namely the lack of ownership and control you have when you host on WordPress.com as opposed to self hosting.
So it’s right for some, but not right for all.
Cloud technology is incredible.
We use it here at Synthesis to deal with really time consuming technology issues that have plagued the IT industry for decades. For example, in the two instances this last year where one of our customer sites suffered issues due to underlying hardware, we simply pushed a button and moved it to different hardware.
Yes, the hardware can be fixed, but content publishers aren’t interested in going days on end with questionable site performance while “hardware issues” are fixed.
We also use cloud technologies to process and present helpful data to our customers that was once cryptic and difficult to deliver. They can now just retrieve it from their account portal (via PHP logs), and leveraging the cloud makes this possible.
The key for you when thinking about the cloud, especially as it relates to hosting, is to cut through all of the marketing pizzazz and get down to the nuts and bolts of what problem you are trying to solve for and what tools can best do the job.
When you employ a managed hosting provider, you pay that provider to solve these problems for you, and they are probably going to use the cloud as a tool to do so. Just don’t think, however, that because you see “the cloud” as part of the solution that all your worries will be erased.
What’s more important is partnering with the right provider who understands the fallacies of the cloud, recognizes it’s strengths and shortcomings, and knows how to strategically employ these technologies to deliver the service you need.