Moving to Azure: The Plan and Start

After a conversation with my former webhost about the meaning of "Recurring Annual Discount" (we have different definitions of the word "Recurring"), I decided it was time once again to consider hosting options.

I was hosting around 15 websites on a Windows 2008 VPS server.  This server was running MS SQL Express and IIS for the ASP.NET websites, MySQL for several WordPress websites, and Apache for VisualSVN server.  Oh, the server is also running DNS for the sites. All this ran smoothly even though the server only had 512 Mb of RAM.

Getting all this in one place is expensive, but if I split up the hosting things become cheaper.  The first move I made was moving all the DNS hosting to Zonomi.com.  It's possible I could have skipped this step, since most hosting accounts will include some DNS, but I don't like having the two coupled.  On some webhosts, pointing the DNS at servers not controlled by the webhost can cause problems or is not supported, and sometimes they number and types of DNS records you can create are limited.  For $15/yr Zonomi can host all my domains, and I've been really impressed with how quickly changes propagate from their servers.

The next move was moving all of our SVN source controlled projects to Bitbucket.org.  It was time to move to DVCS anyway and keep up with the times.  Bitbucket provides free Mercurial hosting for both public and private repositories.  There are some limits on private repositories for the number of users, but it's plenty for small teams like ours.

With DNS and source control handled, the next item was the websites.  FuncWorks had not yet joined BizSpark, which now includes a generous amount of Azure hosting.  I googled a bit on running WordPress in Azure, and though its been done my experience running WordPress on Windows taught me it is not really 100% platform agnostic.  I asked around on twitter and emailed a few friends, which lead me to Bluehost.

For $5.95/mo Bluehost has an excellent shared LAMP hosting offer.  I spoke with a representative for about an hour in chat, running down all the sites I had to move and making sure they would be covered in a single plan.  The rep was even nice enough to point out their pricing policy so I wouldn't have a surprise at the end of my introductory price.  Worst case is I pay $8.95/mo, but I could pay for 3 years at once and get a $6.95/mo rate.  This is so awesomely cheap I'm not sweating it!

Side story on Bluehost: Shortly after moving all my WordPress sites over, I received an email from them at some of my sites had a php file with a known security hole.  It seems this file is popular in WordPress themes, but not used in WordPress iteself.  Bluehost reminded me it is my job to keep things patched and safe, but in this case they patched the file for me with the new version, closing the security hole.  Some hyper sensitive geeks may over react with a "how dare they!", but from my view saying "we saw a problem on your sites and fixed it before it was exploited" is great.  Also knowing that they are keeping an eye out for me by monitoring the other account (it is shared hosting) makes me feel like Bluehost is getting hosting right.

Finally we are down to just the ASP.NET sites, which are the sites that run GameMarx.com and XboxIndies.com.  To buy myself some time, and so I could do things the right way, I setup temporary WordPress sites for each of these.  The sites are pretty stock ASP.NET WebForms applications, with enough interesting bits that porting to Azure won't be straight ahead.  My next few blog posts will document the journey and hopefully be of use to someone else who is looking at Azure for the existing applications.

PS.  If you're in the Knoxville, TN area and are also a WordPress fan, come hang with us at the Knoxville WordPress Meetup on Tuesday Oct 11, 2011.  This will be the group's first meeting and is hosted by Daryl Houston who recently joined Automattic (the company behind WordPress, WordPress.com, Akismet, Gravatar, and many other cool sites and widgets).


Posted 10-02-2011 12:40 PM by Michael C. Neel

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