The Daily Parker

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Why this last Azure move is taking so long

The Inner Drive Technology International Data Center continues to whir away (and use electricity), despite my best efforts to shut it down by moving everything to Microsoft Windows Azure.

Most of the delay finishing the move has nothing to do with its technology. Simply, my real job has taken a lot of time this month as we've worked toward launching a new application tomorrow. Against the 145 hours spent on that project this month, not counting the 38 hours spent helping with other projects, squeezing out the 22 hours I've managed to find for Weather Now has left me falling behind on the Oscar nominees.

For those just joining our story, Weather Now remains the last living application in the IDTIDC. This application shows real-time aviation weather for almost every airport in the world. I wrote the first version in 1998, moved it to its own domain in 2000, and published the last significant update in 2010.

The application benefited for most of its life by having practically unlimited hardware and system software to run on. As a Microsoft partner, I've gotten access to Windows Server, SQL Server, and other goodies for my entire professional life. Moving to Azure changes the calculus radically.

Weather Now runs on Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise with essentially limitless disk space. In the past 14 years, the application has quietly gathered 50 GB of data, merrily occupying a physical partition scheme that takes up a good bit of a RAID-5 volume. Creating a similar architecture in Azure exceeds my budget a bit: a single medium VM to run the application and its GetWeather component plus a 50 GB SQL Database would cost about $250 per month.

Fortunately, I don't have to do that. Most of the data, you see, hardly ever gets used.

Weather Now usually has around 4,500 current weather observations and 165,000 observations from the last 24 hours. Since each row is small, and the index is positively tiny (only the station ID and observation times are indexed), the current table uses about 1.5 MB of space and the last-24 table uses 43 MB. That doesn't even break a sweat on Azure SQL Database.

No, it's the Archive table that grows like the Beast from Below. That one has all of the past observations since the site started. In some cases I've pruned the table, but basically, it has one row per observation per station. For an average station like O'Hare, that means about 10,500 per year. For a chatty, automated station that spits out a report every 20 minutes, it stores about 27,000 per year. For 2012 alone, that works out to about 47 million* rows—growing at 4 million per month.

What to do? Well, stop storing it was my first thought. It hardly ever gets used, partially because the UI doesn't have a way to pull out historical data.

On the other hand, I've frequently wanted to illustrate blog entries with specific weather reports that have permanent links. And this problem, such as it is, does not have a difficult solution.

So, among its other features, Weather Now 4.0 will store archival weather reports in Azure table storage. It won't have the full 50 GB of material initially, possibly ever; but even if it did, it would only cost about $5 per month to store it. And I've hit on a partitioning scheme that will, eventually, make finding archival data really quick and easy, no matter how much of it there is.

The conclusion should be obvious: If you start looking at things the Azure way, using Azure can save you tons of money. My current estimate of the monthly cost to run Weather Now, assuming current visitor levels and acceptable performance on "very small" Cloud Services instances, is $40 per month. If it eventually amasses 50 GB of archives, it will cost...$42 per month. And if I get thousands of visitors that require upgrading to a "small" instance, I'll start selling subscriptions, but I won't have to buy new equipment because it's Azure.

More on this later. Right now, I've got to get back to work.

* Actually, 47,704,735 rows for 2012, an average of 130,341 new rows per day.

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