Saturday, November 27, 2010

Platform as a Service: Read the fine print

I'm surprised at the number of startups that are now going directly to the cloud, bypassing traditional web hosting solutions and avoiding the need to own a server in-house. That's great news, and at a minimum it shows that the big players -- Google, Amazon and Microsoft -- are marketing well to the startup crowd. But I am even more surprised at the number of startups that make critical cloud platform selections without reading the fine print.

The little details with Platform as a Service (PaaS) are the ones that cause the most pain to startups. They will lock you in to a vendor, force you to use a given programming language and framework, and will frequently make you tear your hair out catering to unusual timeout rules.

Google AppEngine strictly enforces these rules, limiting all request to 30 seconds, restricting you to 1000 records per database query and forcing you to use python-only libraries. And of-course, moving off the AppEngine platform to a standard server will leave behind a trace of code spaghetti built needlessly to cater to your platform selection. Yes, Google AppEngine is free for startups, but note the hidden costs.

Of-course, Google AppEngine (and Microsoft Azure) are offering a tradeoff. Adhere to these rules and you can avoid the hassles of managing your own server, à la Amazon EC2. It's an awesome offer -- developers can avoid touching servers, operating systems, patches, consoles and the mundane tasks of upkeeping a server and database. But don't bet all your startup's money on PaaS until you have read all the details in their rule book...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why your business really needs the cloud


If you are running a basic, content-driven website then utilizing the cloud won’t give you much advantage. After all, your website just needs CPU power and a way to upload content and manage the application. And publishing to one of the many Virtual Private Servers (VPSes) or Shared Hosting providers will more than suffice, and can be done at much lower cost.
But there are instances where startups and SMBs should only consider the cloud:

  • Cloud computing vendors are offering excellent techniques to auto-magically scale your hardware to meet customer loads. The next killer app is very likely to use the inbuilt scaling controls of Google AppEngine (probably the easiest one to use) to just as easily meet the demands of 1000 users as 1,000,000 users. And programmers love the ability to be able to scale an application without ever having to touch the underlying hardware or operating system.
  • Access to the right hardware and software combinations can frequently be a pain to procure and manage. Cloud provider, such as Amazon, now give access to a vast technology stack, directly through an easy-to-use web interface. Need Ubuntu 6.1 with SQL, running on a Quad-core machine? It’s now readily available for you in the cloud, without the hassle of installing and managing software packages.
  • As the cloud grows, so will the benefits to those who are using it. New solutions are constantly being built for cloud based monitoring, security and administration. Within a couple of years you will find that product integration within the cloud is significantly cheaper and easier than having to integrate with solutions that are outside the cloud.
Of-course, using the cloud is in and of itself a bet. It’s still a maturing industry and may not provide all the tools that your startup or SMB requires. But considering that the key cloud vendors are now running 50,000+ servers in their datacentres, would you really want to bet against them? When building your new app consider now just what the cloud provides today, but what it may provide your killer app with tomorrow and next year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When is cloud suitable for a basic website?


recently argued that cloud is not a suitable solution for the online shops, blogs, forums and content driven sites that constitute the vast majority of the web. After all, these are websites that need nothing more than a CPU and a database, which can be provided at lower annual cost by the numerous VPS and Shared Hosting providers.
But even if a shared host is more sensible for your business, you may still benefit from some short-term access to the cloud:
  • The cloud is a great resource for testing the minimum hardware requirements for your online service. This is exactly what I did for my own startup. Unsure of how much computing power I will require, I started off by using Amazon’s smallest cloud solution, a ‘Micro’ machine instance with only 613MB of memory and a low power CPU. Slowly I progressed up the stack, to larger and more powerful systems. Keep climbing up the ‘power stack’ until you find a server that can just support your requirements. You can now move the code back to a standard VPS for cheap, long-term hosting, but with the comfort that you will choose exactly the hardware that you need.
  • Some companies require a website for only short-term use, to run online competitions and other short term promotions. These websites really don’t need the services of a cloud provider. But they may be cheaper to run on the cloud if their online presence is expected to last for less than a month (you will find that costs after a month may make it cheaper to go back to using a standard VPS or Shared Host).
Next article: Why your business really needs the cloud

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cloud vs. VPS vs. Shared Hosting

A lot of startups and SMBs need access to very basic server resources to host their website. They don't require cloud based REST APIs, automatic scaling or the ability to run their application as part of a high-performance compute cluster. These are your traditional content providers that sell products in on-line shops, host blogs with inline adverts and generally ensure an online presence exists for their bricks'n'mortar business.

So I find it surprising when I see such traditional content providers move their online presence to the cloud. This fact, more than anything, shows that the marketing of cloud solutions can cloud (excuse the pun) the decision making of those responsible for your company's infrastructure.

Outsourced solutions for server hosting have existed for many years. And while they may not be in fashion, they are likely to service your business just as well and at lower cost than cloud:

  • Virtual Private Servers (VPS): If you want direct RDP or SSH access to a dedicated server, then take a look at VPS.  A VPS is a dedicated virtual machines where you get full console access to install tools, manage services and tweak the system to your needs. Take a look at this resource to find a VPS that meets your needs.
  • Shared Hosting: If you don't require any console access to fine-tune your application and OS, then shared hosting is an even cheaper solution. A shared host is a service that runs your application in a dedicated partition, and provides a simple interface (eg. cPanel) to manipulate some of the system settings.
You will find that VPS and Shared Hosting are cheaper and easier to manage than anything offered by the key cloud providers today. If you are running a basic website then cloud is likely not for you.

Next article: When is cloud suitable for a basic website?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

LabSlice accepted into the Microsoft BizSpark program

LabSlice has been accepted to the Microsoft BizSpark program. If you are not aware of this program, here is a quick summary of what you get and why you should join:

  1. Microsoft will support your business by giving you 3 years of access to development tools, such as Microsoft Visual Studio 2010.
  2. Microsoft will give you 3 years of rights to use their products for free in a production environment. This includes all flavors of Microsoft Server, but also products such as SQL Sever and SharePoint.
  3. You can access to VC, angel networks and other folk who would like to be involved in your startup.
It's a great program with few, if any, detractions (as far as I am aware). It doesn't cost anything to join Microsoft BizSpark, but you do need to get assessed and approved by an existing BizSpark Network Partner.