What Is The Difference Between Cloud Hosting and On-Site Hosting?

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You've got your idea. You're starting a business, getting capital, building your network and it's time to make your company's website. You know you need a logo, text for the site, and online store features -- but have you thought about what kind of hosting you'll need?

For many people, "cloud hosting" or "on-site hosting" is a bit jargony. You want a website. What's the big deal where it's hosted? This post goes over the two types of website hosting, and helps you figure out which is better for your business. 

The Gist: 

Think about when your extended family comes to town, and you want to see them for dinner. You could host them at your place, where you have total control over the schedule, the lighting, the noise; where maybe you have an extra room where kids can go play while you chat with the aunts and uncles -- but at the end of the night you're stuck with all the cooking and prep which takes hours, plus cleaning all the dishes.

Or, maybe you go with them to a restaurant downtown, because you don't have to deal with any cooking and cleaning, and the restaurant knows how to accommodate your aunt's gluten allergy better than you do -- plus it's a central location and easy for everyone to find. But, you might end up compromising a bit on the menu, and it can get a bit crowded so the waiters don't come round for a few minutes extra. 

Choosing how to host your website is not all that different. With on-site you get complete control over everything; but also more responsibility and preparation. With cloud-based, most things are taken care of for you already, but you do get a bit less control.

There are pros and cons to both kinds of hosting -- and here we go over how to choose. 

Back it up - what's a server?

A server in this case is the hardware that lets you connect to a network. Sometimes that network is just within your own office, if you have a large company with connected desktop computers. However, most of the time the "server" we're talking about is what lets your website become live and responsive and out in the world instead of just a pretty still-life image. It's different from just connecting your office to the internet -- it's what makes your website a part of the internet. When someone clicks on anything on your website, that click leads to a request that is sent to your server, which then figures out what to do with it. 

On-Site Hosting vs. Cloud-Based Hosting: A Side By Side Comparison

 On Site Hosting Cloud-Based Hosting

Stored in your office building. When you send a request it goes directly to somewhere in your building. 

Stored in multiple places in big tech company warehouses and connects through the internet. 


If you want to build your website's capacity, you need to add more hardware and connect it

This means you'll need to have servers that are scaled to the maximum anticipated traffic. If you know you sell 50% more than usual on boxing day, your server needs to be at that capacity all year long. 

Easy to scale up or down because there are essentially unlimited servers out there that can take on more activity

Bugs and Fixes

You fix them yourself, which means if you know what to do you can fix it right away. 

Your developers/IT crowd can implement custom code changes and upgrades immediately

You also have the responsibility to fix things by yourself, and if you don't have the expertise on staff that could be tricky

You don't have to fix bugs yourself -- the host does that for you. That means you have less responsibility, but also less control. 

Uptime (reliability)

If your server crashes, your website is down and customers cannot access it until you fix it. 

Most cloud hosted websites are spread out over multiple servers -- so if one server goes down, the rest are there to keep your website running continuously. Cloud hosting usually means no downtime whatsoever. 


Companies sometimes choose hosting their own servers to add their own security measures. For companies that process highly classified information, it makes sense. For large ecommerce stores, it probably isn't necessary. 

Most cloud-hosted software services include updates, backups, monitoring and upgrade at no additional charge.


You'll need to buy the hardware and hire a dedicated IT team to install, maintain and manage your servers

You'll pay a monthly or annual membership fee, cost dependent on how much traffic your website brings. 

If you want to scale to multiple domains ("elkfox.com" and "elk-fox.com") you will need to purchase each domain separately (though you can easily connect them). 


Customer Support

None -- you do it all yourself

Part of the membership fee

So What Do I Choose?

It's up to you, of course. But generally, if you are a small or medium business it rarely makes sense to have your own servers and IT team. If you're a large corporation that isn't intent on moving offices any time soon, it's not uncommon to do so. However, as cloud-based software gets better and better, more large enterprises are making the switch.

Can I Have Both?

The main reason people choose to host their own server is the flexibility and security associated with being in control. However, cloud hosting has made some incredible gains recently. 

Shopify Plus is an example of a cloud-hosted server with scalability, security and reliability of cloud servers -- but also the customisation and flexibility associated with on-site servers. 

What’s Next

Elkfox is a Shopify Expert - meaning we can help you create beautiful and successful ecommerce websites using Shopify's cloud-hosted servers. If you're ready to learn more, get in touch with Elkfox today.