Cloud Hosting vs Shared Hosting – which is best for you?

One thing to keep in mind when comparing Cloud Hosting vs Shared Hosting is that “Cloud Hosting” is a marketing term. All internet servers could be said to be “in the cloud”.

As a marketing term, Cloud Hosting can mean whatever the vendor wants it to mean, but generally the term is accepted to mean a type of hosting where you can easily adjust the resources used by your website, and you pay for the resources only when they are assigned to your site.

The largest providers of server hosting: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle would have you believe that if you use their services, then you are “Cloud Hosting”, and if you use another provider, then you have a lesser form of hosting. Amazon AWS is certainly the biggest cloud hosting provider, an has been around since 2006. There is an excellent history here: Cloud Computing.

Just to be clear: when I say ‘Cloud Hosting’, I’m referring to the self-managed Cloud Hosting plans offered by the large providers.

There are a number of ‘fully-managed’ Cloud Hosting options, like SiteGround Cloud Hosting or Cloudways, which are quite different. I discussed those hybrid options in another post about VPS vs Cloud Hosting. I also did an in-depth review of SiteGround Cloud Hosting in this post.

Given that caveat, let’s compare Cloud vs Shared Hosting on a few dimensions.

Cloud Hosting vs Shared Hosting – is Cloud hosting as easy to set up?

A resounding no!

Shared hosting providers give you a simple-to-use control panel where you can click to install products like WordPress or Drupal like this:

Cloud Hosting providers give you a kit of parts, from which you assemble a server. There are complex control panels with large numbers of options, and you have to know which you need, and how to use them. Here is the list of AWS services:

Once you get your Cloud server running, you have a bare Linux server. To set up WordPress you have to sign on and install MySQL, PHP, and WordPress from the command line.

Cloud Hosting vs Shared Hosting – is the cost of Cloud Hosting as predictable?

In a word, No. It is easy to make a mistake and end up with a large bill. I have been running servers on Amazon AWS and Google GCP for years, and still every now and again I get a bill at the end of the month that I did not expect.

Here’s a classic but tiny example – I had spun up a personal RDS (MySQL) instance for a one-day test, which should have cost less than $1. I got distracted that day and forgot to shut it down until a few days later, for a cost of $12. The key here is that you pay for the resources you have assigned or started, regardless of whether you are using them or not.

cloud hosting vs shared hosting

Cloud Hosting vs Shared Hosting – handling traffic spikes: is Cloud Hosting better?

Absolutely – this is where Cloud Hosting truly shines. Traffic spikes can happen due to a predicted event like a sale, or due to an unexpected event, like Elon Musk tweeting about your site.

First, let me focus this discussion: in very high-traffic websites you do not use a single web server – traffic is dispatched to one of a number (2, ten, or hundreds) of servers. When the traffic spikes, you don’t touch your existing servers, you just spin up more servers. I’m going to assume you have more modest ambitions, and just want a single web server that can handle varying traffic loads.

Let’s look at a simple example of a predictable spike – you have an e-commerce web site, and you expect an increase in traffic due to a big sale.

Shared Hosting

With a shared hosting account, you start by choosing the size (and cost) of a hosting plan that should handle the traffic you expect to get.

If you foresee a spike in traffic from a sale, you could contact your provider in advance, and ask them to move your account up to a larger plan which you estimate will be powerful enough.

Depending on the provider, you may pay for the larger plan for one or two months, or you may be stuck on the more expensive plan for much longer.

Cloud Hosting

When you set up a Cloud Linux server, you define how much RAM and CPU to assign to the server, and you have a wide range of options. You could have 1 vCPU and 2GB RAM up to 96vCPUs and 384GB RAM.

You do not have to run MySQL on the web server – you could use a separate DB server or the Cloud provider’s DB service, such as AWS RDS or Aurora. As I said earlier, you get a kit of parts, and can assemble a server in various ways!

Whenever you need to, you can simply change the server performance settings with very little downtime. On AWS, you just stop your server, change the ‘instance type’, and start it again – usually all done in a couple of minutes. So in this example of a predictable spike, you can make your server somewhat larger before the sale starts, and afterward you can make it smaller again. Your monthly bill will reflect the minutes that the server was a larger instance type.

What about a VPS vs Cloud Hosting?

Shared Hosting providers often offer VPS or Dedicated servers, or even their own variation of a Cloud server. See this post for a discussion of: VPS vs Cloud

The bottom line: buy only what you need

Cloud Hosting can give you tremendous flexibility and power but it is expensive to set up and run, and the costs are not as predictable. But, if you need the ability to handle traffic spikes, then Cloud Hosting is the best option.

Shared Hosting or a managed VPS gives you simple setup and predictable costs, but it won’t give you the range of power of Cloud Hosting.