The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Taking an Azure shortcut

I hope to finish moving my websites into the cloud by the end of the year, including a ground-up rewrite of Weather Now. Meanwhile, I've decided to try moving that site and three others to an Azure Virtual Machine rather than trying to fit them into Azure Cloud Services.

For those of you just tuning in, Azure Cloud Services lets you run applications in roles that scale easily if the application grows. A virtual machine is like a standalone server, but it's actually running inside some other server. A really powerful computer can host a dozen small virtual machines, allocating space and computing power between them as necessary. You can also take a virtual machine offline, fold it up, and put it in your pocket—literally, as there are thumb drives easily as big as small VMs.

This is called infrastructure as a service (IaaS); putting applications into cloud services without bothering to set up a VM is called platform as a service (PaaS).

IaaS offers few advantages over PaaS. The principal disadvantage is that VMs behave like any other computers, so you have to care for them almost as if they were pieces of hardware on your own server rack. You just don't have to worry about licensing Windows or hoping the electricity stays on. Also, VMs are expensive. Instead of paying around $15 per month for a web role, I'll wind up paying about $80 per month for the VM and its associated storage, data transfers, and backup space. And this is for a small instance, with a 1.6 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM. VMs go up to 8-core, 16 GB behemoths that cost over $500 per month.

On the other hand, my server rack costs easily $100 per month to operate, not counting licenses, certificates, me tearing my hair out when the power fails or my DSL goes down, and having to keep my living room the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center below 27°C year-round.

So it's not nearly as expensive as rack space would be, but it's less economical than PaaS. Unfortunately, my four most important web applications have special needs that make them difficult, and in two cases impossible, to port to PaaS:

  • The Daily Parker, this blog, which runs on the open-source dasBlog platform. I estimate that porting this blog to PaaS will take about 12 hours of work, and I have lots of other (paid) work ahead of it. In principal, I need to change its storage model to use Azure blobs instead of the local file system, which doesn't work the same way in Azure Web roles as it does on an VM.
  • Weather Now, which is overdue for a ground-up rewrite, and uses a lot of space. Porting the application will take about 12 hours, plus another 12 hours to port the GetWeather application (which keeps the site supplied with weather data) to an Azure worker process. That's time I can better spend rewriting it. Moving it to a VM shouldn't take more than an hour or two.
  • My SourceGear Vault source code control system. Since I don't own the source code, I simply can't port it. Plus, it uses a couple of worker processes on the server, which I also won't be able to port.
  • My FogBugz issue tracking system. Same problem: it's not my software, and it uses a couple of worker processes. I can either install it on a server from a commercial installation package, or I can sign up for FogBugz on demand for $25 per month. And also lose my Vault integration, which lets me track all of my issues back to actual pieces of code.

So watch this blog. In a couple of days, it's liable to migrate to an Azure VM.

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