I’ve been hosted with WebHost4Life for a couple of years now. They give me a couple of GB of space, SQL Server, albeit highly contended, and ASP.NET – once again, on a server with a high contention ratio of other people hosted on the same box. In return, I give them money. About $250 US per year.
It’s just my blog, and maybe the personal web sites of a few friends, some email, and that’s it. A few thousand hits per month if I’m lucky. Maybe 1000 unique users. That means I’m spending about 25c, or 12p per user. Quite a lot really.
Web 2.0 Goodness
So I’ve had enough paying for this. Google, Microsoft and other people big enough that I won’t worry they might not be around next year, are giving it away. Space, email, hosting. I’ve decided, rather unsurprisingly, to go with the Windows Live offerings from Microsoft.
Somebody Else’s Problem
My domain names still live with my registrar, and I continue to pay a couple of quid per year per domain name. My DNS records are now with a free DNS hosting provider. There are quite a few now – FreeDNS, ZoneEdit and EveryDNS to name but three.
Microsoft now offers a service called Windows Live Domains, that allows you to point your own domain name at as many Hotmail accounts (and Live Spaces) as you can consume. If you were so inclined you could even set up your domain for “public email sign up” – configure some co-branding to get your logo up next to Microsoft’s and allow your web site users to have free hosted email @yourdomain.com.
The offering? 5GB of file storage at Windows Live SkyDrive, 5GB Email (per mailbox, and up to 500 mailboxes per domain) at Windows Live Hotmail, an as far as I can tell another 5GB storage per blog/website at Windows Live Spaces. The cost? Zip. Squat. Diddly. Nada.
The Next Step
OK, so that solves my personal host and email problems. But it doesn’t really give me a robust platform for e-commerce. There are offerings from Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook to get you there. Some of these are free.
The three main contenders for database storage in the cloud are Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. There are differences between what we know and love as Relational Databases and these cloud-based offerings. All three listed below are primarily object databases with a SQL-esque wrapper to them.
For instance, you can only access your records if you know their unique key or ID field to start with; there are no indices other than on the object key fields; you relate data by creating “associations” (effectively many-to-many lookup tables) between them. In this way, the database software is able to provide excellent guarantees of scalability without any further action on the part of the developer or customer.
- Amazon SimpleDB – pay per GB, per compute-second, per month
- Microsoft SQL Server Data Services – currently free beta
- Facebook Data Store – currently free beta
Hosting and Utility Computing in the Cloud
There are also some pretty cool ways of spreading the load the and cost for incremental business models, and those where the volumes of concurrent users fluctuate hour by hour, if your audience is spread across time zones.
- Joyent – one year free; Linux only.
- Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) – pay per GB, per compute-hour, per month; Linux only.
- Flexiscale – pay per GB, per compute-hour, per month; Linux and Windows.
The most common use of cloud-based services today is file storage. You can get some pretty good offerings for free, or you can pay if you want an SLA.
- Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Server) – pay per GB stored, per GB transferred, per month/
- Microsoft SkyDrive – 5GB free storage/
- Microsoft Windows Live Application Based Storage API – experimental, free beta, for storing small quantities of config data.
If you’d like an example of what you can do with these services, check out:
I’ll follow this up with a case study around Feed My Guests, how we did it, and why.