In the 1990′s and early 2000′s, web hosting was just that, web hosting. Web hosting services were extremely simple or extremely complex. There wasn’t much in-between for the average end user. Modern web hosting providers, like DreamHost, have been offering Cloud-like services for some time. It could even be argued that some of these “otherwise simple” web hosting providers are actually the pioneers of public Cloud Computing – driven by a utility computing model.
Public Clouds are a place to put workloads that an individual or business is not executing locally on their own systems. Web hosting providers offer essentially this service. Historically, though, there were no automated systems or on-demand capacity provided by web hosts.
Let’s look at DreamHost’s offerings, a provider whose services I know fairly well. DreamHost offers Goodies in which they include their One-Click Installs. These are workloads like WordPress, phpBB (forums), Zenphoto (an image content management system) and about a dozen more, that users can automatically deploy with very little effort and total automation on the back-end.
DreamHost also offers integration with Google’s Gmail, Apps and Hosting, should a user decide to integrate with their Cloud-based offerings. Additionally, there’s Amazon CloudFront integration to utilize Amazon’s S3 storage for rapid end-user performance worldwide. All of this integration amounts to Cloud-In-Cloud (CiC) offerings that go beyond the hybrid Cloud into Cloud unions and intersections. Fair warning to the numerically challenged: We may soon be expressing Cloud architectures in the form of mathematical sets.
While all of this automation and hosting may sound very cloudy, there are limitations, hence, reasons that DreamHost may not offer a real Cloud experience. The user does not get to do anything they want with the service.
IBM’s Blue Cloud and Amazon’s EC2, for example, allow developers to write code, utilize tremendous grid-based compilation processing and execute generalized workloads. The presentation of the platform is automated, what the user does on it is generally not. A user’s public Cloud experience is generally assumed to be whatever they want it to be, only restricted by the operating systems provided or the capabilities of the Cloud itself.
With DreamHost, the system is self-serviceable and almost completely automated, but that limits what the user can accomplish. It is against the terms of service, for example, to use DreamHost’s processing power for large compilation tasks or distributed computational processing. These are generally considered some of the primary purposes of Cloud Computing.
The concept of Cloud Computing is continuing to take shape. There is no exact right and wrong to what Cloud is. There are clearly a lot of uses for it, though. Just as HPC Clouds and Commercial Clouds become more interchangeable, the services offered by modern web hosting providers are becoming more Cloud-like all the time.