Running Stuff for Cheap on Azure

I have been using Windows Azure since 2009 and I always tried to use it where I would normally use either my own Web Servers or some other hosting provider.

With the continuous release of great features and services on the Azure platform I have since moved all my web sites / web applications to the Azure platform.

If you are, running multiple sites either for yourself or maybe for friends or clients you try to minimize the cost and maximize the benefits of the platform.

When I first moved some web sites to Azure I used the open source project called “Windows Azure Accelerator for Web Roles” it basically allowed you to publish multiple web sites on one web role. This was of course great as the one “big” payment per month could now be justified / recovered by multiple web sites / clients.

There some downsides to it, scalability was sort of there as it allowed synching of the sites through blob storage but luckily I never needed multiple instances of my Azure server to actually test this and the Azure server had been running for a while without issues to stability has never been a problem.

Also the publishing of new sites was not that great, I’ll spare you the details.

With the release of Azure Web Sites you now have a way to reduce cost and something that hasn’t been mentioned before a great way to learn new technologies on the cheap.

Let me explain.

Hosting Web Sites for Cheap

As you may know, the Web Sites feature allows you to run a web site for free or near free in a multi tenant environment. The difference between the free and near free is the difference in quotas.

I am currently moving another site from a Azure hosted service (Web Role) to the Azure Web Site feature. I chose the Joomla CMS from the Web Site Gallery to build up the site. I am building it under the free setting until the site is finished. This allows me to take as much time as I need without getting billed.

The Flyersoft site, the site you are currently reading this post on is also hosted under the Azure Web Sites feature. This time I chose the WordPress template from the gallery. I did the same thing here, took my time to understand WordPress, pick a template which I liked, and migrated my content from the other Blog Engine. When I was done, I scaled up to the “Shared” option which allowed me to add the Flyersoft.net domain name to it.

It has been running for about three weeks now and my total cost for the one instance is $5.45 so far. Granted, I don’t get much traffic and it is just one instance but for me it is cheaper than the scenario I had running before with the Windows Azure Accelerator for Web Roles.

Study for (almost) nothing

Learning new stuff could be challenging if what you try to learn requires a complete server setup. For example, when I was trying to determine which Blog engine to use I just created a new Blog web site based on each of the Blog/CMS templates available in the Web Site gallery. After spending some time with each of the applications I made my choice. With the free option you can get at least a feel for the application before you make your choice. You can learn the application and get near real world experience without spending a cent.

I had in the past used BizTalk before and when the Virtual Machines feature became available I looked at the gallery as well and found Biztalk 2010. Being focused on Cloud integration I thought that this would be another great addition to my cloud integration tools. Although I think that Azure as a platform will have some of BizTalk’s features available as individual features just like the Service Bus.

I am currently running a BizTalk instance as a Virtual Machine created using the BizTalk 2010 template from the gallery. I don’t have a first cost available yet as it is mixed with other services. The point is, the template allows me to get some study time in on this version of Biztalk without spending hours of setting up a server and spending a lot of money to host the server.

Conclusion

The Windows Azure platform is a great way to experiment with Web Site applications without spending a cent. Get some study time in and use your newly acquired knowledge in your career or for your clients.

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