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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Mon, 06 May 2019

I can't host my sites on the 'free' tier of Google Cloud Platform unless I want to pay

I got pretty excited about the "free" tier of Google Cloud Platform and the idea of getting a free VM running Debian with which to do what I pleased.

I thought I might move all of my websites over there so I could enjoy the "free"-ness and learn more about running my own server and how to configure Apache and all of that.

But there's the fine print.

Google is giving these GCP services to anyone who wants them, but in the case of the free Debian VM, the big sticking point is the bandwidth limitation.

Google gives you 1 GB of "egress" per month. That means they don't charge you for "incoming" bandwidth, which is things like uploading to your VM, but you do have that 1 GB limit on "outgoing" data -- i.e. people, bots and others reading your web site.

I figured that maybe I could live with 1 GB/month. Not so much.

My personal sites (more this blog and much less my microblog) take up 5 to 20 GB per month, according to a check of my account with Hostgator, which could be charging me a little bit less but has otherwise been a rock-steady source of shared-hosting service.

And I'm hosting a client site that eats 20-30 GB per month.

So that's 25-50 GB per month total. That doesn't anywhere near fit in GCP's 1 GB bag.

For comparison's sake, Hostgator offers "unlimited" bandwidth, which I assume means that if you use a whole lot of bandwidth, they'll probably ask you for more money. That has never happened to me.

A "droplet" (aka VM) from Digital Ocean includes 1 TB of bandwidth per month. That's about 1,000 GB, in case you're not playing along at home.

A site from NearlyFreeSpeech.net, which meters you "as you go," and would probably cost me or less per month, gives a baseline of 10 GiB, which is slightly more than 10 GB (here is their expanation of GiB vs GB). And they say they really don't meter your site, so if you use more than 10 GiB (or 10 GB and change) per day, you are unlikely to get charged for it at all. For a month they'll give you 100 GiB a day (about 3 TB, which coincidentally you can get for the same price from Digital Ocean).

On Google Cloud Platform, it looks like if I used up to a terabyte a month, I'd pay 12 cents a gigabyte for delivery to areas other than China and Australia. So my 50 GB would cost about . If I used less, I'd pay less (and I'd pay more for more). If I used 100 GB a month, costs would double to . In the unlikely event that I used the full TB, I'd be in for . I could get that same bandwidth from Digital Ocean for . At my current "level," of traffic, GCP would be very competitive, but a spike could sting.

The cost to run 3 sites on NearlyFreeSpeech.net, according to their own estimates (2 sites using CGI or PHP and 100 MB of storage) is between .13 and .33 a month. I don't know why there is so much data in my current shared hosting account, but I'm using a lot of it, and my current hosting company seems a-ok about it. NFSN charges for storage, but if I factor in my increase in storage, I would still pay about a month. Not bad.

I'm paying more than this for HostGator, but not much more. HostGator is super stable. It uses CentOS 6, which is great in some ways and not so great in others. HostGator is STRONG in Ruby Gems, but not so strong in the Unix utilities like Unison (they don't have it, and it's hard to even find it in a "modern" build for CentOS 6).

NearlyFreeSpeech.net has way fewer Ruby Gems, but I really don't need them on my server, and for all I know I can install what I want. I love the idea of having built-in Hugo, Jekyll, Unison, etc. at NFSN. I could also install all of those things on a Digital Ocean (or any other) VM. It's possible but messy to do them in HostGator.

I have a sometimes complicated workflow in HostGator that works for me, but I could also replicate it elsewhere. Whatever happens, I do want to thank HostGator for years of great service.

Digital Ocean is a killer deal, but I'd be managing my own VM, and NearlyFreeSpeech.net is more limited, though there are a LOT of things you can do with all of the languages and utilities they offer out of the box.

The thing is, a VM is not automatically better or cheaper than shared hosting, as NFSN details in their FAQ. Having professionals handle all of the details involving security, server updates, system problems, etc., is really worth something.

One thing I do know is at the "level" I'm at, hosting with Google Cloud Platform could leave me with a nasty surprise when the bill comes due. I could say the same for AWS and Azure, though I'd have to do some more research to be sure. My "free" AWS account's year came and went some time ago. Azure gives 15 GB of outbound data on its free tier, which is 15 times better than 1 GB but still not enough to keep me from being charged.

Here are my takeaways

  • Digital Ocean is a great deal if you want a VM
  • NearlyFreeSpeech.net is a great deal if you want shared hosting and know what you're doing
  • HostGator (I'm a longtime customer) is a pretty good deal if you are happy with the service
  • The traditional cloud providers -- Google, Amazon, Microsoft -- are meant for huge users at real companies with massive needs and the money to fulfill them. If hit with a traffic spike, the small user will feel pain

Hobbyists, students of programming and small-business users are better served by shared hosting and Digital Ocean-style VM providers than they are by the big clouds.

What will I do?

  • My conclusion is that a combination of shared hosting and a VM is probably what I need

I'm still thinking about it. I like what Digital Ocean and NearlyFreeSpeech.net are doing. Yet in many ways, HostGator has treated me very well. But a shift to NearlyFreeSpeech.net will probably cut my bill by 50 percent.

Moving my sites and services from one host to another would be a lot of work. That's what companies are counting on. It's easier to stay where you are. But I'm probably ready to make a move.