With all of the spare time that I don’t seem to have, i’ve been working with Azure a bit for a personal project that I’m not going to go into much detail about (yet). Well actually, I suppose that isn’t fair. Initially I started simply using the hosting I have on this site to do some simple stuff before I quickly got annoyed with it. I didn’t need a web host, I needed some real cloud computing. I briefly looked at Google’s App Engine and Amazon’s AWS before figuring since I work at Microsoft I should probably just dive in with Azure, so that’s what I did!
Once I got over the initial system shock of “what on earth is all of this stuff” and followed through a few examples, I was actually pretty pleased at how simple getting something up and running was. I had downloaded and tried the Azure SDK quite a while back in beta (before we announced it) and it was hard to use, the docs were non-existent, and no samples existed at all. I was completely lost and gave up on it until recently. While I can’t speak for the SDKs for Google or Amazon, the Azure SDK has improved leaps and bounds now and it finally started making sense!
It took me basically a week to write the underlying infrastructure for what my side project wanted when I was using this hosting environment, and a large portion of that was trying to remember SQL, and writing stored procs. I made the equivalent Azure worker role in about a day and didn’t have to write a single SQL statement (unless you count some LINQ in my role, which I don’t) or stored procedure! I also didn’t have to worry about transactions or any of that painful stuff!
One thing that I guess makes me naive is that I was surprised at the potential cost for even the simplest of things! For example, a “small core” on Azure costs $0.12 per CPU hour (and CPU hour is measured by the amount of time the application is deployed). This means for a single core, for an average month you’re looking at $0.12 * 30 days * 24 hours = ~$86. Worse, it’s recommended you run at least two instances, and you have to if you want the “guaranteed” 99.99% uptime. Since each instance is another core, basically double that cost so $172 per month to run your application in the cloud. You can get 3+ years of web hosting for less than that. That’s just the CPU cost though, you end up paying for storage as well!
At first, storage “sounds” pretty cheap. You pay $0.01 per 10,000 transactions which sounds super cheap, but that adds up as well. In most of the samples for Azure you’ll notice that in the run method it will essentially check for messages in a never-ending loop to see if there is work to do, and will normally check these messages about once every five seconds. The act of checking to see if a message exists is a storage transaction though! Checking every five seconds is 12 times per minute or 720 per hour or 17,280 per day or 518,400 per month or an extra 51.84 pennies per month. Ok, so that isn’t all that expensive I guess. It does start to add up though, and there is an extra $0.15 per gigabyte of data you’re storing.. So a million transactions a month storing 2gigs of data is an extra $1.30, not terrible.
Now, I’m sure that large companies needing cloud computing find these prices to be quite acceptable (the Azure prices seem to be similar to the prices offered by Google and Amazon), and I actually don’t mind them too much, but they do seem to be a decent chunk of change for a developer just starting out. I guess I was just expecting prices to be similar to hosting prices so was surprised by the costs I saw.
I’m no where near an expert on the subject yet, but so far working with Azure and “in the cloud” has been a pleasure. Now if I could just get off my lazy butt and finish this thing…