– Leaving Google Apps and DreamHost for Azure and Office 365

siteI’ve owned a long time. Back in the 90’s I hosted in my own basement data-center™.com, but eventually the costs became problematic. So, I switched to 3rd party hosting providers. Since then, I’ve bounced from provider to provider, never being satisfied with any of them.

My needs are simple. I have a custom domain, a little personal blog, and a few email accounts. I don’t want to spend a ton of cash on the services, nor much time on administrative tasks. At the same time though, this is the heart of my personal online identity. It needs to perform reliably.

A few years ago, after yet another of my hosting providers decayed into oblivion, I decided split my web and email hosting to different providers.

Email is the most painful service to move, so I decided to move it to Google apps. Google let non-corporate organizations, like me, host at Google Apps for free. They are a stable company, and handle email exceptionally well. So, I figured using Google might eliminate my biennial email migration hell.

For the web site, I chose DreamHost, one of the “premier” WordPress partners. Sadly, DreamHost just plain sucks. Their server performance is abysmal, and the network latency makes me wonder which African country hosts their data center –and if it’s powered by hamsters, or a dung-burning furnace. On the plus side, it is reasonably cheap. My blog isn’t exactly popular, so I could live with the sub-optimal service for a while.

In the years since that move, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with Google. They killed off “free” Google Apps hosting. I’m grandfathered into the plan, but as new services roll out or old ones get upgraded, us free-loaders are last to see an update –if we get updated at all.

Clearly, they want us to buy into a business tier plan. I don’t mind paying for my services, as long as the services are worth it, but Google has given me serious doubts about the value of their services going forward.

Their war against Microsoft has put customers, like me, in the cross-fire. They killed active sync for gMail while sabotaging key APIs across their other services. They refuse to write native apps for Windows 8 or Phone 8 at all –which wouldn’t be bad if they didn’t also interfere with 3rd party apps that try to bring Google’s services to Microsoft’s platforms.

As a Microsoft developer, and Windows and Windows Phone user, Google’s services –especially the Google Apps services– are nearly useless outside a web browser.

The value of using modern web based software services is the ability for it to become an integral part of the entire computing experience –across all platforms, devices and applications. Google seems to disagree.

I’m not claiming Microsoft is an innocent victim here. Microsoft’s legal extortion of licensing revenue from android was a real dick move, for example. But Microsoft doesn’t put its customers on the front-line. Microsoft encourages apps for Apple and Google products, often writing their own native applications when necessary. They certainly never obstruct my ability to use one of their services just because they don’t like the device I chose. They don’t play games with their APIs to sabotage their products on other platforms.

So, it got to the point where I only had two good options. Pay for a subscription to Google apps, or pay for Office 365. My primary concern is making sure I have email services for my domain. The rest of Google Apps or Office 365 are just nice-to-have extras.

Aside from my reservations about Google’s commitment to open, cross-platform integration, what tipped the scales firmly towards a move to Office 365 was Microsoft Azure. Azure is the cloud services platform backing Office 365, in the same way that Google App Engine backs Google Apps.

A move to Office 365 implicitly sets up my domain in Azure, which gives me the opportunity to reunify my web and email services under one provider again. Better still, Azure is a platform that I understand and work with professionally on a regular basis.

I could have hosted my website on Google Apps Engine too, but honestly it isn’t a platform I understand well, and the setup for WordPress there is not painless. On Azure, you just pick WordPress from the web site gallery and it’s done –stupid easy.

Unlike my past hosting providers, Azure’s prices scale very smoothly based on usage. Hosting a simple WordPress site, like mine, costs about $14/month. This is slightly more than a traditional 3rd party WordPress provider, but it performs significantly better too.

And the best part is that, as a subscriber to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), I get $100 a  month of credit to spend on Azure resources. This doesn’t count towards Office 365 licenses, but it effectively makes the web hosting free, and leaves plenty of credit for other projects.

On my old setup, Google was free, while DreamHost ran about $100 a year… and I was unhappy with both. After the switch, Azure is free, while Office 365 runs $120/year (because I need two licenses at $60/ea).

Bottom line — for an extra $20 a year, I get access to high-performance personal web hosting on a platform I know and trust, first-class email, and I regain the seamless service integration across my desktop and phone devices.


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