PowerShell.org’s Azure Journey, Part 1

by Don Jones


When we started PowerShell.org, my company (Concentrated Tech) donated shared hosting space to get the site up and running. We knew it wouldn’t be a permanent solution, but it let us start out for free. We’re coming to the point where a move to dedicated hosting will be desirable, and we’re looking at the options. Azure and Amazon Web Services are priced roughly the same for what we need, so as a Microsoft-centric community Azure’s obviously the way to go.

Azure Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich is having someone on his team connect with me to discuss some of the models in which we could use Azure. What makes the discussion interesting is that PowerShell.org runs on a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack. We’re not looking to change that; WordPress requires PHP, and the Windows builds of PHP typically lack some of the key PHP extensions we use. I’m not interested in compiling my own PHP build, either – I want off-the-shelf. WordPress more or less requires MySQL; while there’s a SQL Server adapter available, it can’t handle plugins that don’t use WordPress’ database abstraction layer, and I just don’t want to take the chance of needing such a plugin at some point and not being able to use it.

What’s neat about Azure is that it doesn’t care. I adore Microsoft for selling a service and not caring what I do with it. Azure runs Linux just fine. Huzzah!

So, we’ve got two basic models that could work for us. Model 1 is to just buy virtual machines in Azure. We’re planning one for the database and another for the Web site itself, so that we can scale-out the Web end if we want to in the future. We’re not going to do an availability set; that means we risk some short downtime if Azure experiences hardware problems and needs to move our VM, but we’re fine with that because right now we can’t afford better availability. We’d probably build CentOS machines using Azure’s provided base image (again, adore Microsoft for making this easy for Linux hosting and not just Windows). We know we tend to top out at 250GB of bandwidth a month, and that we need about 1GB of disk space for the Web site. 500MB of space for the database will last us a long time, but we’d probably get 1GB for that, too. It’s only like $3 a month. We could probably start with Small VM instances and upgrade later if needed. All-in, we’re probably looking at about $125/mo, less any prepay discounts.

Model 2 is to just run a Website. We still get to pick the kind of instance that hosts our site, so if we went with Small and a single instance, we’d be at about $110 including bandwidth and storage. That doesn’t include MySQL, though. Interestingly, Microsoft doesn’t host MySQL themselves as they do with SQL Azure. Instead, they outsource to ClearDB.com, which provides an Azure-like service for hosted MySQL. Unfortunately, the Azure price calculator doesn’t cover the resold ClearDB service. Looking at ClearDB’s own pricing, it’d probably push us to about $120-$125 a month – or about the same as having our own virtual machines. The difference is that, with Model 2, Microsoft can float our Web site to whatever virtual hosts they need to at the time to balance performance; with Model 1, they can potentially move our entire VM – although they’re unlikely to do so routinely, since it’d involve taking us offline for a brief period. A super-neat part of this model is its integration with Git: I can run a local test version of the site, and as I make changes and commit them to our GitHub repository, Azure can execute a pull and get the latest version of the site code right from Git. Awesome and automated. I love automated.

An appeal of Model 1 is that I can build out the proposed CentOS environment on my own Hyper-V server, hit it with some test traffic loads, and size the machine appropriately. I can then deploy the VHDs right to Azure, knowing that the instance size I picked will be suitable for the traffic we need to handle. It also give me an opportunity to validate the fact that a dedicated VM will be faster than our current shared hosting system, and to play around with the more advanced caching and optimization options available on a dedicated VM. I can get everything dialed in perfectly, and then deploy.

Azure has other usage models, but these are the two applicable to us. I think it’s great that we get these options, and that the pricing is more or less the same regardless. And again, I think it’s pure genius that Azure’s in the business of making money for Microsoft, and that they’re happy to do so running whatever OS I want them to.

I’ll continue this series of posts as we move through the process, just for the benefit of anyone who’s interested in seeing Azure-ification from start to finish. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback!

About the Author

About Don Jones

Don Jones is a Windows PowerShell MVP, author of several Windows PowerShell books (and other IT books), Co-founder and President/CEO of PowerShell.org, PowerShell columnist for Microsoft TechNet Magazine, PowerShell educator, and designer/author of several Windows PowerShell courses (including Microsoft's). Power to the shell!

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