Cloud Computing– it’s a relatively new term for a relatively old concept. For at least six months now I’ve been thinking about two inevitabilities: 1) that my servers will fail some day soon; and 2) that I may have to rapidly scale (up) some customer’s site because it will suddenly have traffic needs well beyond the capacity of my servers.
The answer is pretty obvious to me – I’ll soon be eliminating my own serves in favor of purchasing computing power in whatever quantities I need at the time. Scalable on demand. From one of the cloud service providers that are coming online now.
Buying cloud computing essentially means buying computing power without knowing or caring exactly where it is physically located or what type of equipment it’s on. Someone else buys the servers, puts them in racks, powers them, cools them, and connects them to the Internet. And they stand there ready to go into service whenever they’re needed.
I looked at Amazon EC2 first, because it’s been getting a lot of publicity. Amazon has built server farms that could scale up and down rapidly, and has been supporting its own services on those computers, for years. It’s was logical that they’d be in a position to sell “time” on servers to anyone who wants it…as long as they had the spare capacity. But Amazon charges $0.10 per hour for a basic “server” instance, which means $2.40 a day or over $72 a month for even one server. That’s pretty close to what I was paying Verio for a virtual private server in the late 1990s, and it’s probably 50% of what it costs me to have my own server with several times the capacity.
Then I ran across a company called Slicehost – recently acquired by Rackspace. These guys offer raw server instances (virtual private servers) starting at $20 a month. These $20 “slices” are small, but they get the job done and they’re ideal for hosting web sites that are simple, have low traffic requirements, and yet might have to be scaled up at a future date. To scale, you access the Slicehost online control panel, and within minutes you can have a much larger slice of a server – still “private” – with literally the click of a button.
Oh, and the “private” is important. My clients need pretty tight security, and running a web site on a virtual private server means they don’t have to worry about some other user of the same server having a weak password and getting hacked, consequently opening up a window to my client also getting hacked. With a virtual private server, there’s only one user, and you’re responsible for your own problems.
So the site you’re looking at right now is on Slicehost. On their smallest and cheapest offering. And yet handling the traffic pretty well. And on top of that, I have several sites all on the same slice. This isn’t for the faint of heart – I had a Ubuntu 8.04 server instance installed and from there I installed all of the services I needed, but this really requires some middling sysadmin expertise. (Takes me under an hour to provision one slice and bring up a WordPress instance. Then about 30 minutes for additional WordPress instances or web sites.)
This is the future and it’s slick.
Oh, by the way, the new look of the web site is not related to the switch to Slicehost. I just got tired of the old look, and loved this new theme, and switched over during the migration to Slicehost.