Server vs. Cloud: Where Should I Put My Data?

Cloud storage

Server vs. Cloud: Where Should I Put My Data?

Data storage options are incredibly diverse, spanning personal or local storage to enterprise-level data centers in multiple locations worldwide.

If you are evaluating data storage options for security, stability, and performance, using a server or cloud will be a key consideration. Understanding the characteristics of local servers and cloud-based storage can help you pinpoint a solution that will meet your needs.

Let’s compare local servers and cloud computing to help you decide whether a cloud-based or in-house server infrastructure will meet your needs.

Infographic Server vs Cloud

What is an In-House Server?

A server is a piece of computer hardware that is used to provide computer system services including data storage, processing power, and specific programs to a variety of other devices or software applications known as clients.

In-house servers provide local physical servers in the location where the server functionality is required. The server is accessible via local wired or wireless connections rather than the internet. This provides increased security and control over the IT infrastructure. 

The functionality provided by servers is delivered using a request-response model where client devices send a request to the server, which it performs, responding to the client. The hardware used for in-house server infrastructure is server-class hardware that is specifically built for running servers rather than personal computing. IT professionals can build large server networks up from multiple modular server components. 

The History of Server Technology

The concept of servers developed in the mid-20th century from queuing theory. By the late 1960s, servers were mentioned in the description of a proto-internet called ARPANet where they were denoted as a type of host. By the 1980s, servers were used as a process performing service for remotely originating requests.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the first web server in 1989 and set it up in 1990 on a NeXT computer. It had a 2GB hard drive and a 256MHz processor.

By the time CERN publicly launched the world wide web in 1993, server technology was maturing rapidly. In 1993, there were only 500 servers globally; within a year, there were 10,000.

In-House Server Infrastructure Has Pros and Cons

In-house, physical servers benefit individuals and organizations because it keeps their data on-site and instantly accessible. If there isn’t an internet connection to the server, the risks of third-party access are low.

The servers are easily physically integrated into the wider IT infrastructure and can be expanded and adjusted as required. If the storage resources required are not extensive, a simple personal or enterprise NAS can provide the required server space. 

However, running a server has disadvantages, like the upfront costs of hardware and setup. Suitable physical space is required as well as the expertise to maintain the servers so the data and applications they hold do not become corrupted. There is also the energy expense of running the server. Plus, a physical server that is not mirrored or backed up is also vulnerable to physical damage or electromagnetic interference.

server room data center web hosting
Servers are local physical locations that provide services, typically regionally, to its users, but users access the server via wired or wireless connections.


What is the Cloud?

The cloud is a term that refers to access to servers via the internet on an on-demand basis for a variety of computing purposes. Like in-house servers, cloud servers can be used for data storage, running applications, hosting websites, and adding processing power.

Unlike in-house servers, cloud servers are not directly managed by the user but distributed worldwide in multiple data centers with software and databases that run off the servers located in-house or at the ‘edge’, which simply means regionally.

A feature of cloud computing is its use of shared resources including the virtualization of data storage so that multiple client servers can be run on a single physical server. This centralized approach can save individuals and businesses money as they do not have the costs and maintenance requirements of running a physical server themselves.

The Cloud Runs Off Servers

It’s important to remember that the cloud uses servers, just like in-house server infrastructure. Client devices, though, must connect to these servers via the internet. 

History of Cloud Computing

The development of cloud computing closely follows the development of servers and the internet. 

Time-sharing was a computer solution that was developed and commercialized in the 1960s by computing behemoths like IBM. This involved the use of multi-programming and multi-tasking to share a single computer resource among many users. In the 1970s, DEC, Cambridge CTSS, and GE were operating a variety of sharing solutions. 

By the 1990s, telecommunication companies entered the market by offering virtual private networking (VPN) services that could be accessed at a lower cost. They used their expertise to optimize the use of network bandwidth by switching traffic as necessary. It was the telecommunications sector that first adopted the cloud symbol, and it denoted the boundary between the infrastructure the provider would be responsible for and what the users were responsible for. 

From this point, cloud computing expanded to cover the entirety of server and network infrastructure with remote access by the user. 

Pros and Cons of Using Cloud-Based Server Infrastructure

Cloud-based server infrastructure is widely adopted because of its relatively low cost compared to in-house solutions. Not only do businesses avoid the cost of hardware and setup, but they also do not need to employ personnel to maintain a physical server and have no energy costs.

Cloud computing is convenient and client organizations only pay for what they use. Data storage and processing can be rapidly and expansively scaled, depending on the service provider. 

Disadvantages of cloud servers include the potential for security breaches and data corruption on a large scale. Without internet connectivity, the data stored in the cloud cannot be accessed and, if the client is delinquent in paying for the server access, they could lose their data. 

What’s the Difference Between a Server and the Cloud?

Though in-house servers and cloud computing use server technology, they differ in their setup and operation. Both are capable of providing data integrity, security, and accessibility, but the decision to remotely store data using the cloud can be a large one for many organizations.

