Saturday, June 30, 2012

The move to Cloud Services

Moving My Own Web Hosting Services to the Cloud

Until just recently, I had been maintaining two ancient PCs running Linux in order to host my own websites with custom domain names. Luckily my boss was fine with letting me drop the servers in our office server room, plug in to his UPSs and use his bandwidth. And I've been lucky with hardware - no major issues for about 8 years...

When my first server finally failed (the power supply died) I almost decided to buy parts rebuild it - But before going down that path I started checking into moving to free/cheap cloud services. I had already moved to using Google Apps for inbound/outbound mail (Sendmail can be a pain to maintain) but the real problem was maintaining custom DNS records for the domain. After my experiences with godaddy's DNS services just being a big pile of garbage (MX records didnt work at all!) I ended up going with AWS Route 53

  • Dotster
    • Registering custom domain names
  • Google Apps for hosting custom domain services
    • Free incoming and outgoing mail for the domain
    • Free simple websites
    • Free access to blogger for custom domain blogs
    • Free app engine web apps for the domain
  • AWS (Amazon Web Services)
    • Route 53 custom DNS for 2 domains. Records setup for google services. - my domains cost about $1.02/month

And that did the trick. All the important services I had running on my linux boxes now replaced by cheap cloud services.

Cloud Based Custom .NET Web Apps

So the next leap was to see if I could start building database driven webapps in the cloud for super cheap. I mean, all the pieces are out there. And after looking at AWS services, its doable. But AWS has a free tier for only 1 year...I wanted something completely free, with .NET support since thats pretty much all I'm developing in for work these days.

Then I found AppHarbor. Its not perfect, but you can get creative and do a lot for free. For starters, completely free .NET web application hosting (built on AWS services). The problem is hooking into a database service - the MS SQL Service free tier is a bit of a joke. Really, the only thing you can do with a 20MB instance is setup a user manager provider and thats about it.

I ended up building my own little test MVC4 web app running on appharbor using a file based database for authentication and a free cloud CouchDB service ( - also under the covers running on AWS!) for all my other database content. Not as awesome as using MS SQL Server with EF, but it's still enough to get a custom app up and running.

So slowly it seems like cloud services are moving in the direction I've been waiting for. I just wish AWS would move to a free forever tier for low usage scenarios...or at least for developers ;)

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