Choosing a hosting region doesn’t need to be complicated
When you start to move your servers to the cloud, one of the first decisions you’ll be asked to make is the choice of hosting region. Alibaba Cloud has data centers in around 20 different locations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Singapore, the USA, Germany, the UK, Dubai and India.
So, which one should you choose? And does it really matter?
All other considerations being equal, the location of your customers is the key. Regardless of where your company is physically headquartered, it’s good to host your servers as near to your customers as possible in order to benefit from the maximum connectivity speeds available. For the same reason, and to make interconnectivity as simple as possible, keep similar servers in the same region and the same availability zone. For example, if a web server relies on a MySQL database server, keep them together in the same region and zone.
Conversely, if you specifically want to make communication between two servers difficult without requiring extra configuration steps, put them in different regions or availability zones. By default, servers in different regions or zones can’t communicate with each other. This improves security if, for example, you need to maintain discrete groups of servers such as production and development environments.
If your customers are mostly based somewhere that corresponds to an existing Alibaba Cloud region such as those mentioned above, then this is the obvious choice for your hosting. However, the rules aren’t set in stone and it’s quite acceptable to host elsewhere if you prefer. For example, if your company is based in the UK but you prefer to store data within the European Union after Brexit, choose Frankfurt.
Pricing varies across regions. So, if costs are important, especially during development phases, check out the prices in each region and make your choice accordingly. Although note that moving servers between zones and regions is not supported, so when you come to build your production servers you’ll need to do so in their ultimate location.
If connection speed and latency is of paramount importance, try some experiments. For example, Darwin in Australia is actually closer to the Jakarta, Indonesia data center than to the one in Sydney, Australia. Use your favorite search engine to look for web connectivity testers. These will test access to your site from multiple geographical locations and give you insights as to which is the fastest. Remember to run tests at multiple times of day, and take the time zones of your users and the hosting region into account when making a final decision.
Hosting in China
If you’re hosting a website within mainland China then you will need an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license or filing, to ensure your site complies with Chinese regulations. The type of license depends on whether you’re just hosting content or if you also provide e-commerce features. Full documentation on how to obtain this license is available on the Alibaba Cloud website, and you can raise a support ticket if you need additional assistance. Alternatively, you can avoid the need for an ICP license by hosting in Hong Kong instead.
Ultimately, your choice of hosting region is probably not as difficult as you might have first thought, and is unlikely to be a major issue. The Internet is global, and your users will have no problem accessing information stored on servers that are physically hosted in another country.