The main difference between a physical server and the cloud will always be that an in-house server is dedicated hardware that you handle and manage directly. The servers in the cloud are remote, and often your data is on a shared server used by many other clients.

End devices directly connect to an in-house server, whereas access to cloud-based servers is reliant on an internet connection, which may not always be available. 

Many individuals are reluctant to use cloud-based servers because of a perceived security threat. Both cloud servers and in-house servers that are connected to the internet are at risk of hacking, or attacks could come via client devices that use the server. Cloud security is stringent with many new and updated security standards to minimize risk to clients. 

kinsta vs aws
Cloud-based storage requires no physical location, unlike servers, and is accessed entirely remotely by users.


Server vs. Cloud: A Side-by-Side Comparison

What it isComputer hardware that provides data storage and computing services for client devicesData storage and computing services accessed via the internet
Primary UseData storage and backupData storage and backup 
Initial Release1960s1990s
Influential DevelopersNeXT, CERN, HP LabsIBM, DEC, Cambridge CTS, SGE
Technologies InfluencedDDR SDRAMDDR SDRAM

Similarities and Differences


  • Cloud-based and in-house data storage both run on servers.
  • The servers provide data storage, processing power, and a range of functionalities, known as ‘services.’
  • Separate client devices access cloud computing and servers.
  • Both types of servers are vulnerable to physical damage, hacking, electromagnetic interference, and data corruption. 


  • Devices can directly connect to an in-house server.
  • In-house servers use hardware that is held by the client. 
  • Access to the cloud requires an internet connection.
  • Cloud-based servers are remote, with data stored in regional data centers across the globe.
  • In-house servers require the addition of hardware to increase storage capacity.
  • Cloud computing can be rapidly and massively scaled. 

What is the Cloud Used for?

Cloud computing has a wide range of applications or use cases that include:

  • Data storage and backup
  • Email
  • Web hosting
  • Virtualization
  • The Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Edge computing 
  • Big data
  • Customer or client-facing web apps
  • Development and testing
  • Processing financial transactions
  • Disaster recovery
  • Gaming

Organizations that use cloud computing benefit from an agile and scalable service that can quickly respond to user requirements. The right cloud services provide enterprises with significant cost savings and can be deployed globally within minutes. 

Do In-House Servers Need to be Upgraded?

In-house servers are not an inferior technology to the cloud. In fact, server technology has continued to advance while decreasing in cost to provide a wide range of customizable end-user solutions that range from personal NAS to fully equipped server racks and cabinets.

The hard drive technology used by servers has become faster due to the integration of SSDs and has lower energy consumption bringing costs down. User-friendly filesystems such as ZFS have made it easier for users to manage their data.

Server vs. Cloud: 6 Must-Know Facts

  • Web servers are hardware and software that can accept requests via HTTP, the network protocol used for the distribution of web content.
  • The three leading types of cloud computing are Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service.
  • Servers operate based on a client-server model where various client devices access data and services from a centralized server.  
  • Cloud servers provide an on-demand, as-you-need, pay-as-you-go service. 
  • A data center is a building or portion of a building that is dedicated to housing equipment for the storage, processing, and dissemination of data. 
  • With cloud computing, the individual or business owner does not own the infrastructure used to provide server-based services. 

Final Thoughts

The decision on whether a server or cloud storage should be used is based on user requirements and budget. Both options offer tangible benefits, with many organizations deploying hybrid solutions that automatically back up their physical servers in the cloud. Both technologies are increasingly advanced, meaning users and their client devices can use them with confidence. 


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a NAS?

NAS is storage devices or small servers connected to a local network for storing and retrieving data. These devices are compact and scalable, adding additional NAS devices according to user needs.

Contemporary NAS servers are fast and have low energy consumption, making them cost-effective. They are simple to manage and can be used to centralize individual or small organizations’ data. Data is easily accessible and completely private and secure. 

What are the different types of server?

There are several common server types, each configured for a specific purpose. They include: 

  • Application servers: used to run web apps (software applications run using a browser)
  • Computing servers: used as a large computing resource with an extensive amount of CPU and RAM that networked computers can access
  • Database servers: dedicated to the maintenance and sharing of databases for an individual organization or multiple clients
  • File servers: used to store and share files that client devices can access via a local network or the internet

What is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)?

IaaS provides the IT elements required for cloud computing and which can be accessed virtually. It usually includes the hardware needed (both physical and virtualized), networking features, and storage. It can deliver organization-wide IT services without the onsite infrastructure and is managed similarly. 

What is Platform as a Service (PaaS)?

PaaS provides the hardware and operating systems required to run software applications on a cloud basis. This eases the need for organizations to buy resources and manage and maintain their applications and software. Users can simply use or run their required applications using connected client devices.

What is Software as a Service (SaaS)?

SaaS is a complete software application that a service provider runs and manages for real-time use by various end-users. An example is a web-based email. The end user is not involved in running or maintaining the software but simply accesses it via a web browser on an as-needed basis.

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