There are so many different cloud providers out there that it can be challenging to choose one. You’ve likely heard of the big ones like AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud etc. If you are a developer, you’re probably familiar with medium sized cloud providers like Linode or Digital Ocean. But, you are likely unfamiliar with the many smaller cloud providers out there like ZebraHost.
Small cloud Providers
Small cloud providers are those with <$10 million in revenue or under a couple thousand customers. They are normally local businesses that can provide you a level of attention that bigger cloud providers can’t. The result is that small cloud providers make hosting in the cloud much simpler for your average user or business and are worth your consideration.
To understand what makes small cloud providers great for most people, here is a comparison between them and Hyperscalers (big cloud).
Hyperscalers are among the largest cloud providers in the world. They are run by multi-billion, sometimes, trillion-dollar enterprises. Leaders in this field are players like AWS, Microsoft Azure, Alibaba Cloud, Google Cloud and more. Hyperscalers always exceed $2 billion in revenue and have hundreds of thousands of customers. AWS for example, the world’s largest hyperscaler had a revenue of $62 billion in 2021.
A defining characteristic of hyperscalers is that they own their entire stack including data centers. Hyperscalers own data centers in, or near the regions they compete in. The number of data centers in a region varies depending on the size of the customer base in that region. These data centers are geographically dispersed to reduce latency such as how AWS has US-EAST and US-WEST.
These data centers are always privately owned by the hyperscaler, they are not co-located like mid-sized and small cloud providers. Co-location is the practice of renting space in a third-party data center. This allows multiple companies to split the cost of running a data center.
Hyperscalers also either make their own hardware or buy servers from a trusted supplier in huge quantities. Often, hyperscalers replace entire servers rather than repair them because it is more cost effective given the scale they purchase at. This is a big problem for e-waste.
Hyperscalers create their own hypervisors catered for dev-ops. This makes them an attractive option for systems admins and developers with lots of cloud development experience but challenging to operate for others. Different components and functions will be bundled with their own naming conventions such as AWS calling VMs EC2 instances. For those unfamiliar with the lingo the hyperscaler uses, it can be challenging and often locks users into one platform simply due to familiarity with naming conventions.
Challenges with Hyperscalers
Hyperscalers are a great option for those experienced with dev-ops. The problem is that each hypervisor operates uniquely and can be difficult for those without prior experience to operate. Here are the main challenges hyperscalers present for many users:
Because of the large number of customers hyperscalers have they do not provide support except for their largest customers. By large, we mean >$10 million a year in spend.
Most users are relegated to the support forums if they are having issues. If you have an emergency request, you can expect a response within 24 hours. For those with little cloud experience this doesn’t work. Most businesses need support, someone they can contact if things go wrong.
Hyperscalers run on a utility building model. Also referred to as pay-as-you-go. This means that once you spin up a server, you pay for the resources you actually use. A well experienced admin can use this to their advantage to save money, but most users often leave resources unoptimized. Hyperscalers price resources with the expectation you will scale up and down as needed, therefore, often resources cost more in comparison to flat-rate clouds. The result is that many users find they spend more under the utility billing model.
Dev Ops Oriented
Hyperscalers cater their interfaces to developers. They use dev-ops language throughout the platform and package services into setups for particular tasks. This can be challenging for users that simply want to spin up a virtual machine. Often, these dev-ops bells and whistles get in the way.
Limited DC Options
Surprisingly, despite their scale, Hyperscalers don’t often service their regions with many data center options. Globally, they will have many data centers, but each region might only have a couple. An example is how AWS in the US clusters their data centers into US-EAST and US-West rather than data center locations in each state or region in the US.
How Small Cloud Providers Solve These Challenges
Catered Towards Non-Developers
Small cloud providers cater their services for the average user. This is mostly SMBs that need to host an application or website. Or individuals looking to launch their own project on the cloud. Many developers also prefer small cloud providers because they want a simple VM configuration and don’t need the bells and whistles provided by Hyperscalers.
An Alternative to Big Cloud
Maybe you don’t like that a small group of companies controls the entire internet. Or you worry how you will be treated at a big cloud provider. A smaller cloud provider will offer an alternative to those that don’t want to be just a number at a hyperscaler.
Smaller cloud providers usually have a small number of customers. As a result, the support staff have more time to get to know your application and business. At ZebraHost for example, we are aware of our clients’ businesses and goals. We can cater our services around their needs.
Small cloud providers most of the time also allow customers to contact support directly either by phone or support ticket. A rarity at larger cloud providers.
Customers who appreciate the higher level of support provided by the best small cloud companies tend to remain customers for many years. Many of Zebrahost customers have been hosting with us for decades since we started business in 2000.
Small cloud providers might offer a utility model billing style, but more often small cloud providers will charge a flat rate for services. This means regardless of your usage; you will pay the same consistent amount each month. A great option for businesses that budget cloud expenses ahead of time.
Datacenter and Provider Choices
While small cloud providers individually will not offer many data centers, there are so many small cloud providers you are almost certain to find one with a data center that services your geographical area. Plus, with enough guaranteed spend a small cloud provider may co-locate within a data center specially for you if a location near you doesn’t exist in their portfolio yet. ZebraHost has done this for customers requiring a closer data center.
Small cloud providers offer an excellent alternative to big cloud. Small cloud providers cater their services around SMBs and a non-technical customer base so that anyone can use them. Plus, when you choose a small cloud provider you are often supporting a local business. This strengthens the community and creates a more open and federated internet.