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What is a Cloud Server and How Does It Work?


A cloud server is a reliable, secure, scalable, and cheap virtual server (rather than a physical server) running in a cloud computing environment.

What is a Cloud Server and How Does It Work

The workplace is expanding in terms of computing and IT (information technology). Navigating IT and cloud computing terminologies can be confusing for the uninformed. 

Cloud is a term that every business and individual can easily recognize. If you have ever searched for the best web hosting service for your website, cloud hosting is one of the pricing plans you will likely come across.

Also, the idea of cloud storage is popular and ingrained in many users thanks to popular cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and other Dropbox alternatives. Cloud computing, cloud environment, cloud platforms, and cloud storage are related terms that are becoming a regular part of our vocabulary.

While these terms are popular, many people struggle to understand what the term ‘cloud server' is all about. 

What exactly is a cloud server? How does it work? Why is it so important for my business? In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about cloud servers including the best cloud servers in the market presently.

Let's get started 

What is a Cloud Server?

A cloud server is a powerful virtual server (as opposed to a traditional physical server) that makes computing resources accessible to individuals remotely over a network, typically through the internet. These virtual or cloud servers serve the same purposes and provide the same functions as traditional servers. However, rather than being hosted physically by the users making use of them, cloud servers are accessed remotely through a virtual network or online interface. 

Cloud servers are very intricate and important parts of any cloud computing infrastructure. They serve as the heart of any cloud computing service, whether delivered through the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Apart from being called virtual servers, cloud servers are also called virtual private servers or virtual platforms.

How Does a Cloud Server Work?

More often than not, cloud servers come into existence or work through a process called virtualization and make use of software called a hypervisor. Before going into virtualization, it is important to identify what a hypervisor is.

A hypervisor is a software, also known as a virtual machine monitor, that creates and supports virtual machines by making one host computer capable of running multiple guest virtual machines. It divides up and virtually shares the resources of this host computer, such as the memory and processors. 

With virtualization, a hypervisor is installed on a host physical server. This means that the resources of a main physical server are divided up and virtually shared by this hypervisor to create and power cloud servers. Cloud servers are then accessed by individuals over a network or the internet. 

Now, in a public server environment, the resources split and virtualized by this hypervisor software are used by multiple individuals and organizations. When it comes to dedicated cloud servers, however, this is different. Owners or renters of cloud servers are provided with a dedicated physical server virtualized by this hypervisor. This setup is sometimes called a bare-metal server and resources are not split but only virtualized by the hypervisor. 

A hypervisor also pools together resources from multiple physical servers to create strong cloud environments and facilitate easy resource scalability.

Cloud servers are delivered by cloud vendors in exchange for fees and this is where the different delivery models come in. The Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model involves only the delivery of virtual server resources such as storage and networking to users. The Software as a Service (SaaS) model involves the delivery and full management of software by a vendor over the virtual network while a Platform as a Service (PaaS) model includes the delivery of both hardware and software tools for application development over the internet.

Apart from hypervisor-assisted virtualizations, there are other types of virtualizations such as hardware-assisted, paravirtualization, and OS-level virtualization.

Types of Cloud Servers

Apart from being available in varying compute options and differentiated by resources, there are three types of cloud servers differentiated by the server infrastructure and the nature of users. They include public cloud servers, private cloud servers, and dedicated cloud servers.

1. Public Cloud Servers

Public cloud servers are virtual servers provided to users and managed by third-party vendors. Existing in the infrastructure, software, and platform as a service model, the cloud server infrastructure and environment are managed by cloud providers while access to servers is provided to the users on-demand.

Public Cloud Servers Diagram
Source: PhoenixNAP

2. Private Cloud Servers

As opposed to public cloud servers, private cloud servers are not provided by third-party server vendors but rather managed on-premises by the organization making use of it. The virtualization of physical servers is executed by an enterprise and virtual server resources are shared to internal users over a Local Area Network (LAN), and sometimes external users over the internet.

From the above, it can be seen that the main difference between public and private servers is in who virtualizes and manages the servers; a third-party service provider in the case of public cloud servers or an organization for internal use in the case of a private cloud server. 

Public and private cloud servers also exist in a hybrid server environment. In this case, an organization managing its own servers on-premises employs the use of public cloud servers provided by third-party services to complement its server resources and cloud environment.

