Final Notes on Microsoft Azure

These are my final notes on Microsoft Azure. It’s not meant to be taken as a review, but just yet another experience.

I’ve spent a total of two months with Microsoft Azure(referred as Azure from here on). Most of the time I spent with Azure was using their B-series virtual machines which for small/medium sites it’s perfect. My complaints about Azure does not start with the service quality but the prices they offer. I left Azure with a satisfied experience, yet somewhat bitter I couldn’t keep using them.

Azure is yet another cloud services like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, etc. You can spin up as many virtual machines, put them in the same virtual networks, or put them behind a load balancer, or simply keep it private as the choice is ultimately yours. There’s also a vast amount of services Azure offers for a very steep price as well. Managed database servers, DNS hosting, storage services, cognitive services, container services (application server plans), and the list goes on.

There’s something I have to point out. Like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, Azure is not for beginners. Yes, there are beginner tutorials but put it in the context of “I have experience configuring linux servers, but I’ve never used Azure or AWS”. That’s the beginner context I’d like to highlight because there will be a lot of terms that will make people scratch their heads wondering what they mean. I think it’s a necessity to point out what defines a beginner when it comes to cloud services.

Now jumping back to the subject. I loved working with Azure network security group (firewalls, etc). It gave you most of the controls you needed to open/close inbound/outbound ports. Their storage services was a incredible delight to use, especially and specifically the file share storage. Being able to mount the file share on Windows and Linux was just pure bliss for me as I could backup visually anything from a server outside Azure, or even my personal computer back into the file share. File (storage) is something I’m really excited about and something that I’d like to see grow consumer wise because there’s nothing more satisfying than mounting a file share, do your tasks, unmount and be on your way to the next server.

I couldn’t find any services that aligned with what Azure did with its File storage. And this is outside cloud services. I’ve been looking at a service where I could do this without paying an exorbitant amount of money. If you know any, let me know in the comment section.

There are two glaring issues I have with Azure. Let me start by saying that I know Scott Hanselman wrote (two?) articles titled Penny pinching in the cloud where he goes on showing you how to save money with Azure. I think having an estimate of $33 monthly without accounting for bandwidth is not saving money. This isn’t me criticizing him in any way, I just feel like the intentions may be misinterpreted as just telling people Azure is cheap and you should totally get on our services. And to be fairly honest he mentioned multiple times that you should just stick with “that $5 dollar service”, which by the way if you haven’t visited Linode and used their service it’s to be honest up there in terms of quality. It’s probably the best $5 spent if you are just starting out there.

I have to disagree with Mr. Hanselman on his “penny pinching” articles. Azure isn’t cheap and I don’t believe you can save any money outside of reserved instances. However, I do think that you get what you pay for. Linode may have the best $5 expenditure and get an amazing service, but Azure wins in the sense that it does not limit your CPU usage in any way. Let me do the best to explain: Linode, being awesome as they are have a somewhat strict and disturbing terms of services. What makes it disturbing? If you use your CPU a lot Linode may be notifying you about it, or even stop the services if they find it’s impacting other users. And I have a lot to say about this because to me while Linode tries to sell it as a “way to maintain quality; and this is a shared environment” in my eyes is just “we want to maintain a low level effort on limiting everyone VPS resources while maximizing profits”. This is my interpretation on how Linode operates, and ultimately it’s the vibe their terms of services give off. I’m open to be proven wrong on Linode.

Meanwhile in Azure, if you have a  CPU skyrocketing at 80% because it’s doing something CPU intensive Microsoft won’t bat an eye at it. So in a sense Azure, AWS, Google Cloud probably has your back on doing CPU intensive tasks. I personally would be at a fear using Linode, Vultr, Digital Ocean trying to use what I’m paying for. They could come and shut you down anytime they want.

The other issue is bandwidth. Azure needs to offer reserved capacity for bandwidth. It’s direly needed for that wide adaption on small business/medium business sector. No one wants to pay $88 bucks for 1TB bandwidth. I’m not saying that everyone is out there hoping to use that amount because if that was the case a lot of service providers would be either out of service or plainly struggling. The pay-as-you go for bandwidth has to be improved for a massive Azure adoption rate, in my opinion. I can deal with virtual machine prices because reserved instance has my back on this.

