You are invited for dinner to a friend’s house. Other than deciding who is going to drive or whether to book a taxi, and purchasing a suitable box of chocolates and/or flowers and/or bottle of wine to take as a thank you present for your hosts, there’s very little else you need to do, other than turn up fashionably late, consuming the food and drink provided for you, engage in conversation and leaving at the appointed hour. Of course, you might be a real ale fan, and your host can only provide lukewarm, supermarket-brand lager; both the starter and the dessert contain ingredients to which your partner is allergic; some of the other guests irritate you beyond belief; the invitation was for 7.30pm, so you figured you’d be eating by 9.00pm at the latest, but at just shy of 10.00pm you take one more look at your watch and wonder when the food will, finally, be ready; and, no sooner have you finished the meal, than your hosts suggest that it’s time for you to leave, just as you were beginning to get a taste for that lager and your stomach was no longer rumbling! That’s the web hosting experience.
On another occasion, the dinner invitation suggests that you should bring your own food and drink (guaranteeing that you’ll enjoy both), plus a couple of friends. You can eat and drink what you want, when you want and the evening will end whenever you, not your host’s, deciding it’s time for you to leave. And you know your friends will be good company. Ah, but you’ll have to cook your own food and serve your own drinks – and, of course, you’ll have had to pay for all of these as well. Not your usual dinner party, perhaps, but one where there’s a good chance you’ll have a great time – except for the cooking bit. This is the colocation option.
(If we were to stretch the analogy just that little bit further, I guess that the Cloud experience would be akin to eating out at a restaurant. A higher cost than eating at home or with friends, but the whole evening is in the hands of a team of experts, which, one hopes, is rather good at the whole wining and dining experience!).
So, web hosting gives you access to IT and data centre infrastructure over which you have virtually no control. Indeed, the server on which your website/data sits is almost certainly hosting other companies’ data as well. Yes, you benefit from the economy of scale, whereby the cost of that server is divided between the many users, but, one or more of these users might make heavy demands on the server (or the memory behind it) at various times of the day, month or year, and this could mean that the performance of your hosted website/data deteriorates significantly. Then again, if you need more server space, your web hosting company should be able to provide this very quickly – either on a permanent or temporary basis. Scalability is almost instant.
But, without wishing to scare you too much, web hosting customers can have very little control at all over both the hardware and software which are provided to them. Bandwidth, latency, maintenance, equipment upgrades and support – all these are out of your control – although a good web hosting provider should be on the ball when it comes to maintenance and support at least. However, the relatively inexpensive price reflects these compromises.
As for colocation, you have the same access to data centre infrastructure as with web hosting (and the same physical and IT security), but you own the IT hardware. You can decide how it is configured, and you can change this configuration to try and ensure that it is optimised at all times. You’ll almost certainly have access to more bandwidth than with the web hosting option and there’s much less risk of downtime or network issues as well. Set against this, the initial set-up cost will be more than with web hosting and, although looking after your own IT hardware has advantages, responsibility for upgrades and maintenance comes at a price – you’ll need the necessary in-house expertise available.
Back to our dinner party analogy and, while many of us are more than happy to take ‘pot luck’ when it comes to going out for the evening, if we were offered all the benefits of going out at the same time as maintaining control over the whole evening in terms of the guests, the food and drink and the timetable, well, wouldn’t we all vote for this ‘perfect’ experience?
As you get invited out to dinner throughout 2019, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to ponder this blog as you pour some undrinkable wine down the neighbour’s sink, or go hungry on canapes, when you thought you’d been asked round for a decent meal!