The Radical Changes to Hosting

The advent of cloud computing has led to widespread adoption of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solutions. These technologies are not only accepted by professionals, but do-it-yourself bloggers as well. This is a testament to their versatility and usability.

Economics is a significant reason for the acceptance of the cloud model. Cloud-based technologies like IaaS and PaaS cost about the same as some of the really inexpensive web hosting options. The added benefit is that the client gets an entire virtual machine, which can be configured as best suits the business (or the hobby). As a bonus, the reliability is comparable what is delivered by the various “household name” hosting services.

An additional selling point of PaaS is is its adaptability to numerous technologies. If a webmaster wants to produce a website using JavaScript, then that possibility is available. On the other hand, if PHP is the desired language of choice, then that possibility exists as well. Is content with WordPress required? PaaS will suport that, too.

However, PaaS is not without limitations. Users who want to simply upload a file (for example, an image to be included in a blog post) may find that it’s trickier than it should be. The host likely has security restrictions in place to prevent uploading to any directory where executables are stored. Getting around this will require some configuration changes.

The next likely step for PaaS is going to be hosting which is application-specific. If that happens, expect providers to bring a specific infrastructure together with a distinct, customized application to produce an offering presented to a very targeted market. An example of a company that is doing that already is Pantheon, with its Drupal offering.

Pantheon may not be inexpensive, but it offers a distinct alternative to the PaaS solution offered by Red Hat (called OpenShift). For starters, Pantheon’s infrastructure is tailor-fit to support all of the best features of Drupal. Making this happen required a combination of custom networking and operating system configuration.

While these changes improved performance dramatically, there were still some holes that needed to be plugged. Pantheon solved the aforementioned “file upload” problem by implementing a distributed model, known to company insiders as Valhalla. Although the solution is complex, it is effective and provides much better customer service as compared to other PaaS solutions.

The latest offering by Pantheon is an Enterprise solution. This solution boasts of a dedicated customer service model which will assist with every aspect of implementation. This over-and-above level of service ensures that the adoption of the PaaS technology is successful. The company also provides “sandboxes” – environments specific to development and testing so that new software can be rolled out without disrupting the production environment.

How effective is Pantheon? It’s been implemented by The New Republic. In the first 24 hours after implementation, over 100 million pages were viewed. No modifications or changes to the software configuration were necessary to support such a load. Pantheon performed, as expected, right out of the box.

These changes to cloud computing pose challenges to small businesses. Businesses which already use a cloud model and want to maintain a competitive advantage will need to ensure that their solution is effective, yet also efficient. For those companies that neglect to adopt a specific, application-centric PaaS solution, they are accepting a user hostile information systems environment which will hinder productivity. The lack of productivity could lead to slow responses to technological change or feature enhancements, which in turn leads to a less marketable web solution. This is why it is important to select a hosting company with a reputation for excellence both in terms of reliability and customer service.

Anna Johansson
Anna is a freelance writer and researcher from the Olympia, WA area who loves to obsess about weird topics and then write about them. When she isn't writing, she is outside on her bike and comtemplating her eventual trip to graduate school.

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