In an event on Windows Azure we ran earlier in the year my colleague Charles Young discussed some practical points to consider when designing solutions to run on Windows Azure one of which was – “be cost aware, not cost fanatical” or – “don’t distort your design to cost-driven-design”.

I thought this point is very true and the clarity and visibility that cloud brings with regards to cost that rarely exists for on-premises solution does risk muddying the water somewhat. Pragmatic teams would weigh in additional costs associated with better design with long term benefits, but I can see how this can go wrong for some.

Recently I spent a day with a customer in an exercise that highlighted how real this is –

The short story is that ‘the business’ needed a little data-driven web application built and so ‘the business’ contacted a reputable digital marketing agency to build it for them. 

‘The business’ was in no position to suggest to the agency where the web site will be hosted and so they went about their business as they saw fit, not necessarily considering set-up and operational costs.

‘The business’ then went to IT and asked them to arrange for the solution to be hosted. IT went to their default hosting solution which quoted them around £9,000 per month in hosting cost.

Thankfully, somebody at this point though to look into hosting this in Azure and in my recent visit we’ve calculated that this would cost around £650 per month to run on Windows Azure. a fair bit cheaper than the default position, enough to allow for quite a few ‘eventualities’ even beyond my initial conversation.

What I found really interesting is that the web site, being data-driven, needed a facility to allow the business to import new data regularly and the agency, not being aware where and how the solution would be hosted, have made the very reasonable decision to implement that import logic using SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS).

Unfortunately, on Windows Azure, this seemingly small decision meant having to add a SQL Virtual Machine to the mix which so far included a couple of web roles and SQL Databases and that VM alone, at around £350 per month, is around half of the entire running cost of the project.

Had this been known at the outset, would the design decision be different? hard to tell – so many different personas involved – the business who drive requirements but are also responsible for the bills, the agency who come up with the design, IT who are responsible for the day to day running and operations – but I can certainly see that weighing up the options could easily suggest that spending a bit more time in developing the import logic as part of the web site and not using SSIS could save a fair bit in the long run in running costs.

So, no – you don’t have to design with cost in mind, and you don’t even have design with cloud in mind, but you will miss some benefits if you ignore your hosting platform.

Cross posted on the Solidsoft Blog

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