I have been impressed by the changes in the June release of Windows Azure, available through a sparkling new HTML-based portal that lets you create new virtual machines and web sites with a few clicks or taps. One of the new features is multi-tenant web sites, starting from free and scaling up to multiple load-balanced instances. I even wondered about moving this blog, which is on WordPress, to run on an Azure web site.
When you create a web site on Azure, you can choose between a free MySQL database or a paid-for SQL Server database. At least, that is what was announced, and it is kind-of true. However, if you choose a MySQL database, a message about agreeing to terms from third-party ClearDB pops up. Even your subscription details will be passed to ClearDB.
You click the link, and discover that the free MySQL offer is not generous. In fact, it is limited to a tiny 20MB, making is useless for most applications. It also has, according to ClearDB, low performance.
If your database may grow to more than 1GB you need ClearDB’s Saturn offer, at $49.99 per month.
This has killed my interest in running this blog on Azure, at least via this route. I am not familiar with ClearDB, but for all I know it is a fine company. Nevertheless, if I am betting on Windows Azure, I would rather not have to bet also on an unfamiliar third-party. I also note that many ISPs offer MySQL databases with few restrictions and better terms. Take UK ISP ICUK, for example, which I use on occasion. For £3.00 per month you can get Linux web hosting with up to 10 MySQL databases. They may not have all the features of ClearDB, but as far as I am aware (don’t take my word for it) they are on a fault-tolerant cluster and backed up nightly.
As I understood it, Microsoft’s goal with the multi-tenanted web sites is to provide a quick solution for test and development, that can scale to a serious web site. Maybe enterprises will not blink, but a $49.99 monthly plan for the database takes it out of the realm of quick and cheap test and development from my perspective.
It is also unfortunate that the Azure web site gallery does not provide an option to use SQL Server for some applications in its quick-create Gallery. These include WordPress and Drupal. I agree that these applications probably work best with MySQL, but you can configure them to use SQL Server.
There are other ways to bypass ClearDB. You could set up a plain PHP web site and configure it to run WordPress on SQL Server, for example. You could also use a Linux VM, even a Small Instance, with 1 virtual CPU and 1.75GB RAM, and put MySQL on there. Thanks to Azure’s fabric, it will have some resilience: all storage is, as I understand it, in triplicate.
In the end I guess this is not unexpected. Microsoft is a Windows company and you can understand why it wants to get someone else to manage MySQL; and also why it does not wish to undercut SQL Server with too generous an offer for MySQL.
Even so, the 20MB limit is a disappointment and makes the Azure free web sites less interesting.
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