Cloudy, But No Rain So Far…

It's been a month or so since I swallowed the Azure blue pill and moved all my local and community websites to Windows Azure Web Sites and Windows Azure SQL Database. Into each life, they say, a little rain will fall (well, actually Longfellow said it) but so far it's been pretty much sunshine all the way.

I'm not going to say that the Web Sites feature is perfect by any means. The lack of fixed IP addresses has made setting up DNS more difficult; I've had to use a separate website hosted at GoDaddy to do the redirection I need for the domains and paths (see Fully Cloud-Enabled!). There are new domain routing features available in Windows Azure Web Sites now, but they don't apply to the free shared package I'm using.

I also noticed that the sites take a bit longer to start up than they did on my own server. I guess this is because they need to be loaded from the backing storage if they've been idle for a while, and the initial connection to SQL Database also seems to slow down the appearance of the home page for the first hit. In fact, for one complex site, I added a "Loading..." page so that the first response is a bit faster. Yet users report that the sites do seem to run more quickly, even though they're hosted in North Europe now rather than here in Ye Olde England. Though it's probably safe to assume that Microsoft's datacenter has a thicker piece of wet string connecting it to t'Internet than I do.

As to availability, I certainly have no complaints. My home-made website monitoring service checks each site regularly, and its showing around 99.96% uptime at the moment. That's better than I could achieve with my own server in my garage. The only time it's been a bit vague was when GoDaddy's websites and DNS fell over during the recent much-publicized attack they suffered.

I don't do much uploading and modification to the sites, but what bits I needed to do have been easy using Web Matrix's Web Deploy feature. The one exception is the local weather website, which is updated automatically every hour over FTP by the Cumulus software I use. It's suffered occasional connection failures on upload, but they have been very rare - around one every ten days, or less than half a percent.

OK, so we're still six months or so from finding out what the future charges will be for the shared Web Sites feature, so my hosting decisions may need to change. But until then I'm well chuffed (as we Northerners say) with the service. I even have an account executive who sends me regular emails; and responded almost instantly to my only contact with them by phoning me back within the hour! A free service that offers great support and customer service...what more could I ask for?

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