What is a Cloud server and how it works?

A cloud server is a cloud-based service that allows users to access the resources of a provider company. The provider’s physical equipment, located in a data center, is “virtualized” and the user is given access to a pool of resources needed for their tasks.

The user can select and change all server parameters, such as the number of CPUs, amount of RAM, disk capacity and type, and GPU cards. These changes can be made in the control panel and do not require stopping the server because resources are allocated from the existing pool. The ability to scale the power of the equipment only to the volume needed by the user helps to reduce operating costs.

Unlike a privately owned or rented server, a cloud server is provided by a third party and the user can only interact with the virtual aspect of it. They may not know the physical location of the provider’s equipment or how computational tasks are performed.

Cloud and VPS / VDS – what’s the difference

There is a common misconception that cloud, VPS, and VDS are the same service, just referred to by different names. This is not true. It’s important to understand the differences between a cloud server and a VPS/VDS.

VDS (Virtual Dedicated Server) and VPS (Virtual Private Server) are essentially the same thing: a virtual environment with dedicated CPU time, disk space, and RAM. They function as an emulator of a physical computer with the ability to install an operating system and various software. However, all computing power and RAM is evenly distributed among all VPS/VDS users. This means that the user gets a virtual server with fixed parameters, but they are not able to scale up if needed.

VPS/VDS can be a good solution for light loads, but for more complex tasks it is better to use the cloud as it can quickly scale up. With VPS/VDS, the user would need to order additional equipment from the provider and go through the process of setting it up.

It’s fair to say that VPS/VDS were the predecessors of modern cloud platforms, which are more flexible and can be used in a variety of ways.

How does a cloud server work

Cloud server is convenient in that it can be used for different tasks, build different service models on its platform. Providers offer cloud services in three main models:

  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), infrastructure as a service. Infrastructure includes computing resources: virtual servers, storage, networks. Users get a kind of virtual computer on which they can install anything: OS, additional software, applications. The equipment is configured and maintained by the provider, all that remains is to use the virtual infrastructure. 
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service), platform as a service. This is an already configured ready-made solution for a specific typical task. For example, for machine learning or database work. All the tools for a specific task are already there, you just need to customize them for yourself. Access to OS and low-level settings is not provided.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service), software as a service. The user receives pre-configured software for some tasks. It can be corporate mail, backup systems, virtual desktops. Using SaaS eliminates the need to develop and maintain your own solutions.

There are also other types of cloud-based services available. For example, DRaaS (Disaster-Recovery-as-a-Service) is a disaster recovery solution, while DBaaS (Database-as-a-Service) is a type of PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) designed to make working with databases easier. KaaS (Kubernetes-as-a-Service) is a container orchestration service that uses Kubernetes. With so many options available, renting a virtual cloud server is popular among state-owned companies, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

Why do you need a cloud server

Why are companies choosing cloud servers over physical servers? Because this solution has many advantages.

Quick start . Business requires speed in everything. Server capacity is no exception. There is no time to search, purchase, place and configure equipment. It is necessary that resources can be obtained immediately. The cloud server provides this opportunity. The user can get what he wants in just a minute, because the provider simply redistributes the capacity inside the server rack, allocating the resources he needs to the client in a few clicks.

Efficiency . Physical equipment is bought “with a margin” so that it can cope with its tasks when the business grows up. But until that time, some of the hardware will be idle, taking up space, requiring time for maintenance. In the cloud, resources can be reallocated instantly. To add a few GB of RAM or remove an unused SSD, create several new VMs or delete old ones, the user just needs to go to the control panel. Efficient resource management allows you to make the best use of your IT infrastructure budget.

Reliability . The more physical equipment a company has, the more money, effort, and time it takes to maintain it. When one server “holds” a dozen virtual clouds, it is easier to maintain. And to mitigate the risks, providers have implemented replication and backup systems. For example, virtual servers are stored on two physical servers at once. If something happens to one, the user will not even notice the breakdown. At the company level, this stability can be ensured, but it will be very expensive. Cheaper and easier to use the cloud.

Security . The provider provides a level of data protection sufficient to store any sensitive information: accounting, personal data, scientific information, etc. There are solutions tailored specifically to the requirements of the legislation in terms of storing information. The provider has passed the necessary certifications, received a package of certificates and licenses, and therefore is able to pass the inspection of regulatory authorities.

Flexibility and manageability . Users can reboot and reinstall the server, create snapshots, update, install / update software. Work through the terminal is supported. Essentially, a virtual server is managed like a physical one.

As you can see, the cloud platform is not a fashion trend, but a purely mercantile approach. Clouds allow you to be more competitive in the market, while providing an appropriate level of data protection and high system resiliency.

How to choose a cloud server and not be mistaken

In addition to the confusion with VPS / VDS, which we hopefully sorted out, there are other important points that allow you to choose a cloud service provider and not get burned.

  • Work experience . The longer the provider has been working, the more he will be trusted. This is a relatively young but dynamically changing market. If a company has been working on it, for example, for 10 years, has implemented many different-sized projects, this shows the quality of its solutions.
  • A trial period . Most of the major cloud service providers provide test access to their platform. In 1-2 weeks, you can evaluate the baseline and understand whether this is a convenient solution. But for full testing, including stress testing, sometimes it takes more time. If the provider is helpful and helps with the preparation and conduct of testing, this is a good sign.
  • SLA availability . The cloud provider must indicate in the SLA agreement on the level of service availability, as well as other types of responsibility. And the more stringent conditions are written, the better for the user. For example, the availability level in Tier III data centers is 99.982%, that is, the downtime is no more than 94.40 minutes per year. And 99% is already 420 minutes of downtime per month! It would be useful to fix the requirements for the disk system. It is important that you set the parameters for the number of input-output operations per second (IOPS). The performance of the server infrastructure depends on IOPS.
  • The possibility of an excursion to the data center . Although data centers are closed, well-protected facilities, the client can visit there to assess the reliability of the equipment on which his data will be stored. The level of equipment used directly affects the fault tolerance of the system as a whole, so this is an important point.
  • The quality of technical support . The service may work fine, but with poor technical support, it is inconvenient to use. It is necessary to check how quickly the provider reacts to the client’s questions, how long it takes to complete typical tasks, whether the technicians are able to cope with complex tasks.

Summing up

So, a cloud server is a useful solution in demand for companies that want to develop and compete successfully in the market. Moving to the cloud gives you quick access to low-cost yet reliable performance hardware. This is more convenient than organizing your own physical IT infrastructure.