What does "the cloud" mean to you right now? Does it mean "the Internet?" Is it how you think of outsourced IT? Does the nephologist in you immediately think of the large cumulonimubus creeping up the sky from the South? We read about how businesses are adopting cloud-this and cloud-that, but under many definitions we have been using cloud servers for years.
A couple years ago, Kevin wrote a post that gave a little context to the "cloud" terminology confusion:
The Internet is everywhere and the Internet is nowhere.
The fact that we can't point to anything tangible to define the Internet forces us to conceptualize an image that helps us understand how this paradox is possible. A lot of information is sitting around on servers somewhere out there, and when we connect to it, we have access to it all. Cloud, web, dump truck, tubes ... It doesn't matter what we call it because we're not defining the mechanics, we're defining the concepts.
For years, hosting companies have offered compute resources over the Internet for a monthly fee, but as new technologies emerge, it seems we have painted ourselves into a corner with our terminology. For the sake of this discussion, we'll differentiate dedicated servers as single-tenant hardware-dependent servers and cloud servers as multi-tenant hardware-independent servers.
Dedicated servers have some advantages that cloud servers typically haven't had in the past. If you wanted full OS support and control, predictable CPU and disk performance, big Internet pipes, multiple storage options and more powerful networking support, you were in the market for a dedicated server. If your priorities were hourly rates, instant turn-up, image-based provisioning and control via API, cloud servers were probably at the top of your shopping list.
Some competitive advantages of one over the other are fading: SoftLayer has a bare metal product that supports hourly rates for dedicated resources, and we can reliably turn up dedicated servers in under 2 hours. If you select a ready-made box, you might have it up and running in under 30 minutes. Our development team has also built a great API that allows unparalleled control for our dedicated servers.
On the flip-side, our cloud servers are supported just like our dedicated servers: You get the same great network, the ability to connect with other cloud and dedicated instances via private network, and predictable CPU usage with virtual machines pinned to a specific number of CPU cores.
Soon enough, deltas between dedicated performance and cloud functionality will be virtually eliminated and we'll all be able to adopt a unified understanding of what this "cloud" thing is, but until then, we'll do our best to express the competitive advantages of each platform so you can incorporate the right solutions for your needs into your infrastructure.