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Cloud vs. Hosting: What's The Difference?
The cloud existed long before we started calling it that. And hosted solutions have been around for decades as well. One of the problems with the word “cloud” is that it is not exactly a precise term. It is a bit amorphous, like managed service provider or Platform as a Service (PaaS). In some cases you can take these to mean whatever you want.
But it is far better if terms are commonly understood when they are used. And using cloud-based when you mean hosted and hosted when you mean cloud-based just breeds confusion. Wouldn’t it nice if we could all get on the same page?
“Many in the software industry use these terms interchangeably and therefore, incorrectly. Because, they are not at all the same thing,” wrote Amber Bigler Newman for ShoreTel Sky. Newman uses a simple analogy to show the difference. “A cloud-based solution is like having your water supplied through your municipal utility. When you turn on the tap, water comes out. Each month you are billed by the utility for the amount of water you used. You don’t ever think about water storage or the pipelines to your house.”
Hosting is different. “A hosted solution is more like owning or renting a water tank that is located off of your property, but connects to your home. The water tank is only for your use, but you are responsible for figuring out how much water you will need. You are responsible for filling the tank and you are responsible for maintaining the pipes. You pay for all of the water that goes into the tank, whether you use it or not. You could pay someone else to take care of your water tank for you. You would then have a managed, hosted solution.”
That’s a nice high level starting point, but the cloud and hosted solutions are really about technology, not H2O.
And that is where Newman goes next. “Cloud-based solutions are designed to take advantage of the economies of scale by using shared resources. Most leverage the principal of multi-tenancy where a single instance of the software runs on a server that serves multiple client-organizations or ‘tenants.’ This makes it possible to allocate excess capacity to be shared across all tenants, making it easy to absorb usage spikes. It also means that users can easily scale use up or down by adding or dropping users and applications”
So the cloud is large infrastructure shared by many, many users and offering a bevy of services. It is called the cloud because being so large and broad it is by definition amorphous.
Hosted services can be defined; they tend to be based on physical servers (even if the computing is probably via VMs) that you can identify, and the connections are often over direct or private connections.
You could argue that this is the exact same model as used back in the old timeshare days when the servers were actually mainframes.
Now instead of payroll processing, the hosted apps tend to be websites, backups, DaaS or even now big data.
Some see the cloud as a higher level solution, as it more scalable, elastic and shareable as it is easy for users anywhere to access the cloud service.
And because the cloud is now so hot, some vendors are calling their hosted solutions cloud solutions, when they lack the utility nature of a true cloud.
The View from Dr vCloud
Dr. vCloud is a blogger, otherwise known as Laurence Grant, and he is concerned with all this confusion. “Hosted Services is not necessarily cloud computing. Just because a customer calls something cloud doesn’t make it cloud. For example MS hosting your personal exchange servers isn’t cloud. They might call it Software as a Service (SaaS (News - Alert)), but it’s just hosting services,” the Dr. says. “If you want a real cloud it requires integration with everything not a niche solution that’s stand alone.”
The Dr. sees vendors calling hosted services “cloud” in an effort to make them more attractive. “More and more vendors are taking their legacy offerings and jumping on the cloud bandwagon, trying to capitalize on the latest buzz word while the going is good,” he argues. “Where we can start to differentiate between just a hosted service, and an offering where we care about cloud is when we start to provide self service features to the consumer, along with integration across the consumers technology portfolio. Let’s consider a hosted service for a CRM application. If it’s hosted in a single datacenter, with all remote access coming through this one data center, then it might not be a cloud. If on the other hand I can self provision new web servers or app servers in different data centers around the globe and dynamically direct my sales force to the closest resources, and have the data synchronizing around the world, then I’m starting to look more like a cloud.”
Why Does This Matter?
The reason this debate is so important isn’t just that words matter, but knowing what you are buying matters more. If someone pitches a hosted service as the cloud, and it doesn’t have the scalability and utility nature of a true cloud service, you will be sorely disappointed when you run out of gas. This isn’t just a hassle, it could cost serious cash.
The cloud is a murky term, but cloud services cost real money. We need careful clarification so customers understand completely what they are buying and can plan accordingly.
Image via Shutterstock
Edited by Rachel Ramsey