Technology Cost

When I start a new web project, I am more excited by the new technology challenges I have to face than by the financial and legal aspect of the project.  However, these aspects of the project gave me a lot of headaches in the last few months.

Two years ago, excited by my new idea, I decided to start working using the technologies I was comfortable with at the time, C#, Web Services and MSSQL. My project require both a web site and a downloadable client application.

When the time came to publish my first version of the application online I started to search for a hosting service. That was my first deception. I found that Windows/MSSQL hosting plans are about twice the price of the hosting plans based on open source technologies for much much less storage and bandwidth. This difference is due to the price of Windows and MSSQL licenses the hosting companies are paying to Bill. Since I had done my entire project with these technologies I decided to pay the extra fees and picked a web hosting with good reputation.

The publishing process went very well and I have been able to quickly start performance tests. That was yet another deception. The performances were from poor to bad. It was not serious to go online with such poor performances. After a chat with the hosting support I learned that, in addition of the higher prices, Windows/MSSQL hosting plans had a higher users/severs ratio than the Linux plans. This, again, was because of the Windows server license costs.

In order to keep going with my project I decided to release a first version with this hosting plan and to move to a dedicated server hosting plan when the traffic would become more important. I then started looking for a content management service to build my web site. There are not many choices of CMS for Windows/MSSQL platform. There are some hosting companies offering Joomla or Drupal on Windows platforms but this solution is far more complicated to maintain on Windows than it is on Linux. I decided to go with the only serious and affordable application, DotNetNuke (DNN).

Guess what! DNN back end is based on MSSQL database server. I can ear you “That’s not a problem, you are on a Windows/MSSQL hosting plan”. You are right but here is the catch … most serious DNN hosting are allowing only one MSSQL database per site with verry limited storage. So where should I store my application database?

I found a DNN hosting, PowerDNN, that, in addition to the MSSQL database was offering a MySQL database. I then decided to get rid of MSSQL constraints by developing a new database connector for MySQL. I was not dependant on MSSQL anymore for the choice of my hosting service. Moving to MySQL was a great improvement. With PowerDNN I had 1Gb of database storage in one MSSQL and one MySQL databases. On the other hand, with a hosting plan from Siteground, I had 750Gb of storage with an unlimited number of MySQL databases.

But I was still bounded to Microsoft technologies because of the web service layer I had developed using C# and the .Net framework. To take advantage of these cheap and faster hosting plans I had to get rid of this layer as well. I tried different techniques … PHP, Python CGIs, PERL with no success. The difficulty was to find a good framework that would allow great scalability.

I then start playing with Google App Engine (GAE). Google App Engine main feature it that your application is hosted in the Google Application Cloud. If implemented correctly, your application can scale from a few users to millions of users with no hardware or software modifications.Best of all, GAE if free under a certain quota of storage, bandwidth and CPU usage. That’s what I was looking for. GAE is based on open source technologies and supports Python and Java languages. Open source projects are hard to kill and I am confident that the community will support the Google initiative to make GAE a strong and affordable hosting solution.

That’s where I am today. I have a .Net client application using a Python based server hosted in the Google App Engine cloud. I take advantage of the Bigtables and other services of the GAE to allow a maximum of scability to my application.

Lately, I started doing some tests with Mono for the client application with very good results. There are some user interface problems but it will be quite easy to make the application work well on both Windows ans Linux. Having a Linux version of my application will give it a great exposure in the world of technology early adopters.

Numbers speak by themselve. I started working on a plateform that costs me more than 4000$ dollars only in licenses for my development environment at home. Then I had to pay a 50$ per month DNN hosting to go online with my project. That gave me 1Gb of storage with no solution for the future when, I hope, the traffic will raise to thousand of users.

Now the application works both on Windows and Linux with a Python server hosted on the Google Application Cloud. The development licenses cost dropped to 0$ and hosting is free until the site kick out!

Next time you start a new project, dont waste time and money as I did. I could have put this new application online a lot faster and for free if I had made the correct decisions on day one of the project.

Have any experience you want to share? I would like to ear from you. Write a comment or send me an email, I’ll be more than happy to discuss that topic with you folks.

Philippe Chrétien

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  1. Hugomatic says:

    Hi,

    Great article… nothing makes me happier than learning from other people’s mistake$. I think you have a valid point: free services are very helpful, especially when you are prototyping applications on a personal budget. And they are fantastic when others need to approve your software expenses. Fyi, there are open source alternatives to BigTable too, in case a lesser evil decides to cash in on your success (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BigTable).
    Do you think there’s a market helping others in your situation? Some people say Ms tools are more productive than assembling an open source solution from various sources… would you save more if you had not used Visual Studio and its wizards?

    • pchretien says:

      Good point.

      Developing the client application in C# would have been much longer without Visual Studio. On the other hand, if I had made the good technological decisions when I started the project I could have spend much more time developing a client application with open source technologies.

      The fact is, I don’t like user interface development very much. Using Visual Studio allows me to concentrate more on other parts of the application code. There are not many alternatives to VS to develop .Net user interfaces applications. Sharp Develop is, I think, the best application out there to do that. It is not available for Linux but at least you save the few thousand box of the Microsoft MSDN subscription scam.

      For my next C# project I plan to use Sharp Develop on Windows. I’ll wait for Mono Develop on Linux to improve and get more mature. I tried it a few months ago and it was far from usable in medium or large scale projects.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Philippe Chrétien

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