Grid Hosting Services

By on March 23, 2009
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I started t-break almost ten years back and have moved between various hosts and hosting methods over these years. The first company I ever used was called VServers and I’m not sure if they’re still around. Back then, it was a static design with each page of each article manually uploaded and linked and then [...]

I started t-break almost ten years back and have moved between various hosts and hosting methods over these years. The first company I ever used was called VServers and I’m not sure if they’re still around. Back then, it was a static design with each page of each article manually uploaded and linked and then manually updating the home page to show the new article. A few years later, I moved to a database driven design and a Shared Account on a server using cPanel. But with traffic rising on t-break, the Host I was with informed me that I was using a lot of resources and thus, I had to switch to a dedicated server.

Dedicated Servers are extremely popular until today but for me, there were two issues. First, it was an overkill at that time and secondly, I was in charge of all security and backup. Thus I was quite happy when VPS’ (Virtual Private Servers) were introduced- based on VMWare, Xen or some form of Virtualization technology. With a VPS, I was hosted on a RAID10 setup with automatic backups every day and security was a one-time expense for hiring someone to harden the VPS. Everything else was taken care of by the provider. However, with the introduction and success of MEGamers, it was once again time to move out of the VPS into something bigger and I had the option of either going back to a dedicated server or trying something new like Grid Computing or Cloud Hosting. Me being the curious type and one to embrace new technology with open arms, decided to ditch the Dedicated option and learn more about Grid and Cloud hosting.

Before we really get into it, the term Cloud is being used more frequently nowadays and basically refers to your information being stored somewhere on the ‘net that is accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. Obviously this is nothing new for Website owners as websites have always been stored in a Cloud. But for home owners that generally store their documents or pictures on their hard disk, it’s an alternate way of storing information. If you are already using something like Facebook for your pictures or YouTube for your Videos or even Google Docs/Zoho for your documents, then you’re already on the Cloud Bandwagon. In fact even Hotmail and Gmail store your emails in the Cloud so the concept isn’t new at all.

Coming back to these new forms of hosting, today, I’ll talk a bit about Grid hosting which is more or less the evolution of Shared Hosting. The difference is that in a typical Shared Hosting package, you have multiple clients on ONE machine that hosts all your services like Mail, Web, DNS and SQL. So if this machine goes down, you’re pretty much down and out. To give you an example, think of a standalone buffet-restaurant where there is a set amount of food prepared every day. Now, if one guys decides to eat more (sometimes a lot more), the others potentially go home hungry or unsatisfied. Worst if food runs out- the restaurant is closed for everybody. Needless to say, the culprit might not be welcomed back in the restaurant.

With Grid, the provider splits the services into different machines, so SQL is hosted by a separate machine, Mail on another and the Web on yet another. The flexibility with Grid is that if one of the machines goes down, you still have access to other services. So just because your Website is down, doesn’t mean that your mail will also be inaccessible. Going back to our restaurant example, think of the Grid as a Food Court with each restaurant serving its own cuisine. Yes, there is still a limited amount of food but it’s a lot more than just one stand-alone restaurant. And if that guy from the above example finished the food at one of the outlets, other people still have a bunch of outlets that are potentially unaffected. Of course the culprit might still not be welcomed back in the food court.

When researching solution providers that offer Grid Hosting, I came across two that seemed to be well known and one that is well-respected. Both Media Temple and Mosso seem to be popular but I read negative comments on both of them- more on Media Temple than Mosso, though. I could be because they are quite well known and thus have a much larger base of clients to handle and its impossible to keep everyone happy. The one I chose to go with is Tsohost because of two reasons- they’re based in the UK and thus ping times are lower for me in the UAE and also because they’re a somewhat smaller organization that offers plenty of flexibility (more on this below.) Granted their Control Panel for managing sites and services is not as flashy as Media Temple or Mosso, but they’re continously working on it adding functionality.

So, before you go about getting all excited and moving to Grid Hosting, let me mention some of the drawbacks. Firstly, all Servers are configured by the provider and if you need something custom, you’re generally out of luck. For example, the old CMS that I was using on t-break only worked with an older version MySQL and all the providers I mentioned above only provided MySQL5 in their Grid Packages. Secondly, like Shared Hosting, you are basically sharing resources with other people on the same grid and if your usage gets high, you will start receiving warnings from your provider. The good thing is that Grid computing provides a lot more power than a single computer so even though you’re sharing, you have a lot more resources available for you.

So what happens if I start running into utilizations issues? Tsohost was flexible enough to offer me the option of creating a VPS that could be plugged into their Grid and dedicated for my usage. This would allow me the flexibility of using their Grid for everything else and yet have, say, a dedicated MySQL VPS for tackling high resources. Think of it this way- the next time I go to a food court and start eating more than I should, I get my own dedicated outlet serving food for me and only me. Life is Good.


Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

  • mashakos

    interesting! I’ve only tried shared and dedicated before. Dedicated hosting is great but as you said “overkill”. Too expensive and requires more investment from the customer in most cases.
    I actually never heard of VPS before! hmmm, I actually don’t get it. Do you set up your own server and connect it to your hosting account via VPS? Or the hosting account adds a virtual “server” through vmware which you can use?

  • Abbas Jaffar Ali

    The way VPS works is that the provider generally has a pretty powerful machine- for example a Quad CPU Quad Core setup with six hard drives in RAID 10 and 16GB RAM. Then using a virtualization application like VMWare or Xen, they create Virtual Machines on this big daddy and sell them. So for instance, you could probably get a 512MB RAM VPS with 20GB disk space and there might be 20 others on that same machine with a similar config.

    What separates VPS from Shared is that everyone has their own Virtual Server with full root access allowing them to run any application they want. It also somewhat reduces the concept of your neighbor using more resources than you and thus bringing the server to its knees.

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