Fully Cloud-Enabled!

Yes, another episode in my continuing onslaught on the cloud. But this week it's a heartwarming story of intrepid adventure and final success. At last I'm fully resident in the cloud - or, to be more precise, several clouds. And I might even have saved some money as well...

Over the past couple of weeks I've been blethering about getting rid of my very expensive and not always totally reliable ADSL connection by moving all the various stuff attached to it into the cloud. This includes several websites and the DNS services for mine and a colleague's root TLDs. Previous episodes described the cost verification exercise and the experimental migration, but ended with the thorny issue of traffic redirection to the new sites. And I still had the DNS issue to (again, please pardon the pun) resolve.

After looking at several commercial DNS hosting specialists, the situation seemed bleak. While they all appear fully equipped to satisfy my requirements, the cost of hosting DNS services for around 25 domains was prohibitive in my situation. An average quote of somewhere between five and eight US dollars per domain per month meant that the cost of DNS alone would be more than I pay now for all my on-premises infrastructure and connectivity. And I didn't much fancy using a free DNS service with no SLA.

But then I discovered a web hosting provider that does offer full domain management services as an add-on to their very reasonably priced packages. A quick calculation showed that paying GoDaddy.com for a fixed IP address website and all the associated frippery (such as email and other stuff that I don't need), plus the cost of their premium DNS hosting package, was around a tenth of the cost of my ADLS connection. It seemed like the perfect solution, and after signing up and spending a day setting up the DNS records in their superb web interface it all worked fine. They support secondary DNS as master and slave, so I was able to create secondary domains for my colleague's TLDs as well as configuring my own domains to use his DNS server as a secondary. Then it was just a matter of changing the IP addresses of my domains and my own root DNS server entry at Network Solutions to point to their DNS servers.

However, this still didn't solve the problem of redirecting traffic to my Windows Azure websites. I can set up CNAME records in the new DNS server for subdomains, but (as I discovered last week) that doesn't help because Windows Azure Web Sites depends on host headers to locate the sites. But now I have a hosted website with a fixed IP address at GoDaddy, so I can move all the redirection pages from my own web server to this hosted site. As all the domains now point to a single website I'll need to do some fancy stuff to detect the requested domain name and redirect to the correct site on Windows Azure. But I had the forethought to specify a Windows host for the site when I set it up, so I can use ASP.NET for that. Easy!

So I pointed all the root and "www" records in DNS to the fixed IP address of my GoDaddy site and set up a simple default ASP.NET page there that extracts the requested URL as a URI instance from the Request.URL header, parses out the domain, and does a Server.Redirect to the appropriate page on the matching Windows Azure website. There's no need for visitors to see a "we have moved" redirection page, and Windows Azure gets the correct domain name in the request so that it can find my site.

But there's another problem. Requests to anything other than the root of a domain (such as requests for specific pages from search engine results) don't work because the site can't find the specified page or file. The default page doesn't get called in this case. Instead, the server just sends back a 404 "Not Found" page. However, GoDaddy allows you to specify your own 404 Error page, so I pointed this at an ASP.NET page that parses the original request (the bit after the "404;" in the request string) and builds a new URL pointing to the appropriate Windows Azure site, together with the full path and query string of the requested page or file. It displays a "page moved" message for five seconds (yes, I know this is annoying) and then does a client-side HTTP redirect with a META instruction. So that's the problem solved!

Err, not quite. Some of my sites are ASP.NET, and a request for a non-existent page doesn't result in a 404 "not found" error. Instead, the ASP.NET handler creates a 500 "code execution" error. And GoDaddy doesn't allow you to specify the default error page for this. But you can specify the error page in Web.config, or (as I did) just use a global error handler in Global.asax to redirect to a custom ASP.NET error page. My custom error page pulls out the original URL, does the same parsing to build the correct URL on the Windows Azure site, and returns a "page moved" message with a client-side META redirect.

So that's it! My own web and DNS server is switched off, and everything is going somewhere else. A quick call to my ISP means that my expensive business ADSL connection has been replaced by a much simpler business package at a considerably lower price. I even managed to persuade the nice sales guy to cancel the downgrade fee and give me a single fixed IP address on the new service so I can still run a web server for testing, or whatever else I need, should the situation arise.

Was it worth the effort? The original on-premises connection cost (converted to US dollars and including local taxes) was $ 2,148, and that doesn't cover the cost of running the server itself, maintenance, upgrades, and other related stuff. At the moment I'm using Shared mode for the Windows Azure sites, which (together with a Windows Azure SQL Database) is free for a year. My new ADSL connection package is $ 696 per year, and the GoDaddy hosting package (Windows website and premium DNS service) is only $ 186 per year, so the annual cost at the moment is less than $ 900 - a saving of almost 60%!

Of course, when Windows Azure Web Sites becomes a chargeable service (see Pricing Details) I'll need to review this, but the stated aim is to provide a competitive platform so even when using SQL Database I should still see a saving. And I can still investigate moving to a shared MySQL hosted database to reduce the cost. Meanwhile I'm finally free of DNS Amplification attacks, web server vulnerability attacks, and all my inbound ports are closed. I also have one less server to run, manage, monitor, maintain, upgrade, and try to keep cool in summer.

All I need to do now is out-source my day job and I can spend the next few years lazing on some remote foreign sun-kissed beach - preferably one that's got Wi-Fi...

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