To The Cloud!

I've had a lot of fun over the past few weeks playing more and more with cloud services and seeing how they can extend the functionality you normally get with a shared hosting plan. I blogged about my adventures setting up Amazon Cloudfront as a CDN (Content Delivery Network) using W3 Total Cache (which is one hell of a plugin the more I play with it). Tonight I decided to really mix things up and get a Rackspace account to see how the services differed and what they had to offer. This is certainly not an ad or evaluation of Rackspace as a service but I want to just put this out there: I've already gotten a personal email offering to connect me to human beings with names and phone numbers and someone on their team reached out on Twitter with some help when I mentioned the URL structure for their CDN being extremely long. Needless to say they're off to a killer start just in terms of customer service. W3 Total Cache supports using Rackspace as a CDN in the same way that they support Amazon CloudFront so I won't rehash how to go about setting that up, read the post here and you'll have a decent idea of how that works. As a quick recap the purpose of a CDN is that your blog likely has a decent amount of images in addition to CSS and Javascript files that get displayed when a user visits your site. These are static files and typically served from whatever server your hosting company is on (in my case Hippie Hosting's server is in Canada) and geographic location makes a difference in speed. A CDN takes a copy of every image in your media folder, all your theme files, and any other custom files you'd like to serve up and puts it up on their cloud storage which gets replicated to servers all over the globe. So someone in Australia isn't pulling images from the server in Canada anymore, they're getting them from a server right there in Australia and hopefully notice quite a speed bump. All of this is fairly automated using W3 Total Cache. Give it your Rackspace authentication info, upload all your files one time, and any new files you add (like the featured image of the post I'm writing) get mirrored to their server and served up using their CDN. If I ever turn it off it will switch right back to being served locally from my blog. Not only is this fairly easy to setup but Rackspace is dirt cheap. $0.10/month will get me 1GB of storage and they don't charge anything extra for the bandwidth to upload, download, serve via CDN, etc. I like their pricing scheme a lot more than Amazon in this regard because it's very straight forward. Up to 1TB is $0.10/GB with a few different tiers to serve massive amounts of files (you can see full pricing here). All my blog images and files amounted to just 200MB so for one freakin' dime per month I get the functionality of serving a copy of all images and files on my blog as close geographically to the reader as possible. That's pretty awesome! The other service I had wanted to try out was using Rackspace as a DNS server. I briefly played with this on Amazon which costs $1/month for 1 domain but I was pleased to see the service is actually free on Rackspace. Why would you want your DNS to run on another server? Speed is one benefit in some cases but the biggest advantage is reliability. If Hippie Hosting goes down I can easily point the DNS somewhere like a Tumblr blog to keep everyone up-to-date on what's going on. Now the downside is that any changes I make to my cPanel account I need to manually reflect on Rackspace so if I create a subdomain in cPanel I need to create an A record in Rackspace. That's a tradeoff I'm ok with though because the changes are almost instantaneous once your Rackspace nameservers have propagated and I don't edit my DNS often enough for that to be a major concern. So yeah, I'm flyin' high in the clouds and I'm loving it. I'll still keep my Amazon account around for EC2 access and some other things I like to do over there but it's fun to try out these different services to see what they have to offer and Rackspace is top notch in that regard.