A cloud server is a pooled, centralized server resource that is hosted and delivered over a network—typically the Internet—and accessed on demand by multiple users. Cloud servers can perform all the same functions of a traditional physical server, delivering processing power, storage and applications.
Cloud servers can be located anywhere in the world and deliver services remotely through a cloud computing environment. In contrast, traditional dedicated server hardware is typically set up on premises for exclusive use by one organization.
A cloud server is made possible through virtualization. Management software called a hypervisor is installed on physical servers to connect and virtualize them: abstracting their combined resources and pooling them together to create virtual servers. These virtual resources can then be automated and delivered over the cloud for shared use in a single organization or across multiple organizations.
This approach is known as the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model. Organizations that employ IaaS don’t have to own and manage their own hardware; they can provision it from third parties that provide resources on demand via a public cloud. A common cloud server example is using a public cloud for temporary, seasonal or variable workloads that must be scaled up quickly as the need arises.
In some cases, however, cloud servers can also be configured as dedicated servers by a cloud provider. In this setup, sometimes called a bare-metal server, the provider dedicates physical cloud servers to one customer who may have specific performance or storage requirements.
When a computing resource is said to be “in the cloud,” it means that it is delivered over a network like the Internet, as opposed to being located on-premises and accessed directly. A cloud server is one of the most prominent examples of a cloud computing resource, along with cloud storage, databases, networking and software.
“The cloud” has come to be synonymous with the Internet in general. But there are actually many clouds, both public and private, which are formed by any set of connected servers that deliver computing resources over a network.
A cloud server can be contrasted with a traditional, dedicated server. While a cloud server’s resources can be shared by many users, a dedicated server is designed for exclusive use by one company. It must be set up and managed by that organization, while a cloud server can be owned and managed by a third party.
Companies large and small have multiple options when it comes to choosing the right cloud server option. The best cloud servers are optimized for specific needs and budgets. What works for a global enterprise might not be right for a mid-market company.
Cloud servers can be deployed in three primary types of clouds:
Public cloud: Cloud servers are most commonly deployed via the public cloud. In this scenario, a third-party provider owns and manages the servers and other infrastructure, and gives its customers access to on-demand computing services.
Private cloud: A company can host its own cloud servers privately and maintain control of their management and maintenance. These server resources are not shared with other organizations, but since they are in the cloud, they can be accessed remotely by any employee, typically through a company intranet or VPN.
Hybrid cloud: Public and private clouds can be combined with on-premises cloud servers and off-site cloud servers working together. This hybrid cloud environment gives companies more options and flexibility to maintain control and security when necessary. It also leverages public clouds when they must quickly expand to meet surges in demand.
Cloud servers have revolutionized the IT industry. Countless companies have moved away from traditional, centralized server and infrastructure setups to take advantage of this game-changing technology. Four primary benefits drive this shift:
The pros of using cloud servers—cost-effectiveness, scalability, and flexibility—far outweigh the cons. But for some organizations, cloud servers will not meet all of their needs.
One of the challenges is having less control, since a company using a public cloud does not manage its own infrastructure in-house. If a public cloud experiences an outage or slows down due to unexpected demand from other customers, they must wait for the provider to fix the issue.
That’s why some companies choose to deploy a mix of cloud and on-premises infrastructure. The latter can be dedicated to mission-critical or high-security workloads, keeping them under their own control.
Companies have myriad choices for server equipment and hosting. They can choose from hundreds of cloud providers to deliver services. Cloud servers continue to grow in number, as data centers and server farms expand around the world. To meet the growing demands of computers and connected devices, several hundred million servers may be needed in the near future.