ElasticHosts unveils simple cloud web hosting for SMEs

The London-based hosting company has introduced two services to its cloud for small businesses that want to provision servers or host simple websites, going up against Amazon with bundled support

London-based ElasticHosts has launched two hosted services to help less tech-savvy businesses get their websites running on the cloud, going up against Amazon and Rackspace.

Cloud Sites and Managed Cloud Servers, introduced on Thursday, are designed to make the process of mounting a website less complex by automating the process and by taking on the task of managing the servers. Cloud Sites functions like a platform-as-a-service for simple websites made up of PHP and HTML, while Managed Cloud Servers provides companies with rentable computers whose infrastructure is handled by ElasticHosts.

Cloud Sites "is a clustered and distributed runtime environment... for running MySQL databases and PHP scripts", Richard Davies, chief executive of ElasticHosts, told ZDNet UK. "We allow them to upload their pages, their databases, their files into that. The Cloud Sites project is the next generation of conditional shared hosting."

The service is designed for basic sites built around a standard LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP), potentially running simple e-commerce or blogging applications such as WordPress, he said.

As for Managed Cloud Servers service, this is based on "identical technology" to ElasticHosts's existing servers, but comes with more support in the package, according to Davies. "What we found over time was that more and more of our customers were coming to us and saying, 'We'd just like a bit of help to get us set up'," he said.

'Simpler to use'

ElasticHosts is targeting its products at small businesses that may not have the technical expertise or the time to get to grips with Amazon Web Services's sprawling set of technologies.

"We've tried to build something which is much simpler and more easy to use, and starts from a user experience that shows flexibility," Davies said.

AWS's cloud consists of tens of separate services that must be chained together to run a cloud service — some that can be intimidating for SMEs with little technical in-house knowledge. Furthermore, customers need to learn the ins and outs of Amazon's proprietary platform to get the best use of it. However, Amazon has tried to improve the usability of its cloud over the past year, with the introduction of technologies like the Simple Workflow Service.

In addition, AWS does not offer personal support for its basic technologies, though companies can pay for premium support. Amazon offers free support on its forums and via extensive FAQ documents, while ElasticHosts gives all customers round-the-clock telephone support — something for which you must pay extra on Amazon. 

"AWS has chosen to offer developers the building blocks to succeed without unnecessary [support] bundling or long-term commitments," an Amazon spokeswoman told ZDNet UK. "We think our customers want the flexibility to choose the plan that meets their particular needs."

Besides Amazon, ElasticHosts's main competitor in the UK will be Rackspace, which aims to offer comprehensive support services to its customers.

To deliver its services, ElasticHosts has hardware in five datacentres: two UK facilities in Maidenhead and Portsmouth, with the others in Los Angeles, Toronto and San Antonio, Texas. It uses Supermicro servers with AMD chips and Cisco networking. It does not have dedicated storage hardware; instead, it uses peer-to-peer storage between virtualisation nodes.

"Our view is that if you're buying 1U or 2U Supermicro boxes as virtualisation nodes, those machines will have disk space. Actually, the balance is about right in terms of capacity" for peer-to-peer storage, he said.

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