Sunday, June 08, 2014

Cloud on the Cheap

These days, The Cloud is all the rage in the computer world.

Cloud storage is probably as far as most folks want (or need) to go - think, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive/Docs...the list goes on. You can collect quite a bit of free off-site storage if you're of a mind to.  These are all examples of  SaaS - Software as a Service.

PaaS - Platform as a Service - gives you a specific pre-configured platform to build applications or services.

Finally there is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which is virtualized hardware: CPUs, hard drives, networking, firewalls and the like.

A little background:  at my day job at Sisyphean Corp, I manage hosting for a couple dozen big websites (I lose count sometimes).When I first took this on, we were on physical hardware. Trouble with this is once you make your decisions about the hardware, you're sort of stuck with it for a while. If you've predicted your needs poorly, or they change, well...

I migrated one of our divisions onto virtualized servers using Amazon's EC2 service as a pilot project. With cloud / virtualized servers, you can create, scale up or down, or blow away environments easily as your needs change. Unfortunately we finished the migration right before Amazon had a fairly major public failure, which lasted way too long. We recovered, and over the ensuing months, I learned quite a bit about dealing with Amazon Web Services. I still use them for very specific things.

Last year, I lead a project to migrate our 2 dozen websites off physical hardware, and onto Savvis (now CenturyLink) VPDC cloud services. Though not as inexpensive as AWS, I have to say, I like it a lot.

So -- as though I don't get enough of this geekish shit all day long, I started looking around to play with some of this on my off time. Since it is going to be on my nickel instead of Sisyphean Corp, here's the best (or at least my favorite) cheap stuff I've found.


Amazon is the 800 pound gorilla of  cloud computing and offers a full range of services. If you are (ahem) looking to get in on the cheap, they offer, for new users, a year of free service using what they refer to as their Free Tier, which is a single micro instance, with storage and DB services.

All in all it's a great deal, BUT it's only for a single year. And you still need to give them your credit card. Still, if you are curious, it's certainly worth checking out.


Microsoft, never to miss an opportunity to get on board after everyone else, has a cloud service called Azure. And with only a little effort you can find free trials. At first they were offering 90 days (which I signed up for and promptly pissed away) which they have scaled back to a meager 30 days / $200 worth of services.

Azure is not bad. I liked their management tools better than Amazon's, and Azure's pricing seems to be a little better (although Amazon has a habit of dropping their prices periodically). Much to my surprise, they had Linux environments (along with Windows). Still, I'm not all that interested in trial offers which go away. I *will* be using it for some of my corporate solutions (where Sisyphean picks up the tab).


I had previously run across Google's PaaS offering, called Google App Engine, but Google has recently expanded this to Google Cloud Platform. They are clearly setting their sites on Amazon Web Services. They have a mix of free (for minimal use) services and some paid. Free services (if you are below the paid quota) include the App Engine and Cloud Datastore. Non-free services include Cloud Compute (virtual servers), Cloud SQL (database), Cloud DNS, Cloud Storage, and Big Query.


OpenShift, which is run by RedHat Linux,  is another PaaS service which I have been playing with of  late. The good news: there is a free level of service - no credit card required - which gives you  3 "gears," (the label they give their basic application units). With only a moderate amount of effort, I spun up an instance of an analytics tool called Piwik, which I'm using as part of a project.

They have a number of pre-configured software stacks, including Java and PHP, and applications, including Drupal, WordPress, and MySQL.

The down side with OpenShift is that it can be more than a little complex to set up and use, depending on what you are trying to do. Still, if your not afraid to roll your sleeves up, it could be fun (or useful).

Digital Ocean

Finally, there's Digital Ocean. What to say -- I love these guys. Their service is simple to use, pricing is straightforward (without a lot of add-ons), and it's cheaper than all the other services I've found. They call their instances "droplets" (ocean - droplet? cute). The smallest instance is $5 a month, if you run it 24x7. That's for a 512mb/1CPU instance with 20GB of solid state storage, and 1TB of tranfers. I pay more than that for my shared webhosting provider, and I don't have root access!

They have a number of different Linux images (Ubuntu, RedHat, CentOS, Arch, Debian) to choose from and other, larger sizes. A 1GB/1CPU instance with 30 GB of storage is $10 a month. And those prices are just the maximum you pay. They actually charge you by the hour, with a monthly cap on the cost. So, if you were to spin up the small instance for, say 10 hours of testing one month, it would actually only cost you around $.07 - yeah, you read it right: 7 cents.

There are almost always promo codes (such as ALLSSD10 ) you can add when you sign up that will give you an immediate $10 credit, so essentially you can get 2 months free if you use their smallest instance. There are also iOS and Android apps that will let you manage your instances and/or account. If the above code has expired, find a newer one.

So keep your head in the clouds and have fun!

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