Windows Azure… One Year After

We have been using Windows Azure for almost a year, hosting our portal (Hoteles.com.co), and the results have been quite good in general. Compared to the rest of PaaS offerings in the market, this is a great solution if your expertise is around the Microsoft stack – specially .NET and SQL Server.

For v2 we are planning to leverage more of the Azure platform, specially the Azure Storage. We will be servicing Hotel images directly from here. This could enhance the already good response times we have right now. Activating the CDN for this would bring some additional benefits as well.

The other good experience (should I say, the most important for us?? 😉 ) have been around the costs. After some changes, like moving out the Content Admin application from Azure to my regular Hosting provider, we are now paying an average of  60 USD per month. Not bad for a reliable and fast platform like this with access to data in SQL Server.

However, Azure is a new platform, and although it provides a good set of basic services, the portal still lacks of some important services, some available in some other PaaS offers (like AWS), such as:

  • It stills lacks an out-of-the-box UI in the Azure portal that enable Admins to monitor the load of the instances (in term of CPU, RAM, Disk Access, etc) – pretty much the functionality offered by really good tools like Azure Diagnostic Manager by Cerebrata. Why is this important? Well, because either you or the platform need to make decisions base on the load.  Should we allocate another instance to accommodate an increase in traffic?  — this is the base of the elasticity paradigm.  The Azure portal should bring some support to define such rules. The capability to define the number of instances per day of the week (i.e. what if the solution expects more traffic during the weekend..)
  • In addition, there is a lack of traffic statistics reporting in the Azure Portal. We are currently handling this through Google Analytics – but it would be great to have this integrated in the Azure portal.
  • It would be valuable to have access to some “Event Log” window from the Azure Portal with diagnostic information. Sometimes your application has problem and does not start but you cannot get the error info – it is like flying blind.

The good thing is that Azure is really strategic for Microsoft, and I expect to see this functionality shortly as part of the service.