In conclusion: Microsoft Azure is amazing, and ultimately if you have the money and don’t mind paying premium I ask you to give it a try.  For small time people like me, Azure comes off as an overpriced service. I hope to come back to Azure someday, but it’s highly unlikely with those bandwidth prices.

 

ArubaCloud is not as bad as I expected: A contender to the “one dollar wonder”?

I’m astonished that my first experience with ArubaCloud is not as bad as I initially expected. It’s not how I expected to open this post tonight and it’s certainly something that I’ll be giving a real test throughout the year because when you offer $1 Virtual Private Servers you can’t help but wonder how they stay in the business while providing such a cheap service.

Let me start by saying that this is not a VPS review, but hopefully a journey that will lead me to do a full review in a near future. ArubaCloud simply put is one of those services that makes you scratch you head and wonder if it’ll be okay to leave your site/blog/forums in the hands of a $1 dollar service.

What can I expect from a $1 VPS service? I have no idea. But I can tell you what I don’t expect from a $1 VPS:

  • Network stability
  • Good uptime
  • Support (come on, let’s be realistic here and say that support was never thought of for this type of service)

ArubaCloud has a lot of things that it got right: The separation concerns between billing and managing your cloud are split in two different areas. Billing takes care of charging for the service and the control panel manages all things with the service. At first sight it may not look like the most user friendly experience but having that peace of mind that I can have two different passwords for billing and managing my cloud is not that bad in my book. Of course, this is incredibly debatable and I’m sure there are people out there that don’t want it like this.

ArubaCloud control panel is the heart of all things related to the cloud. The server creation process is straightforward but the user interface leaves much to be desired of and while that’s the case I was still able to get everything up and running in exactly:

Exactly one eternity later. The problem with ArubaCloud is that it’s under so much demand that it took around 6 hours to get my server through whatever queue they have. Before I even had access to the control panel I had to wait 24 hours to get my ArubaCloud account fully activated because it’s, and this is conjecture here, manually activated.

Another bad thing is that their ticket system is quite literally broken. I could never open a new support request. On a similar note, I don’t think I would blame any poor soul there trashing the ticket system so it doesn’t work because the high amount of support tickets for a $1 VPS must be too damn high.

I researched about ArubaCloud a bit before diving in. Yes, I was doing a full checkup on it because I’ll be using it in production for the hostname https://storage.thehumble.ninja/ and as the name states it’s mainly used for storage at the moment.

Now for the intriguing part is that, and please bear with me here because I will probably be called out for this and it’s only expected. Whether I hit the cluster bingo or not I can safely say I’ve had a better experience on this $1 VPS than on Vultr, Digital Ocean, and Namecheap (VPS, and shockingly it’s faster than the VPS Namecheap provided me). Usually my experience with the services I mentioned above is that they have something in common, a common that should also affect ArubaCloud but strangely doesn’t. They are under high demand. I’ve yet to replicate the same performance I get from Azure in DO, Vultr, Namecheap. I do not know why but Azure and now ArubaCloud performs better for me than any of the services I mentioned. Whenever I used SSH on DO, Vultr, Namecheap it always lagged out and took a while to send/render what I typed, not only that the time taken to render PHP pages was just longer.

It’s all highly dependent on so many factors that I know I’ll be called out for the simply reason that not everyone is experiencing the same. It could be a networking, hardware, availability of the CPU/Disk to process my requests to it (which is also part of hardware). With Azure I feel like I have a local server at home because of how simply responsive it is and with ArubaCloud I feel the same as well.

After my server was set up I upgraded the server to the latest Ubuntu Server LTS (18.04). I enhanced security the best I could and enabled UFW after setting up all the rules because I don’t like leaving ports opened to the public. Then I did a speedtest and to my surprise it wasn’t that bad:

In conclusion: It’s one dollar. I don’t expect much from a dollar and you can only stretch it so much to the point that you get a VPS out of it, quite elastic if you ask me.

