Tips for managing a seamless transition to the cloud
E-commerce and cloud hosting are a match made in heaven. E-commerce stores thrive on high availability, consistent performance, and the ability to scale in response to changing demand. The cloud ticks all of these boxes and more.
Unfortunately, many e-commerce retailers are stuck with stores hosted on legacy infrastructure. Older hosting modalities can support e-commerce stores — they’ve been doing so for years — but they lack the responsiveness and cost-effectiveness of a cloud platform.
The cloud was engineered to overcome the limitations of traditional hosting, but before e-commerce retailers can benefit from those improvements, they are faced with the daunting prospect of migrating a live store to an unfamiliar platform without downtime.
Cloud migration isn’t as risky or time-consuming as many fear. The best-managed e-commerce cloud hosting providers will take care of the migration for free, but for retailers who go it alone there are common pitfalls that can cause migrations to fail or to be more expensive than expected.
What Is Cloud E-commerce Hosting?
In this article, we’re focused on hosting e-commerce applications like Magento or WooCommerce on a cloud platform. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) e-commerce applications like Shopify are also referred to as “cloud e-commerce,” but that is not what we’re discussing here.
For our purposes, a cloud platform is a large pool of compute and storage resources. Every cloud platform is built on more-or-less standard servers, the same servers a retailer might lease as a dedicated server. However, on a cloud platform, the resources of many servers are gathered together into a common pool by virtualization and orchestration software.
Virtual machines, containers, and other services run on this pool of resources, and applications such as e-commerce stores are hosted in the VMs or containers. The pooling of resources is why it’s easier to scale a cloud-hosted e-commerce store than a store hosted on a dedicated server. In the cloud, a store can be given more resources from the pool almost instantly.
E-commerce Cloud Migration Mistakes
Most migrations of an e-commerce store from legacy hosting to the cloud go off without a hitch, but, while working with e-commerce retailers, we’ve seen the same misconceptions and mistakes crop up time and again.
When is a Cloud Not a Cloud?
Cloud is a nebulous term with multiple definitions. Some of these definitions are technical, but others are driven by marketing. We have described a cloud platform as a shared pool of compute and server resources managed by virtualization and orchestration software. Others may be less precise, especially if they want to exploit the marketing buzz around cloud platforms.
It is not unusual for legacy hosting providers to rebrand their existing plans as cloud hosting. To get the full benefit of cloud migration, it is important to understand what the cloud is not. It is not virtual private servers, shared hosting, or bare metal (dedicated) servers.
Other types of hosting have advantages, but e-commerce retailers who expect to benefit from the full range of cloud features should look closely at what they’re getting when migrating to a platform that bills itself as a cloud. Don’t let a marketing technique influence you to migrate to a platform that lacks the flexibility of a true cloud.
Clouds are Not Equal
In the previous section, we looked at clouds which are not clouds at all. A related mistake is to assume that each cloud platform is as good as the next, or that a virtual machine on one cloud is identical to a virtual machine on a competing cloud.
A cloud platform can be implemented well or implemented poorly. A less-than-trustworthy hosting provider can cobble together a cloud platform on top of a stack of ancient servers and charge a premium for it. However, such a cloud would not provide the performance, reliability, and security that e-commerce retailers need.
When you decide to migrate an e-commerce store to the cloud, take a close look at the vendors on your shortlist. Do other users report good experiences? What is the vendor’s reputation for customer support? Can you trust them with your business?
Planning is the key to successful cloud migration. When cloud migration goes wrong, it’s almost always because of an unforeseen problem that should have been spotted in the planning stage.
For example, if the cloud plan you choose doesn’t have sufficient resources to support your store, then performance won’t match expectations after the migration. If a retailer isn’t careful, they might end up paying more for their cloud hosting than they should.
There are excellent cloud migration checklists available on the web, but the basic preparatory steps include:
- Verifying that you have access to information such as authentication credentials and DNS records.
- Carrying out pre-migration testing to ensure that performance isn’t negatively impacted by the migration.
- Assessing resource use so that the new cloud hosting matches the store’s needs.
With careful preparation, a store can be migrated to a cloud hosting platform with no downtime.
Jumping in the Deep End
Cloud platforms range from self-service to fully managed. Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms like AWS and Google Cloud are largely self-service. They provide dozens of services; the user is left to figure out how to combine them to achieve their goals. At the other end of the spectrum, a managed e-commerce cloud is designed for a specific use-case and provides support to help retailers make the most of the platform.
Self-service clouds and managed e-commerce cloud platforms can both support e-commerce stores of any size or complexity. But self-service platforms require a great deal of technical expertise, whereas managed platforms hide most of the complexity behind pre-packaged solutions.
As a retailer, you might choose either type of cloud platform, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting before committing. Many cloud migrations have failed or gone over budget because users underestimated the complexity of large self-service cloud platforms.
If your e-commerce business doesn’t have cloud experts on staff or deep pockets to pay for enterprise support fees, a managed cloud hosting solution designed for e-commerce is the right choice.
E-commerce retailers can benefit enormously from the cost-savings, increased scalability, and improved performance offered by cloud platforms, but only if they choose the right vendor, plan ahead, and understand the technical challenges.
Written by: Graeme Caldwell
Graeme is a writer and content marketer at Nexcess, a global provider of hosting services, who has a knack for making tech-heavy topics interesting and engaging to all readers. His articles have been featured on top publications across the net, TechCrunch to TemplateMonster. For more content, visit the Nexcess blog and give them a follow at @nexcess.