Bloggers who fear the Cloud

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John Quiggin’s blog site has been down for a few days. It is WordPress powered but he runs it off a server (which had failed). As John has become quite the international force in economic commentary these days, this meant he was out of commission during the blog-intensive days of the American Economic Association meetings. This was compounded by the fact that he himself was out and about making things quite difficult.

Now John’s alternative mirror blog at Posterous was working so if you knew about this (as I did from Twitter) you could still see what he was writing. But it is hardly reader friendly to spread yourself over two blogs.

This is not the first time John’s blog has had trouble. Moreover, this happens to the other major independent blogs out there for Australia — Catallaxy, Club Troppo and Larvatus Prodeo. All run WordPress and all do it off their own servers. I recall each having problems — often caused in the summer by over-heating where-ever the server happens to be sitting.

I know from personal experience that having your blog go down is a major pain. And these are always timed for weekends, etc. But since I moved Core Economics to the cloud, I have had a much easier time. It wasn’t all smooth sailing as clouds can suffer their own issues. But since I have coupled my WordPress blog with Vaultpress I haven’t had an issue. They are my support site. That is a year with not one problem.

You might think that the issue is cost. It is but it goes the other way. Core Economics pays $6 per month for hosting at Bluehost. The major cost is $40 per month for Vaultpress. I don’t know what these other bloggers are paying but I bet it is much more than this. Also, I pay nothing for traffic.

So now comes the bleg. I’d like to understand why other bloggers shy away from the Cloud to host their blogs. I really don’t know the reason. Could it be that they fear a Wikileaks like take-down? Is it a security issue? Or have I missed a cost saving somewhere? Please leave any comments below. I’d like to understand.

Joshua Gans is a visiting researcher at Microsoft. All views here are his own.

16 Responses to "Bloggers who fear the Cloud"
  1. In a nutshell all you and others are doing is outsourcing the hosting of your blog.  That is paying someone else to perform a task that you find either too much effort or are not qualified to do.  There is nothing wrong with this.  Most fear a lost of control or don’t “trust” (this term is used in a variety of ways) pushing their content into an environment managed by others.  And still others are not comfortable with the cost no matter how low it is.
    I am reminded that every July – a security researchers website will get defaced (since its around the time DefCon happens).  Does this mean that the security researcher is not a good at his profession?  No.  It just means he sucks at administrating websites.  Its a different skillset and one that most guys like me no longer have or don’t want to put the time into any more.  Its the reason i finally stopped hosting my own SMTP and web servers.
    And please – no offense – this isn’t the “cloud”.  All you are doing is outsourcing the hosting.  At best its “IaaS” or “Infrastructure as a Service” but even that’s a stretch.

  2. My current choice is the result of drift. I originally signed on for personal management from one of the early WordPress gurus (name escapes me now, but can probably recall it when I get back to my home time zone). He found it too much work and passed me on to a small hosting service. They were then bought out by Joyent. At some point in the process I got a lifetime deal, so my marginal cost is zero – of course that also means I don’t have a lot of leverage. Joyent are mostly helpful but non-tech individuals like me are not their target market. Still, inertia keeps me where I am.

  3. I started and have stuck with blogger. Google hosts. It’s not as pretty as what can be achieved in WordPress (though it’s much better now than it was a year ago).  But I’ve never heard of rogue plugins knocking things out or crazy hosting problems. And I figured Google unlikely to go bankrupt or have other administrative issues that would mess with things. That said, Blogger kicked me out for about 5 days over Christmas last year, reckoning I was a spam blog. I failed a Turing Test. Particularly disappointing.

  4. Richard’s right in that Club Troppo, Catallaxy and Larvatus Prodeo are all on the same server. It’s a virtual private server based in California that I pay for.
    Troppo’s historical problems have been many; for a while it was due to a physical server overheating in Perth heatwaves. Before that we had a shitty VPS provider, before that crappy shared hosting.
    I’m not sure what affected Catallaxy. Shared hosting woes I think. Ditto LP, I don’t know about their history.
    I’m not as good as a professional service, as the division of labour predicts. But I feel I’ve gotten pretty good. So long as the data centre stays up (amazingly it went down twice late last year) those sites remain available. Upgrading and backups are largely automated and the site has been tuned and retuned several times for performance in the face of greedy plugins and traffic surges.
    Incidentally, WPEngine are a cheaper WP hosting service. I wouldn’t give Vaultpress a 50c coin to scrape gum off my shoe.

