Hosting on the Cloud: Is it Right For Your Firm?

BY Justin Torres



There are countless solutions for connecting the websites of individuals, Fortune 500 companies, and everyone in between to the World Wide Web. Search engines will judge websites by how fast they load, so more now than ever it’s important to determine the hidden costs of hosting. Anticipating the traffic a website will generate and planning for the unexpected influx of traffic is what separates weekend bloggers from the Internet’s top communities.

Brief Overview of Everything Hosting

Every website and Internet service is powered by servers: hardware and software with the intention of handling thousands of connections at once and always staying online. The most accessible tier of servers for entry-level websites is shared hosting.

Customers are grouped together and share hard drive space, bandwidth, and other resources. Commodity hardware allows companies to sell plans for just a few dollars a month. Shared is perfect for websites just starting out without a webmaster with extensive knowledge about how to manage his or her own server.

Next up is a virtual private server, or VPS, which are virtual instances of a server running alongside others on the same machine. It’s not as expensive as getting your own dedicated hardware, but you have the same control over the software that runs on the virtual machine. However, you are still sharing a physical machine with other customers, which could potentially cause problems if they are using more resources than what was allocated to them.

When you are going to be consistently visited by hundreds and thousands of visitors, it is worth the investment to rent a dedicated server; you will have complete control over your environment with low-level access to the hardware and software, and you have the added benefit of not sharing with neighbors. Unlike shared hosting, there is more overhead to self-hosting by adding technical support, power usage, storage, network connectivity, and software licensing.

The latest and greatest in hosting technology is cloud hosting. Providers of cloud hosting cluster tens and tens of servers together, allowing customers to provision their own slice of computer not feasible via a single machine. Countless hosting companies and big names such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft offer redundant and reliable data centers; you will only paying for what you use.

A dense mesh of fiber optic lines, originally used for telephony, link together data centers, forming the backbone of the Internet. This infrastructure spans entire countries and stretches across the ocean floor between continents. Internet service providers tap into this superfast network of connectivity and sell access to home, business, and wireless subscribers.

Why is My Site So Slow?

At the core of every web page is hypertext markup language (HTML), which is a list of instructions that tell your browser what to display. The HTML itself is just text, but contains references to images, scripts, style sheets, and other media, which adds to the overhead of each page.

Visiting makes over 170 requests to various elements for their website, such as images, video players and tracking scripts for ads. Every element of the home page combined is 1.28MB, but the size of the HTML alone is a mere 28KB, which is just 27 percent of the actual data transferred. Your browser will try to stagger the requests and will cache many of the resources, but the CNN staff has to anticipate millions of visitors and cannot rely on the user for optimization.

If your site is hosted on a shared environment, there is no knowing how many other domains are hosted on the same machine as yours. Unfortunately, some companies will overload or oversell their machines because they do not anticipate their customers will ever reach that "unlimited" quota. Either you or your neighbor’s sudden popularity online could cause latency, service disruption, and, in the worse case scenario, complete outage of your site.

Upgrading to a VPS or a dedicated machine provides a significant increase in speed, reliability, and control over your web sites. Your new, improved server can handle consistent traffic and with proper maintenance can run without problems for months. Popularity can still hit with a surge of visitors and a single machine is responsible for everyone one of them. When that surge becomes daily, the one server is going to need help delivering what your visitors need.

Take My Webpage into the Speedy, Redundant Future, Please

Hosting all of your websites and media together under the same server is not an issue, until it becomes an issue. More hardware usually makes things run faster, but it doesn’t solve the issue of slowness. Go over these concepts to ensure your site is optimized without a total overhaul:

Investigate and Invest

Spend some time researching what exactly on your site needs improvement. Using the Chrome web browser, navigate to your page and open the developer tools (Menu > Tools > Developer Tools) and refresh your page. The inspector will show you the load times for every resource on the page. If the page itself is slow, the issue is on the server side, but if your images and Javascript files are taking precious milliseconds, then you can benefit from using cloud-based services.

Reduce, Reuse and Compress

When running a content management system such as WordPress, try to utilize the many built-in features to reduce the amount of conflicting plugins. There are caching plugins, such as W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache, which turn dynamic pages into static ones, but their effectiveness varies between servers.

Many Javascript libraries such as the popular jQuery are on cloud-powered sites like Github and Google Code, which allow you to link to them directly, saving your bandwidth. GZIP compression is remarkably easy to enable and vastly reduces the overall size of your pages before they are sent to browsers.

Amazing Web Services

Completely changing the game, first introduced Amazon Web Services as a means to sell their unused server power. They added power that matches their infrastructure of the first five years they were in business, on a daily basis. AWS has tools for every facet of computing. Cloudfront, their content delivery service, hosts your content in edge data centers around the globe which are closest to the consumers of the Internet. There are, of course, many WordPress plugins that can offload your images, scripts and even the entire database to the popular cloud providers.

Search engines and users are paying attention to how quickly a web pages loads. A difference of 1 second could reduce pageviews by 11 percent and a 7 percent decrease in conversions. Moving static files such as images and Javascript from your server to a cloud service saves valuable resources and shaves precious milliseconds off of your load time. When you optimize, everyone wins.

Justin Torres

Justin Torres is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine, Chief Programming Engineer with Adviatech, and oversees all of the company's security protocols.


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