For the last year or so, I have been running my servers on GoGrid. The main reason for wanting to do that is because I wanted to run on a Windows 2008 server, and there was no good UI for managing EC2 at the time. I have been playing around with EC2, trying to see if this fit my needs better. Well, in reality, I was trying to see if locating a server instance in Europe would give me better latency when I need to administer the servers (it does).
Nitpicker corner: The following is a review of both providers for my scenario. I know that you’ll ignore that, but do try paying attention to the fact that I am talking about my scenario, and not yours.
After playing around with EC2 for several days, I came with the following conclusions. GoGrid & EC2 only looks similar. They are actually two different offering targeting different types of scenarios.
EC2 is to handle clouds, period. Server instances are meaningless, except maybe by their role. They come & go as they please and they are utterly disposable. That makes it great if what you want to do is have a cloud. It is very hard if what you want is just running server instances.
For my purposes, I don’t want to have a cloud of indistinguishable machines, I want to be able to run a lot of different sites on different machines. Maybe I want to have a set of machines for a single site, but I still want to be able to clearly and easily separate the machines that run nhprof.com and the ones that run ayende.com.
That made working with EC2 really uncomfortable, to tell you the truth. They don’t support anything like naming an instance, which make sense, from their point of view. You should not get attached to an instance, you should get attached to an image of that instance.
That doesn’t work quite that well for my case, however. I was willing to accept this limitation, but I run into a few others that were deal breakers for me.
- Amazon EC2 doesn’t support Windows 2008. This is really annoying, both because there are some features that I could have used and because Windows 2003 (their only Windows offering) is not supporting RDP saved passwords, and doesn’t support copy/paste in the login screen. Both of which make it horrible login experience with the crazy passwords Amazon assign.
- No good way to recover an instance. I setup an instance, told it to install security updates, and rebooted it. It didn’t come up. I am not sure what I am supposed to do in this case. You have to enter a support contract to recover this, as far as I could tell (and I wasn’t willing to do so just for the trial). It seems that the response would have been: ‘just recreate the instance’.
- Long instance provisioning time. Spinning up a new instance in EC2 seems to take about 15 – 30 minutes, which is annoyingly long. Yes, I know about reserved instances, not applicable for my scenario. (GoGrid feels faster, but I don’t have any data to say if it is faster).
Basically, they give you a server farm, you can create instances of machines, name them and manage them as individuals. They do support Windows 2008, and their support is phenomenal.
I have been running nhprof.com there for a long while, and overall, I love what they are doing, their support level and the experience.
Their main disadvantage compared to EC2 was that they didn’t support cloning an image, they fixed that a while ago, which makes me very happy.
This subtle difference, from focusing on set of instances to focusing on an instance, is a huge benefit for my scenario, because it allows me to manage the different parts of my infrastructure directly, instead of indirectly or via brute force.
One thing to note about both of them. They both consider instances to be disposable. If you have problems with a server, you are probably better off just creating a new instance and setting that up.
GoGrid is better than EC2 here, because they will try to salvage a dead instance, but you should have a backup and the means to restore it on a new machine ready, in the end, it is much easier than the alternative.
I am using a backup service (Mozy, if you care) for all my servers, and that takes care of that.
Note that my scenario is that I care about running my existing applications on a server in the cloud, not running in the cloud. That is why I didn’t even consider something like Azure of AppEngine. They don’t matter for this scenario.
If I was building a new application that required scaling, it would probably be a different sort of decision matrix, with potentially a different result.
From pricing perspective, they seems comparable. GoGrid says that they are cheaper, but they would :-)