It seems like everyone is getting into the cloud hosting game these days, including e-commerce giant Alibaba. While Alibaba’s cloud service (dubbed Alibaba Cloud) touts many products similar to its competitors, there is one solution that leverages the power and flexibility of their Elastic Compute Service, while keeping costs predictable and setup straightforward.
That solution is Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting.
While web hosting services are fairly commonplace today, what sets Alibaba’s solution apart from their competitors is the fact that their web hosting packages are more like pre-built bundles of service, rather than the typical jailed, rigid structure often provided by other solutions. This means that instead of getting a seat on a shared server, you actually get an ECS server, a cloud disk, a domain name, and a cloud DNS all rolled into one cohesive package.
To get a feel for how Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting works, I went through the process from end-to-end, and have come away with some pros and cons of the service.
Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting Packages
One of the things I noticed right away about Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting is that only yearly subscription plans are available. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, yearly billing doesn’t allow consumers to casually try a service out before committing resources to it. That said, pricing is competitive with other cloud providers, which means that the yearly commitment isn’t a major one. Additionally, it is worth noting that the package tiers are based entirely on resources, rather than features, which means that you aren’t missing out on any cool features by choosing a more budget-friendly package.
One thing that is definitely worth being aware of is the comparative cost of the individual components of the BASIC package compared to the bundled cost. As you can see, the total cost of each individual service is just over double the cost of the Web Hosting plan.
Datacenter Region and Zone Selection
The next step in the onboarding process asks us to pick our preferred datacenter location. While there are a few locations in the United States, Alibaba is a Chinese-based e-commerce company, and it is no surprise that their cloud services have a strong Chinese and Southeast Asian presence. This presence is crucial to organizations that require efficient services in and around those areas. One thing worth noting is that the datacenter selection will affect the package pricing, if only by a couple extra dollars a month.
Web Application Image Selection
At a high level, Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting offers a handful of the most popular web application infrastructures, with basic support for LAMP and LEMP environments, and WordPress and Magento frameworks. Because of the popularity of both WordPress and Magento, this is a perfect one-click solution for many users. However, many cloud hosting providers offer one-click images for growing technologies and stacks like MEAN, Ghost, Django, and more. Thankfully, users aren’t limited to the one-click web application images offered. For more advanced customers, Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting has a great list of usable operating system images, giving users the ability to customize their own server.
Operating System Image Selection
Domain Name Registration
Domain Name Registration
While getting a free domain name is always a plus, Alibaba Cloud’s Domain Name Registrar is relatively limited in functionality. As noted in the screenshot above, privacy protection and domain transfers are not supported features, which means that users cannot anonymously register domains, and cannot transfer their domains to another service for any reason. One important thing also worth mentioning is that domain name registration is not optional—so even if a user intends to use a pre-registered domain with their Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting account, they still must register a new domain.
Domain Name Management
Domain Name Management
Alibaba’s Domain Name Management system, while admittedly in beta, is incredibly limited in functionality. As already mentioned above, domain names managed by Alibaba Cloud cannot be transferred in or out, nor can privacy protection be purchased. While these are basic features that most registrars support, they aren’t absolute requirements, and are rarely used by many organizations.
Unfortunately, in addition to these missing features, the ability to change the nameservers of a domain registered through Alibaba Cloud is also missing, which is a significantly bigger issue. At a very basic level, it locks a domain completely within the Alibaba Cloud ecosystem, but at a more complex level it prevents organizations from establishing redundant DNS, or utilizing a centralized DNS provider amongst domain names registered with different registrars.
Payments and Checkout
Checkout Error Message
Alibaba’s checkout process should be pretty straightforward, but unfortunately I ran into some problems, ultimately spending over an hour trying to get my order to go through. Because of the vague error messaging, I had to do some investigating, and learned that my credit card on file had not been verified (a process that I have not personally seen before).
After verifying my credit card, I was then able to move to the next step in the checkout process, but ran into a roadblock when my credit card company declined the charge and flagged it as potential fraud. The reason for this, I was told, was because of the pattern of charges, which consisted of two small verification charges followed by one higher-dollar charge. A quick chat with my credit card company ultimately resolved this problem, allowing successful checkout, but I believe that I would not have had these issues had a few days passed between verifying my payment method and purchasing a web hosting account.
The Final Result
Despite the early issues I had getting set up with Alibaba Cloud Web Hosting, after I worked through them, the actual provisioning of a new web service was fast and straightforward. While there are some rough edges to the domain name management system, the feature is still in beta and will likely continue to be improved with time. The biggest barriers to entry, in my opinion, would be the payment and checkout issues I ran into. Although the checkout problems I experienced were ultimately my fault, some clearer error messaging would have gone a long way to alleviate my frustrations. In addition, the yearly-only subscription option can be very scary to individuals hoping to sample the service before committing to it. All in all, Alibaba’s Cloud Web Hosting is a valid option for web developers looking for a ease-of-use, as well as organizations requiring international reliability in a powerful package.