  5. I double-checked, I was wrong about the prices. WPEngine would be about as cheap for a single blog, but for a multi-blog outfit like Ozblogistan it would be more expensive.

  6. Jacques, I’m the co-founder of WordPress and one of the folks behind VaultPress. Curious what would make it gum-worthy in your view?
    Our philosophy is that something will always go wrong that you couldn’t anticipate, so we try to have ridiculously redundant stored-in-11-locations real-time backups, combined with security hotfixes and scanning, to make sure that life in the fourth quadrant is hedged. 🙂

  7. Matt;
    I’m sure that VaultPress is an excellent service. WordPress.com is stable and you’re the same crowd. It’s just that I as an admin been burned by WordPress itself so many times that I have transferred a pathological hatred to all who have a hand of it (except Donncha, that guy is great).
    OK, so the backing up is great (<a href=”http://chester.id.au/2010/01/11/automated-backups-for-ozblogistan/”>I use tarsnap</a>). And automated security hotfixes … it concerns me that so many are required after so long. Does WordPress have unit tests yet?
    I personally see the fact that a professional subscription is required to ensure stability, performance and security for small blogs as an unflattering reflection on WordPress itself.
    However my users like the UI (it’s gotten very nice) and there is nothing else that has the same ecosystem. WordPress it is.

  8. What burned you about WordPress? It’s unusual to hear someone who’s had such a bad experience and maybe there’s something we can do to help make sure nothing goes wrong in the future.
    Your backup script looks fine, but as you note be sure to test restores regularly.
    Our security has gotten a lot better from the early 1.0 days, in fact until recently there hadn’t been a remote security problem in over a year and a half. VaultPress has nothing to do with performance, but I agree that small blogs should have very modest resource usage especially with plugins like Supercache.

  9. Matt;
    There’s a long list of things. For a long time it was performance. Then there was an upgrade script which blew away three months of posts (sorry, I don’t recall the details just now). Then more performance stuff. Then some bugs lingering in the tracker for ages, buggered if I recall what they were for. For a while WordPress made massive strides in features but bugs would sit in Trac for month after month without getting a lookin. On reflection I should have gone and tried to eyeball the code myself.
    These days, to be honest, WordPress is a lot better than it used to be. If you’re prepared to fiddle with at least supercache, it’s in the sweet spot for features. That doesn’t change my personal history of it breaking or choking on me. A lot of the time it was my fault. And a lot of the time bloody well wasn’t.
    Sometimes it isn’t WP’s fault either (PHP is a common offender). You’re stuck with the LAMP architecture and having to deal with a wide variation of shared hosting messes. It bugs me that to get WordPress to really hum I’ve wound up swapping Apache for lighttpd (and lighttpd for nginx due to a FastCGI bug), installing supercache, setting up the redirects, installing opcode caches, installing process managers (first spawn-cgi and then PHP-FPM), tuning MySQL, tuning PHP, tuning kernel settings … it’s all a bit tedious really. I guess I’m in it for the glory of hosting the Terrible Trio at this point.
    I do want to thank you for this much: I’ve learnt that under no circumstances do I wish to become a professional systems administrator.

  10. Oh yes, I forgot. Encoding issues. Not your fault but utterly maddening.
    And WXR is broken for large exports. I’ve never seen it successfully move more than a few megabytes — and I’ve tried several times because using sed and TextMate to massage database dumps to load into WPMU without causing the end of creation has also proved to be very, very tedious.

  11. Encoding is a PITA.
    WXR should work for any size, but it is dependent on your server settings for upload size and memory usage. We’ve done ones tens of megabytes before.

  12. Matt;
    No such luck. Even if I set PHP memory limits very high (hundreds of MB) it still regularly blooms and dies for files < 10Mb (Club Troppo, for example, has a WXR of around 60Mb, Larvatus Prodeo around 80Mb).
    My working theory is that the XML parser tries to build a total in-memory graph before transformation in SQL. Not ideal.

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