Cloud breakup: Why CloudSpokes chose over Azure

divorce’s service just entered general availability earlier this week, but it already has at least one happy user. CloudSpokes, an Appirio-led community that hosts contests in which developers compete on projects for cloud companies with the goal of winning a monetary prize, recently re-architected the site from Microsoft Windows Azure to, and its team couldn’t be happier with the results.

The relationship with Windows Azure wasn’t always sour, though. Narinder Singh, chief strategy officer at Appirio, told me that Windows Azure certainly has its strong points, but the deployment process was painful, especially due to how CloudSpokes decided to build its site. Because CloudSpokes had crowdsourced 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.

Initially, Messinger said, his team was really happy with Windows Azure’s table storage and blob storage features, but trouble arose when it came to deploying computing resources called “Web Roles.” 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. Because the team was new to Windows Azure and already was expending resources learning it, the added complexity was too much to handle.

Additionally, said Messinger, 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, and Messinger and Singh haven’t looked back since beginning the transition in mid-July.

Not only does take care of the heavy lifting — it offers helpful tools and dashboards, and developers can interact with the database through a REST API — but it also helped ease the process of running various parts of the CloudSpokes service on different cloud backends, Messinger explained.

Because CloudSpokes crowdsourced the development of various aspects of the site, submissions came in using all sorts of languages and cloud platforms. When the new site is flipped on near the end of this month, the front end will run on Heroku, and the middle tier will run on a combination of Heroku-, Google App Engine- and Amazon Elastic Beanstalk-based services. And, said Singh, the only developers who had to know CloudSpokes utilizes were those participating in contest to expose certain aspects of that platform.

Messinger said that Windows Azure would have allowed a certain degree of interfacing with these third-party cloud computing platforms, but that it would have required using Microsoft tools rather than REST calls.

As with many thing cloud, though, the proof of a project’s success is in the numbers. Here’s a sampling of the improvements that the CloudSpokes team experienced:

  • 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.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user banjo d.

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