Migrating away from Rackspace

It’s been a slow month or so for keeping things updated on the site. There’s been a couple of reasons. First, my son’s high school graduation involved attending numerous events and entertaining a house full of out-of-town guests. Second, I decided it was time to make the move away from Rackspace and migrate the blog to Amazon’s EC2 service. Here’s why I decided to make the switch and some lessons learned in the process.

When I launched the site during the second half of 2012, I chose Rackspace since we were using them as our cloud provider at work. I figured that learning how Rackspace worked would help me better understand architectural decisions and trade-offs we were making with our infrastructure. It was a decision I was comfortable with until this past month. I was disappointed by Rackspace’s failure to respond to price reductions by Amazon, Google and Microsoft back in April. It was finally time to check out how difficult it would be to switch over to a different vendor. Given Amazon has a free tier for the first year, they were the natural choice to try out first.

I started the transition last weekend and finished it over the last couple of days. I would have finished it much sooner, but Amazon released a new service tier in the middle of the transition. I was planning to use their t1.micro instance size, but shortly after I had the server up and running, they released a new set of server sizes that used the latest Intel processors and offered more memory and network resources for a cheaper price than their existing servers. Since ths would potentially be a long-term move, I made the bold decision to transition my setup work from the t1.micro instance to a t2. micro instance.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the transition and don’t plan to switch back. Here are some lessons I learned during the process and things that I’ve found better than Rackspace:

  1. On pricing, Amazon is a bit cheaper, but in my case it’s not that significant. It amounts to about $3-4 per month (once my free term expires). What I’m getting with Amazon is better equipment for the same price. The Rackpace instance is a 512M server while the Amazon instance is a 1G server.
  2. The security built in to the Amazon way of doing things seems to be better. I emphasize “seems” because I’m not a security expert, but it certainly feels better. The limitations and security keys that are setup out of the box at least give you the feeling of better security.
  3. The documentation Amazon provides is outstanding. It’s much better than what Rackspace provides, both in terms of organization and quality. It certainly made the experience of setting up a server much easier than what I remember with Rackspace.
  4. On the flip side, you do have to spend time up front setting up security groups and rules that you didn’t have to do with Rackspace. It results in longer setup times for your first instance, but I can see how it could make for easier server setup down the road, as well as a more secure environment as well.
  5. Amazon takes a more consumption based approach that Rackspace. It’s easier through Amazon to bring servers online or take them offline, and you don’t pay for servers that exist but are in a stopped state. It’s a better option for on-demand computing as you don’t pay for the resources unless they are up and running.
  6. Amazon prefers that you use their Elastic Block Storage (EBS) service for your servers. I know some purists don’t like using EBS, but I like that it allows me to easily separate the instance OS from the data. While migrating from a t1.micro to a t2.micro instance, I figured out how to configure the separation of my web server data such that I can easily change instances and incur very minimal downtime in the process.

It’s only been a week, so I’m sure there’s a lot more to learn, but I learned enough to tell that Amazon’s service is much easier to setup, easier to use, and offers more value for the money. I’m guessing that Rackspace is in a tough spot these days. If someone was to ask me to choose between the two, I would highly recommend Amazon over Rackspace. In fact, the experience has been so good, that I expect we’ll make the conversion in the business between now and the end of the year.

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