Sitting Comfortably On The Cloud

It's been four months since I moved all my websites to the Windows Azure Web Sites platform, so how's it working out? Very well so far is pretty much all I can say, because there's been nothing in terms of operational activity to report. A welcome change after all the fuss and effort of running the same sites on my own web server. And, so far, the bill has been zero. What you might call excellent value for money!

I monitor the sites using my own Server Monitor utility (available here), and they consistently show a minimum of 99.9% availability - even 100% for a lot of the time. Very occasionally the hourly automated FTP upload for the local weather site fails, but that's perhaps only once every couple of weeks.

Access and response times do, however, vary. As I've remarked before, the initial startup time when the sites have been idle for a while, and hence are no longer loaded on the shared web server, can be a bit more than I'd wish for. It's not uncommon to see a five seconds or longer delay on the first hit for the most complex site. However, subsequent requests return startlingly quickly from the North Europe datacenter where the sites are hosted, and people I've spoken to who use the sites have remarked how fast they seem to be.

I haven't needed to do much in the way of updates to the sites, and what bits I have done have been easy using Web Matrix. A recent neat addition to Windows Azure Web Sites is the Web Matrix icon on the lower ribbon of a website in the Management Portal that installs the latest version of Web Matrix, and launches it with a connection to the hosted site files.

The sites use Windows Azure SQL Database, and I've backed up the databases using the Import/Export tool within the Management Portal. The first time I used this it was really fiddly and annoying, with poor documentation and an unintuitive interface that resulted in several attempts with different subsets of values for the storage account and other parameters. However, the latest update to this tool makes it really easy. Just click Export in the lower ribbon and it automatically selects the storage account and other information required. You can often just select a blob container and enter your database password. Best of all, it can even create a new blob container if you haven't already done this.

And it's reassuring to see that the Azure team has as much trouble keeping up with the changes to the features and the portal UI as we do here in p&p. At the time of writing their online docs for using the Import/Export feature still described the previous version...

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