When a cloudy future is good

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 3, 2014, 11:12 PM | comments: 0

I'll never forget when I first flipped over to having a dedicated server of my own, I think it was in 2000. PointBuzz (then Guide to The Point) and CoasterBuzz could no longer live in a shared environment, on a server with a bunch of other sites, so I bit the bullet and started renting one. It was hundreds of dollars monthly at the time, and the cost of bandwidth was insane. It got to the point where I had to get a T-1 to my house where I could host my own server. That cost a grand a month, but it was all I could do! Things got a little cheaper after a few years, and you could get a dedicated server for "only" $300 or so.

I think I was at Insurance.com, when we were growing and not imploding, that I was first exposed to virtualized servers, probably in 2008. I don't specifically remember what they were used for, but already they were using networked storage for the databases, so my perception that you needed bare metal hardware to run stuff was already eroding. The tech press was gushing over virtualization, and at that point, I had been running Windows in virtual machines on my personal Macs for two years. This was the foundation for what we would later start calling "the cloud."

When I got to Microsoft to work on the MSDN and TechNet community apps, specifically the forums, we had an enormous pool of servers. Granted, the forums were in something of a disastrous state, but they required something like 50 servers to run, and it still didn't scale well. (And yes, we reduced that quite a bit in relatively short order.) In 2010 they were spinning up something called Azure, which at the time was mostly a platform-as-a-service offering where you would run stuff in virtualized instances that mostly hid the operating system from you. It was a little rough because the product wasn't fully baked, but it wasn't long before me and two and a half other dudes built the reputation system that was baked into the forums, and ran it all in Azure. I was sold... what used to take racks full of equipment we deployed to stuff we provisioned in minutes.

I went on to work briefly in the cloud services team before making the poor decision to move back to Cleveland to be with my unsold house (yes, I can't let that go). I've always kind of hated messing with infrastructure and maintaining it, and the promise of cloud resources have been with me ever since. Last year I did the live blog for PointBuzz, and overkill built it for Azure just because I could. (Open sourced the code, too.) Ever since I was involved in that reputation system in 2010, I was looking forward to the day when I could finally move all of my stuff off of a dedicated server, and into the cloud. The problem has been that the math didn't quite favor the cloud, but that is just about at the tipping point.

Amazon, Google and Microsoft have been in something of a price war, and the last round of price cuts are at a place where I think I can finally move my stuff. Google doesn't run .NET stuff, and Amazon doesn't have the sweet PaaS options, so it's going to be Azure. The real trick will be figuring out if some of the older stuff can run in SQL Azure. There might be some exotic things going on there.

One of the things I've talked about in my talk that I've given recently about cloud resources is how it greatly expands your toolbox. The idea that you can spin up a "server" to do some interesting thing in isolation for under fifteen bucks per month is pretty exciting. In fact, I've been looking at hosting a search app for one of my projects in just such an environment.

Assuming I can find the time, it's time to start moving stuff over to Azure. The cloud's time has come even for the enthusiast side business crowd. Now only if I could drag along the old school enterprises...


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