Your ideal cloud hosting will be like cirrostratus; always there, no fuss and never gets in the way.
The last thing you need is a cumulonimbus cloud host; loud, dramatic, beautiful from a distance, but up close and personal, horrendous.
Your primary concerns about cloud hosting are probably; cost, reliability, support, and security.
Cloud hosting costs
Lower cost than conventional dedicated server hosting is the big attraction for most companies. Prices are usually transparent, and you can work out how much a given service will cost based on bandwidth used in a typical month.
However, any cost advantage may disappear if your website traffic grows and your bandwidth and processor needs increase, so be sure to factor in any anticipated growth before making a decision.
If your website usage data fluctuates like a longitudinal cross-section of the Himalayas, then the scalability of cloud hosting could save you money in hosting charges. You can just buy the extra capacity when you need it rather than having to have it available even when things are quiet.
For an overview of different types of hosting, check out this Information-Age post.
Cloud hosting reliability
The only way to find reliable data on reliability is to use a cloud hosting review site.
When you see hundreds of positive reviews, you know they are genuine, and that you can believe the overall reliability picture they create.
Many hosting companies hide their SLA service level agreements (% uptime guarantee). They are never listed under plans’ features. You will need to ask before signing up. It will be there in the contract, but do you really have the time to read 25 pages of small print to find the one crucial piece of data you must have?
If you require a 99.99% uptime guarantee and you are only being offered a 99% SLA, the difference (0.99%) is 365.25 x 24 x 60 x 0.99/100 = 5,207.004 minutes, which is 86.7834 hours or nearly four days every year.
If the only way you can get the SLA you require is a dedicated server with CDN backup, then go with that option and abandon the idea of cloud hosting until SLAs improve.
Support staff ratings
Things will go wrong. When they do, you need to be confident that support staff will be there to help solve any issues.
Support issues are a significant factor in any independent reviews of hosting that you might read.
Again, the answer is to visit a site like HostAdvice.com and read what previous customers have to say.
Security issues with the cloud
In the new data age, you will have a few concerns regarding how cloud hosting companies secure your data.
No company can ever guarantee your data is hacker-proof. However, to put this into context, if you store your information on a local server locked in a secure room with access limited to a few trusted personnel, things can still go wrong.
Reputable hosting companies will fix security vulnerabilities as soon as they are known, but there will always be zero-day hacking problems, where hackers take advantage of coding weaknesses that were previously unrecognised.
Solution: Only shortlist hosting companies that are large enough to have the in-house security expertise you need.
2. Government access
The US government has a different approach to data ownership than we have in the UK and EU.
The US Patriot Act gives federal agencies free rein to access any data stored on American soil, or of any American company.
Even if your data is entirely innocent, would you be happy with countless US government employees having access to it? Me neither.
Governments can still access your data in the EU, and UK law will echo the EU GDPR legislation after Brexit. However, it is harder for government agencies to access your data in Europe than it is in North America.
Solution: Only Shortlist non-US hosting companies that will store your data exclusively on European servers.
3. Data ownership
Who owns the data on cloud hosting servers? If a company goes bust or is taken over by another company you don’t want to do business with, do you have the right to remove your data and all traces of it?
Nobody knows because this has not yet been tested in the courts.
Solution: Only shortlist hosting companies that are too big to be taken over or to fail.
4. Long story short
There are aspects of a cloud hosting package that you cannot customise. Service level agreements (percentage up-time) are non-negotiable. Some companies will have fixed locations their servers, so if you want servers close to a particular market, you will need to find a hosting company that includes that.
Reliability and customer service are the most significant problem areas. There are two ways to find any problems in these areas; painful experience and hosting review sites.