Best cloud hosting: Azure, Rackspace or AWS?

Visualisation of cloud with padlock inside, with hand reaching towards it from behind

With more firms opting to migrate to the cloud every day, finding the right business to host your website can be a bit of a minefield - there's plenty of apps and web services, but you need to find which can offer the best performance, at the best price.

For a business either looking to migrate to a new cloud hosting provider, or you're moving from legacy hosting to the cloud, there are a huge number of considerations you'll need to think about, aside from what you can afford.

The first thing you'll have to seriously consider is what you need to use cloud hosting for, because different providers specialise in different types of hosting. For example, you may find your preferred website hosting provider can't also host your apps or other web-based services.

But don't just think about what you need now - it's important to have your entire business strategy at your fingertips. Are you planning to launch new services in the future, even if that's in two years? If so, you'll want to make sure you're set up for this when the time comes. Consider a scalable solution such as a SaaS or PaaS service that offers a greater level of both scalability and stability, growing as your company does.

Another key factor is whether your business has the resources to manage the cloud hosting or whether you'll need greater levels of support from your hosting provider. If the latter is true, it's a good idea to look into managed cloud hosting services.

Cost should also be a major consideration when deciding who you go with. Although the cheapest may be an attractive option, does it provide everything you need and the service levels you expect? The majority of cloud hosting providers charge for what you use, making it a more affordable option compared to a physical server that often has high upfront costs.

The final factor you should seriously research into is security. Can your cloud hosting service resist attacks? If your business is in a highly-regulated sector, security should be your primary concern. You may want to find a provider that specialises in your market sector to ensure it fits the bill and is compliant.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the choice? Take a look at our roundup to help you decide which company is best for you. Remember, you can mix and match services from different hosting providers to get the best out of each one and find the best solution for your business.

Bytemark Cloud


Price: From £10 per month

You probably haven't heard of Bytemark Cloud, but it's a British-run business that offers an extremely flexible solution whether you want to host a website, application or pretty much anything else in the cloud. The public cloud platform was developed in-house and is open-source, making it a great option for developers wanting to make use of something that's always growing in terms of functionality.

Because it's been developed by Bytemark, the company has created in-depth guides to help you get up and running in no time, whether you want to set up your own server, email, website or anything else on the platform. The detailed explanations will also teach you how to install and manage a wide range of environments including PHP, MySQL, Perl and Ruby on Rails and help you set up your own firewall, spam filtering and backups.

Pricing is also competitive, with the standard spec available from £10 a month for one core, 1GB RAM, 25GB storage, 1TB bandwidth, one IPv4 and one IPv6 address. You can up your limits pretty easily - you'll just need to tag on extra bundles (such as £10 per additional 1GB RAM, £2 per 10GB of storage and £10 for an additional TB traffic).

If you're unsure about whether to go for a lesser-known cloud host, you can sign up for a free trial, which gives you either seven days of £50 value of spend to check it's suitable for purpose.

Best Cloud Hosting 2018: Atlantic.Net


Price: From $14 a month

Atlantic.Net is one of the lesser-known names in cloud hosting, but it offers a competitive service to rival the bigger names in the space. Its service allows you to deploy Linux, Windows and FreeBSD servers in under a minute, according to its literature.

The company also says its cloud infrastructure is ready to serve even complex scaling needs, deploying as and when needed. Its packages offer a selection of applications, including cPanel/WHM, LAMP, WordPress, Node.js and Docker. Furthermore, all of its cloud servers are stored on, backed up to, SSDs to ensure speed and security.

Unlike certain providers, Atlantic.Net does not require you to sign a contract. You pay for the services you request on a monthly basis. Offering datacentres in the US and UK (London), Atlantic.Net is a budding provider to take note of.

Best Cloud Hosting 2018: Microsoft Azure


Price: From around $14 a month

Originally called Windows Azure, this is Microsoft’s response to the behemoth that is AWS (see later). Along with a change in name, the service has expanded from its PaaS roots to encompass not just bread-and-butter IaaS offerings. These expanded services include SharePoint, SQL Server and Active Directory, to name a few. Of late, the service has moved into disaster recovery and hybrid cloud.

