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Some Users Complain about Windows Azure

by Abel Avram on Sep 01, 2011 |

Appirio switched from using Windows Azure to Salesforce.com’s Database, mentioning difficulties with deployment, using Web Roles and DBA overhead, while Adron Hall, a developer, complained about the SDK, price, and administration issues.

Appirio, an IT and cloud consultant, has recently launched CloudSpokes, a web portal for developers to compete on cloud projects for money. They initially developed the project using the Windows Azure services, but they switched later to Database.com, Salesforce.com’s database that is now available to everyone in the cloud. The New York Times published the some details on the technology change that took place.

The first problem mentioned was related to the deployment of a crowdsourcing project:

The deployment process was painful, especially due to how CloudSpokes decided to build its site. Because CloudSpokes had crowd-sourced site development, using its own contests to attract developers across the world, so any complexities in the process quickly became untenable, Dave Messinger, a community architect at CloudSpokes, explained.

Narinder Singh, Chief Strategy Officer at Appirio, added that Azure’s Web Roles lack true platform support:

Singh characterized the process as being close to Infrastructure-as-a-Service in terms of having to deal with low-level processes, which isn’t necessarily how most Platform-as-a-Service offerings, such as Windows Azure, market themselves.

But the main reason why Appirio moved to Database.com seems to have been the level of database administration skills required by Azure:

Windows Azure required some level of database-administration know-how, which is something the CloudSpokes didn’t really want to deal with. It wanted to focus on the front end and other business-critical aspects rather than on DBA work. So it looked to Database.com, and Messinger and Singh haven’ looked back since beginning the transition in mid-July.

The overall results of leaving Azure were summarized as increased productivity, fewer developers needed and overall faster project delivery:

  • A reduction to one full-time developer from seven when using Windows Azure.
  • First production deployment took only one month, compared with an estimated six months in Windows Azure.
  • Expected to take about two and a half months to go live, versus an estimated seven and a half months to go live using Windows Azure.

Another example was provided by Adron Hall, Senior Application Developer at Russell Investments, who wrote a post detailing some of the positive and negative aspects of using Windows Azure. He outlined a number of problems regarding the SDK, the price, and the administration tools:

Ok, the SDK has driven me nuts. It has had flat out errors, sealed (bad) code, and is TIGHTLY COUPLED to the development fabric. I’m a professional, I can mock that, I don’t need kindergarten level help running this! If I have a large environment with thousands of prospective nodes (or even just a few dozen instances) the development fabric does nothing to help. I’d rate the SDK’s closed (re: sealed/no interfaces) nature and the development fabric as the number 1 reasons that Windows Azure is the hardest platform to develop for at large scale in Enterprise Environments. …

Windows Azure is by far the most expensive cloud platform or infrastructure to use on the market today. AWS comes in, when priced specifically, anywhere from 2/3rds the price to 1/6th [of] the price. Rackspace in some circumstances comes in at the crazy low price of 1/8th as much as Windows Azure for similar capabilities. I realize there are certain things that Windows Azure may provide, … and that in some rare circumstances Azure may come in lower – but that is rare. …

The Silverlight Interface is beautiful, I’ll give it that. But in most browsers aside from IE it gets flaky. Oh wait, no, I’m wrong. It gets flaky in all the browsers. Doh! This may be fixed now, but in my experience and others that I’ve paired with, we’ve watched in Chrome, Opera, Safari, Firefox, and IE when things have happened. This includes the instance spinning as if starting up when it is started, or when it spins and spins, a refresh is done and the instance has completely disappeared! I’ve refreshed the Silverlight UI before and it just stops responding to communication before (and this wasn’t even on my machine).

The boot time for an instance is absolutely unacceptable for the Internet, for web development, or otherwise. Boot time should be similar to a solid Linux instance. I don’t care what needs to be done, but the instances need cleaned up, the architecture changed, or the OS swapped out if need be. I don’t care what OS the cloud is running on, but my instance should be live for me within 1-2 minutes or LESS. The current performance of Rackspace, Joyent, AWS, and about every single cloud provider out there boots an instance in about 45 seconds, sometimes a minute, but often less.

Hall continues with a number of positive features Windows Azure has, such as platform support, the .NET, PHP and Ruby on Rails ecosystem, SQL Server, Service Bus, Access Control, Azure Marketplace, SQL Azure, but he ends his post on a slightly negative note, practically saying that Azure is not up to the job yet:

Windows Azure has grown and matured a lot over the time since its release from beta. It still however has some major negatives compared to more mature offerings. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for those choosing the Windows Azure route, or those that are getting put into the Windows Azure route….

I do see myself using Windows Azure in the future, maybe not extensively, but it’ll be there.

We are wondering what other users can tell about their experiences with Windows Azure. What is your case? Have the benefits of using Azure outweighed its growing pains, or was it the other way around? 

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No mention of other .NET cloud offerings ? by Ben Keeping

This article reads a bit like an advertisement for database.com !
There are no other mentions of other .NET centric PAAS cloud offerings such as appharbor.com
Why the bias ?

