From zero to… Hosting

by | Dec 17, 2018 | From Zero to..., Tech

Reading time: 6 minutes

The night has just begun and I am looking at the smiling half-moon printed on the dark sky. The city’s skyline is quiet but I can feel the action, still warm underneath the silence.

It’s the third sleepless night. Nothing yet. I keep looping back to the same bugs. The same issues. Linking software to hardware has become easier  lately, but it’s a neverending process, and to ease the user experience we are forced to overload the server.

Working in technology can be very frustrating, at times. Never believe those company websites that proud themselves on cups of coffee counts: developers hate coffee over anything else. Unless they are Italian. Then they hate coffee only over politics and being wrong.

I am still staring at the dark space around the white cursor. Then, a glimmer of light flashes like a shooting star. The moon flickers. Something is about to happen. Suddenly, enlightenment. How could I miss it? A brainfart solves the whole mystery. The answer, like so many other times, is in the cloud! I need to let go to gain control. You don’t need to own a club to be good at sports, or a race car to be a good driver, or a ball to play good basketball. Well, this last one may not be completely accurate, but you get the picture.

What is cloud computing and why is it important?

“Cloud computing is an information technology paradigm that enables ubiquitous access to shared pools of configurable system resources and higher-level services that can be rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort, often over the Internet”

– thank you Wikipedia for making anything look complicated

Cloud computing or cloud hosting, refers to a digital remote space or service accessible over the internet that allows the sharing of resources. It’s very similar to a public utility, like energy or water. The probability you will find yourself needing a hosting is almost comparable as your need to own a car: there are other solutions but if you want to do it your way, you’ll need to look into it.

From physical hosting to Cloud

Although the concept comes from the early ’60, when companies like IBM were growing familiar to the Remote Job Entry concept, for the first use of the term “cloud” we need to go back to the usual suspects, Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, Marc Porat (pocket, brain and hand behind the Apple’s Macintosh). Back in 1993, the fellows that would conceive the smartphone created the first voice-recognition software, and hardware to match, in their secret company: General Magic was, effectively, the first to define the virtualization of tele-scripts and mobile agents, which lead to the modern structure of remote services.

Alas, we have to wait another 23 years before Amazon brings the technology mainstream, launching their services on Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which today are part of the AWS (Amazon Web Services) package. It is, nonetheless, as same as paying a recurring fee for computing capacity.

The cloud takes its definition for obvious human reason, as the public is not yet familiar with remote access to data nor VPN (virtual private network). A place that you can access without being physically there, it’s a sort of paradise of the geeks. To put it more formally, cloud computing is a remote server. There, I said it. The main difference in setting up your own server and using a remote one, is the cost. Big companies have their own data center in privately held servers. Cost of maintenance are split between facilities and technical.

Facility: you need a physical place to store your server. And it’s not ideal to place it in the cabinet next to the entrance. A server needs to be performant, the hardware is costly and they tend to heat up, as they need to be online all the time (you were thinking to follow working hours?) and also to keep up with upgrades and new technologies, such as load-balancing devices (direct and scale traffic and user’s requests) or simply more efficient cabling and sockets.

Technical: you need an expert to handle the setup, the networking, the security protocol, security process and any outage or malware, hacker attack needs to be handled and mitigated where possible. Add the installation and maintenance of software and the licensing fees.
Therefore, going to the cloud helps you and others to benefit of common resources, splitting costs.

What server do I choose?

I am aware that nowadays we rely on the IT expert of the company or our hated-beloved digital agency, but the reality is that choosing a server comes down to a very simple algorithm. It’s more or less the same process we follow when buying or renting an apartment. This comes with several implications as well as getting the wrong one could cost you more than the money you spend on it. Add to this that not everyone can pay a broker to find it and that most of us will need a mortgage to get it.

Do I buy or rent?
Here we go. Buying a house seems accessible to anyone, apart from the overpriced areas such as Manhattan, London or Downtown Dubai. Do we know anything about real estate, though? 99% of us, no. As a general rule, you should never need to own a server. So if your situation is extremely defined and requires a level of control and security that justify the extra cost for buying a server… So long, farewell, bye-bye, you’re already beyond what this article can encompass.

Shared-hosting, Cloud-hosting, VPS or Dedicated?
We enter the limbo: aren’t all these services in the cloud? Why all this options?
Keeping it simple, stupid (KISS), yes all is cloud-based. But performance, price and control differs a lot among them.

The situation here is the one of the student apartment. You have a very cost-effective space, where you share utility bills with other users on the same machine. So you also depend on their behavior for what concerns security, uptime (the average availability of the server) and performance.

Cloud (dedicated)
Enter the AirBNB model. Here you can choose to live in any room on the network. Your site is hosted in a dedicated server and you can implement it on the go and use the CDN system to copy your content to a different data center. Slightly pricier but still affordable even for personal use.

VPS (Virtual Private Server)
We are leaving our parent’s house on a new, big job contract. Time to think what we want the view is going to be from our terrace. VPS are dedicated servers with multi-core, scalable memory and multiple hard disks. The virtual stands because we can request the configuration to our service provider.

What is the best company?
I rely on the market. I am what I buy, so I do care about ecological footprint, green-policy and sustainability, and last but not least customer service. So far as it concerns me, I do avoid multi-hat or cross-sell focus companies. Two examples that will probably help you in this.

Multi-hat: EIG (Endurance International Group)
This giants of hosting, formerly BizLand, started acquiring small ISP and hosting companies in 1997, allowing them to operate under their own brand. Nothing wrong here. But, as an investing company, all they care about is the profit. The easiest thing to monetize, especially when talking about digital service, is to squeeze the resources to gain more in potential revenues. Therefore, they started to overload shared server, reducing performance and automating customer service (or stop answering if you want to veer out of the politically correct). Although having renowned names such as BlueHost, iPage or FastDomain and, the overall policy remains the same and therefore the price difference does not justify the service provided.

Cross-selling: GoDaddy
I do have several experiences with this provider and I am more and more disappointed by so many things that I have to select which one to point out, so I’ll go for the customer service.
Actually, rather than a customer service it looks like you always talk to a sales representative: anytime you face a problem and you try to solve it, the person (or bot) behind the chat will try to sell you a related service or ask you to upgrade your current plan, for performance’s sake.

So I dislike both models, especially if you consider that a 30$ Raspberry Pi is more than enough to host whatever website you need to publish. The cost there, other than the device, are your utility bill, that’s it.

So, what is the best hosting?
This is not a “best of” collection, this is a service analysis. Learn how to gather the right information about your project or your business. I promise you can do it.

Here a few helping lectures:

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