3. Dedicated Cloud Servers

Dedicated cloud servers are virtual servers dedicated to a single user rather than having resources shared amongst multiple users. These are dedicated physical servers virtualized into cloud servers and dedicated to a specific user, typically because of special cloud computing needs. 

As a single-tenant cloud server, a dedicated server mitigates or even completely eliminates any form of security and performance issues that arise from the multi-tenant cloud server environments. It is also known as bare-metal servers or dedicated instances.

Types of Cloud Deployment
Source: Vxchnge

Key Features of Cloud Servers

Apart from providing the same functions and capabilities as well as allowing intensive workloads and storage volumes just like on-premises or physical servers, there are additional key features it offers that cloud servers offer. 

1. Quick Elasticity And Scalability

One of the most exclusive and important features of cloud servers is the ability to quickly expand your cloud environment or infrastructure as your needs increase. 

You complement your existing resources with more from other servers existing virtually and then get rid of these added resources when you do not need them. In some cases, this server resource scaling is executed for you automatically by your cloud provider in response to your online workload performance needs. It is one feature on which every other exclusive feature of cloud servers depends.

With this key scalability feature accompanying cloud servers, you also get to enjoy Just-in-time (JIT) services from cloud providers. Rather than paying down for servers, you automatically scale your resources up or down according to the exact amount of server resources required to complete the computing process.

2. Automated On-Demand Self-Service

Another key feature of cloud servers is the provision or allocation of cloud resources without having to go through human interaction. This means, in the case of a publicly managed cloud server, a user does not need to contact the service provider before server resources like storage space, processor strength, virtual machine instances, and database instances, among others, are scaled up or down. 

Rather than going through service providers, users have self-service options to manage servers through a web self-service portal interface or API. Through these self-service portals, you also provision and de-provision the services provided to you by your cloud provider without contacting them.

3. Pre-Paid or PAYG (Pay-as-you-go) Pricing

Like a lot of services on the internet, cloud servers are made available to interested users through prepaid subscription plans. You pay for your servers at the beginning of the month and make use of the resources provided to you. However, one exclusive feature of cloud computing pricing, mostly due to the immense scalability, is that users also have a PAYG pricing scheme to work with.

When the pre-paid computing resources are being overused, server resources are scaled up. With this, the usage of cloud server resources is metered, monitored, measured, and reported by the cloud service provider to determine the actual price to charge. 

Some cloud service providers also give users the option of utilizing a PAYG scheme right from the beginning of the server usage. What this means is that rather than pre-paying for server resources (which may not be entirely used at the end of the month), users only pay for exactly the amount they make use of the whole time.

4. Multi-Tenancy

Apart from the single-tenant dedicated cloud servers that are very much similar to traditional on-premises physical servers, cloud servers are also characterized by an intricate multi-tenant structure. 

A multi-tenant cloud server environment allows multiple users to share the same pool of server resources without being affected by the resource usage of other users. Of course, this is a cheaper option for individuals but this sacrifices a bit of security over each user’s information.

Benefits of Cloud Servers

Making use of cloud servers comes with multiple pros and benefits. They include convenience, scalability, cost-effectiveness, and reliability.

1. Convenience

Cloud servers, especially public cloud servers that are managed by third-party services, provide you with all-around convenience. Servers are quickly brought to life for your use within minutes and your server resources are automatically allocated to you without any extra effort from your end. 

As cloud servers are usually delivered within IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS provisions, the management and upkeep of these servers are put in the hands of cloud providers. 

Server resources are set to scale automatically and, where there is a need for increased control by users, self-service portals are available for easy resource management. These server management options and capabilities are available from anywhere and at any time, unlike with traditional servers that need a dedicated individual to be at the physical on-premises location before any changes are made.

2. Scalability

Perhaps, the most noticeable advantage or benefit which cloud servers provide over any other type of server is the immense scalability. Servers exist in an environment specifically designed for resource pooling. 

Where a particular user exceeds the resources available on the cloud server being used, extra resources are drawn from this resource pool and computing operations continue and are not hindered.

Scalability is the main advantage from which a lot of the other advantages are provided by cloud servers.