Re: No mention of other .NET cloud offerings ? by Abel Avram

Hi Ben,
This was not a review of cloud .NET solutions, and it was not intended to be an advertising for anyone. It was just a report on Azure problems signaled by some users.
I wish someone would tell their success story with Azure. It's pretty hard to get real non-marketing study cases, telling the good and the bad.

Re: No mention of other .NET cloud offerings ? by Roopesh Shenoy

Actually, I'm pretty happy with Azure. A couple of years back, we decided to build an online SAAS extension to our product, and we went shopping for a cloud provider. We evaluated AppEngine, Amazon EC2 and Windows Azure in that order, including building some prototypes.

Appengine was hard - we had a lot of investments in .NET and SQL Server, and there was no way we could reuse them. We considered building components from scratch but then the price advantage completely vanished when we added the cost of redevelopment. Amazon EC2 was interesting, but it soon became clear that managing the stack is going to be painful. They had an RDS service for MySQL but nothing for MSSQL, which meant we had to manage the database on our own. Then we went to Azure - and have not looked back.

As a small team, we lack dedicated ops guys to take care of our SAAS offering. We had a huge reduction in time spent in ops when we went from Amazon to Azure. Besides, as a startup that was listed in Bizspark, we had price offers, which made it cheaper to start with Azure. Now we are coming to an end of that offer period, but we are pretty happy with the choice we made.

The only thing we have considered after Azure (and are still considering) is AppHarbor - it promises to be cheaper, and makes deployments more painless compared to WA. However they still don't have any SLAs, and their instance size still does not have any specifications.

That doesn't mean that Windows Azure does not have problems - one of the worst things we had to contend with was that SQL Azure databases does not have a standard backup feature - the only supported way till recently was to create a copy of the database, which will again be charged on an hourly basis. There were all sorts of hacks that we had to come up with to have a reliable backup system, which does not eat up into our budget.

And the dev fabric is buggy, at best. You will encounter all sorts of unnatural problems with horrible error messages that just won't tell you what's going wrong. Things seem to have improved with time, but I am not sure whether it is as good as I would like it to be, yet.

I find this hard to believe by Michael Wood

I'll definately agree with a few of the statements in this article, but I have to say that the improvements mentioned by Appirio by switching are a little hard to believe. To go from something that was going to take six months with seven people working to a single developer for one month? I feel like we aren't getting the entire story here as to what decisions were made for the architecture and approach. I also don't understand the statement of Windows Azure needing advanced database skills. It would have nice to have understood exactly what advanced database administration they were having issues with? Was it backup? What is sharding?

It would be more helpful to understand if all seven of those developers were originally full time (which given that it was crowdsourced I somewhat doubt that). If you bring on a single, full time resource to a project where people might be just doing a few hours a week then I can see the project productivity increase no matter what the platform. If this is the case this improcement is a red herring and not actually caused by the change in platform.

I feel like this article is very light on actual details and thus comes across as biased. The first part of the article just really doesn't hold water for me. As for the second half it gets more interesting as specific issues are mentioned. I can agree that the compute emulator needs some help, but at the same time there aren't that many cloud vendors out there that offer something like the compute emulator at all. I also agree that the SDK could benefit greatly from some interfaces, but there is nothing stopping you from wrapping the SDK functionality in your own abstractions anyway. In fact, in many discussions I've had with other architects I've come to the conclusion that having my own abstractions is better than relying on ones within the SDK.

Re: I find this hard to believe by Andy Babiec

Don't be surprised - you should be angry.

Angry that no one did any basic research. Like checking Wikipedia...

"Appirio was founded by Chris Barbin (former Borland Software CIO), Narinder Singh, Glenn Weinstein, and Mike O’Brien in 2006. In 2007, Appirio moved its headquarters into Salesforce.com’s Startup Incubator in San Mateo."

"In early 2008, Appirio secured a Series A investment of $1.1 million from Salesforce.com"

"In October, 2009, Appirio's Chief Architect, Jason Ouellette released a book titled Development with the Force.com Platform: Building Business Applications in the Cloud"

Gee, why would a company called a "Salesforce.com app maker" favor Salesforce's database.com over Azure???

The same company that received additional funding from SalesForce.com 3 weeks ago?
techcrunch.com/2011/08/26/salesforce-com-backs-...

I'm sure they put away their bias and provided their honest opinion!!

Re: I find this hard to believe by Eugene Tolmachev

+1 Insightful

Microsoft Windows Azure is a pure cheating by goutam bhat

Windows azure is one of the worst cloud providers. It states that there is a free trial. As soon as we signed up, it asked for credit card and in a few days, I got an email that my credit is utilized as our system supposedly had utilized "3 terabytes" in 20 hours. Next, we cancel subscription and 10 days later we get billed $330 into our credit card, again for "3 terabyte" of downloads and we send a mail and request that we do not even have 1 user nor a live product. They do not send any technical details, asking to contact "paid technical support". Again, they send another bill of $252. Microsoft has a made an art of cheating people throughout its life, Am I surprised?

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