The service should be easy enough to use by anyone that has set up Windows software in the past (which is pretty much anyone who is reading this). Set-up wizards abound, making it an obvious choice for small businesses.

The cost may work out to be slightly more than the competition in some circumstances. However, ease-of-use, good performance and tight integration with Microsoft services make this one to consider.

Best Cloud Hosting 2018: Google Cloud Platform


Price: From $5 a month

The Google Cloud Platform offers hosting that is used by the firm to power its own products, such as the search engine and YouTube. It comprises a number different services, tailored to individual usage. These range from Google App Engine (its PaaS offering), Google Compute Engine (its IaaS service) and a host of other services (storage, databases, and cloud management).

As you would expect from Google, its networking is pretty sophisticated, allowing users to spin up virtual networks with private and public subnets as well as firewalls, routers and gateways. All of which are easy to set up.

Whereas Amazon and Microsoft have datacentres dotted around the world, Google has just four main datacentres (Iowa, South Carolina, Belgium and Taiwan). While this covers all the bases if you are situated near those sites, performance may suffer the further away you are from them.

Best Cloud Hosting 2018: AWS


Price: Variable

A list of cloud hosting providers would be amiss without mentioning AWS. Kick-starting the mainstream appeal of the cloud, AW has grown since its official launch back in 2006.

The service offers a full range of cloud hosting services, building on its beginnings as an IaaS provider. It has 12 geographical regions around the world (and an extra “GovCloud” for US government agencies). Each region is split up into “Availability Zones” – distinct datacentres isolated from each other to prevent outages spreading.

It supports a large variety of Windows and Linux servers and getting an instance up and running can take mere minutes. However, ease of use is not on a par with that of Azure so getting up to speed with the depth of offerings could take a lot of time. Forums can prove helpful here, but if you are not willing to pay extra for support, you are pretty much on your own.

Best Cloud Hosting 2018: Rackspace


This cloud hosting provider has, over the last few years, thrown itself on the open source bandwagon with a strong commitment to OpenStack (which itself was part-developed by Nasa of all organisations). Users don’t have to drink the OpenStack Kool-Aid and can choose Windows and Linux-based infrastructure to suit their tastes.

Rather than just being a simple IaaS provider, the firm focuses more on managed cloud services with service level agreements on offer to customers. It also provides monitoring, OS and application infrastructure layer support (including automated updates and patches).

Price-wise, Rackspace offers customers a cost calculator to figure out how much the service will cost for their particular situation.

The provider offers a choice of six data centres in North America (three), the EU (one) and Asia-Pacific (one). Setting up via Rackspace Managed Cloud is straightforward and the firm boasts a lot about its “fanatical customer support”. There are templates (called Stack templates) available to set up VMs and networking and storage can also be set up quite quickly using step-by-step documentation available online.

Best Cloud Hosting 2018: IBM SoftLayer


Price: Calculate here

SoftLayer has been around since 2005. It was bought by IBM in 2013. The firm is much more focused towards enterprise customers, so entry-level infrastructure is thin on the ground.

At the time of writing, the provider has datacentres in seven locations around the world (Amsterdam, Dallas, Houston, San Jose, Seattle, Singapore, and Washington DC). It also offers fully redundant hosting for customers looking for 100 percent uptime. Control panels help in managing servers remotely to carry out tasks such as updates and reboots.

It also offers around the clock support, 365 days a year via the phone and there is also an online ticketing system to raise issues and report them.

Best Cloud Hosting 2018: CloudSigma


Price: From $14 per month

This Swiss-based cloud provider offers IaaS services and the flexibility to choose how their virtual servers are set up. It features scheduled backup, Auto-scaling, on-demand instances, Elastic load balancing and virtual private cloud (VPC), among other things. Customers can deploy private, public and hybrid cloud.

It has five datacentres (one in Switzerland and four more in the US). Its Zurich datacentre is subject to Swiss law and so CloudSigma claims its cloud servers are built with privacy in mind. Its US datacentres are, however, subject to US law.

It also offers a number of integrations, plugins and drivers, such as ones for OpenStack, Apache Libcloud, CoreOS and Ubuntu.

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.