3. Cost-Effectiveness

Separated from the PAYG (Pay-as-you-go) pricing structure usually implemented by cloud providers, making use of cloud servers provides a lot of individuals with much more cost-effective computing solutions. 

The costs spent on the purchase, extra dedicated staff for operation, and maintenance of traditional servers are boycotted for a managed service that comes with a scalable price. You enjoy even cheaper cloud computing services when you share your fenced server resources with other individuals over the internet.

4. Reliability

Through scalability, cloud servers ensure that your computing operations never seize. You maintain optimum uptime and performance without having to worry about being limited by your server resources. 

Avoid hardware issues seen with physical servers with cloud servers. With a pool of servers at your disposal, even when a virtual server goes down, you have it replaced with another in no time. 

Cloud Measurable Impact on Business
Source: GlobalDots

How to Choose the Right Cloud Server

Choosing the right cloud server basically means choosing the right cloud service. They go hand in hand. But even with cloud services, choosing the right one for you can be a task that is not as easy as you like it to be. 

However, while filtering your options, there are important factors and principal elements to seriously consider so that you have a cloud computing experience you do not regret. 

Apart from the cost of employing the cloud service, some of these factors include standard compliance, cloud security framework, server management and integration, and support.

1. Standard Compliance

A lot of industries and organizations are very much regulated by standards. These set standards seek to ensure quality provisions and safety for consumers of goods and services. Your industry may not be exempted from this, so it is important that you employ a cloud service that helps you meet compliance standards.

Popular accreditations and certificates are sufficient to cover a wide range of regulatory standards when it comes to information and computing on the internet. These certificates include GDPR, HIPAA, ISO, PCI, and SOC 2, among a lot of others. Apart from passing your industry standards, these certificates serve as good measures to take for the health of your operations. 

Certificates represent a certain level of good and reliable service providers. A cloud provider with regulatory certificates assures you of cloud services and servers reliable enough to effectively run your computing operations. 

2. Cloud Security Framework

Security is a top concern in the cloud and everywhere else on the internet. Considering this, it becomes critical to ask detailed and explicit questions relating to your unique security needs, industry needs, and regulatory requirements, among others.

Make sure you understand exactly what your security goals are, the security measures that are offered by each provider on your radar, and the mechanisms and frameworks they use in safeguarding your applications and data. 

Also, ensure that you completely understand the specific areas of security you are responsible for. Cloud providers do not take up every bit of data security and also do not take up every liability that occurs from a breach. It is important you understand every possible burden you bear while dealing with your chosen cloud service. 

Also consider what security features are available free and which additional security services you have to pay for or integrate is also important. 

3. Server Management And Integrations

Apart from checking out the level of control you have over cloud servers, it is crucial to ensure that your chosen cloud service supports different management tools and integrates with various other external services. 

Having a seamless workflow is important for any business or individual. If you have other services that are very vital to your operations, check to see that the cloud provider you choose offers easy ways to integrate with them.

4. Support

When it comes to the internet and software services, how you get support to deal with technical issues is vital. Consider if you will get support quickly and simply if your support medium goes past chats and call centers, the times which support is available, and the overall level and form of support you have access to before selecting a service provider.

One additional note to point out is that reading the Cloud Service Legal Agreements (Cloud SLAs) before choosing a service provider is crucial. It helps you know where the rights and obligations of both you and the cloud provider legally stand. Also, seek generous reviews about a cloud service provider before choosing to work with it.

Cloud Provider Services Overview
Source: Varonis

Which Cloud Server Should I Pick? 

Choosing the best cloud server can be tricky. You have to consider why you need the cloud server, the role you want it to play, reliability, and credibility, and more. Only then can you decide on the best cloud server for your needs. 

Some of the best cloud servers include VMware Cloud, Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Alibaba Cloud Platform, DigitalOcean, and Microsoft Azure. 

Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are the most comprehensive cloud servers with lots of valuable features and services for large enterprises.

Google Cloud is one of the best cloud servers with integrations with G-suite and other top players such as SAP, VMware, and Salesforce. Alibaba Cloud Platform is the leading cloud server for the Asian market.

VMware Cloud is the best cloud server for virtualization. DigitalOcean is the best cloud server that offers an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform for software developers.

Written by
Martin Luenendonk
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