In all seriousness. Give ArubaCloud a try. I am in no way related to them, but I thought that if you are someone with a site that currently can’t spend on a premium service like Vultr, DO, Linode, and the whole known gang of cloud hosting then honestly you don’t have much to lose at all.

The weird case of foreign languages

I have noticed over the months I have been working on my app that managing foreign languages like Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc takes a memory hit to the point that it spikes up the memory usage–as one would expect. Sure, I expect more memory usage… but we are talking about a spike from 60mb (normal usage) to 80-100mb usage per entry–thus I was forced to call garbage collector manually as I couldn’t wait for the QML/JavaScript engine to do the clean up when there’s “inactivity”.

So, I was worried and added initial linux support to my app (never been planned to be released under linux) and found out that languages such as Japanese walks a fine line of 40mb memory usage. The garbage collector works twice as fast as well. For example, in Windows I’d call garbage collector and it doesn’t do it that fast. In linux? Blazing fast. It’s not much about the speedness of how fast it takes to free the memory, it’s the usage. I’m talking that Windows still takes 60-80mb+ (and up) while the linux build keeps walking the 40-50mb line.

Now, initially I suspected a memory leak, but that wasn’t the case. The Windows build just takes that much memory, and it worries me. Part of what keeps me at ease is that since this will be an android application; I can expect the same behavior that I get here in my linux mint in Android. Memory will be freed and the usage will be kept at minimum.

Granted: Pure naked eye seeing memory usage is not enough to suggest there’s a memory leak or that there’s a memory mismanagement, that’s the job of a profiler After running valgrind a few times I couldn’t find any memory leak just petty warnings, so I proceeded to guard against it, well, it wasn’t much about guarding as I honestly needed to free the objects that are no longer needed after X time. Plus, I also rationalized the usage that Windows is just being Windows… maybe Qt is pulling something that requires big allocations in Windows, but not in Linux for whatever reason. I do think that it has something to do with the font mechanism in general… but who knows at this point.

My e-mail service makes me uncomfortable

Ever since we had the privilege to use Gmail (Googlemail) e-mail service back in 2004 Google became our favorite search engine, and truly our favorite e-mail service dethroning hotmail, yahoo, and other popular services by introducing a fresh look.

Its feature rich web interface and the features it offered made me rave in delight for days and weeks. Over the years, the hidden price of using such service unfolded to see it plagued with privacy issues.

This type of issue may make some throw hands up while rolling your eyes with a “here we go again…”. Truth? Most of us have nothing to hide, yes. Having “nothing to hide” is the go-to response to privacy concern issue in which I find quite short-sighted as it’s enabling Google as a company to keep this practice.

Perhaps I am too paranoid, maybe. I’d also like to keep whatever I talk to between my colleagues, friends, relatives in private and not be part of Google’s targeted ads. Which reminds me, did you know that anything you talk through Google Hangouts is also used for ads? No? Give it a try.

All in all, I am cursed. You hear me right, I am cursed because for many many years I have used the same e-mail address in services like Amazon, Ebay, PayPal, Facebook, you name it. And now I am “forever” tied to Google ads machine. What I fear is not the Ads machine but what comes after it.

  • Profiling your behavior
  • Search behaviors

All the searches you have made, all the things you have talked through google services is going to become a carcass of what you may may not do. It takes no genius to realize that the could also be gathering data of the places you visit through the millions and millions of sites that uses Google Analytics, including this site. Has there been a report as such? Not really, at least not yet.

Google have given us ever reason to distrust it. Sadly the giant is so big nobody sees the threat up in the air. As for me I have to find ways to transfer all the services I use to the new e-mail.

To those who wonder which e-mail service protects your privacy:

  • Check out Posteo.de they also do transparency reports and often calls out on authority abuse.
  • Check out fastmail.

Restoring data

If you are currently reading one of my How-To articles or downloading the WINE binaries for a game. My apologies, I’m currently restoring the data as I migrated everything to Ghost blogging platform.

It won’t take long; I’m just waiting for rsync to finish uploading all the data, then I’m off to tweak a few setting in nginx and I’m done.

I’d also like to announce that the script I used to migrate from Pelican to Ghost will be available.