Introducing Everleap – WAP Powered Cloud with Consistent Pricing
The Internet is considered a great economic enabler, allowing anyone to set up a shop, and allowing small businesses to compete toe-to-toe with much larger businesses. One of the features of the Internet which enabled this was inexpensive shared hosting.
Shared hosting was great—easy to set up and deploy to, managed by your hosting provider, the features you needed at a low cost. As sites grew in popularity and complexity, and more and more sites were squeezed onto the same servers, shared hosting began to show its limits. If you wanted to isolate your application, or expand beyond the service limits of a shared host, your choices were limited to renting a virtual machine (a.k.a., a "virtual private server", or VPS), or purchasing your own hardware and renting space in a co-location facility. Either of these solutions requires a dramatic increase in monthly costs and the skills required to maintain.
The flexibility and freedom of a VPS sounded great, at least initially. Your OS licensing was covered, but if you wanted SQL Server or email, licensing/installation/management was all up to you. Even for a few moderately successful e-commerce sites the costs and time/skills required for management could quickly grow beyond a reasonable level. Not to mention hosting email and SQL and websites all on the same box brought you back into resource limitations. Pile on PCI compliance and it was enough to drive you to retire. Owning your own hardware was no better.
Many have wished for a better solution, something between shared hosting and self-managed solutions, but until now a good answer wasn’t available. This new much-wished-for-by-many service is Everleap (http://www.Everleap.com), launched earlier this year by long time hosting company DiscountASP.NET. DiscountASP.NET has specialized in IIS shared hosting since 2003, and has received numerous awards for their services. Powered by the Windows Azure Pack (the basic infrastructure of Microsoft’s own Azure services), Everleap is an exciting new service in the shared hosting space.
Before we get to Everleap, there is one other new option to discuss. In the last couple of years, cloud hosting (notably Azure Websites) has emerged as an offering in the hosting space. Perhaps the greatest advantage to cloud hosting is scalability, both scaling up (more resources per instance) and scaling out (more instances). Secondarily is the ability to choose from several different database options, use any of several languages and hosting configurations. Scalability and features are available to you, but everything has a cost, and that cost is not predictable in cloud hosting, making it difficult to budget and pass costs along to clients. Should you need support, you’ll find it via the byzantine process of the provider.
WAP – Cloud in a Bottle
While unpredictable in pricing, the scalability of cloud hosting is alluring. What if you could get the best features of cloud hosting, but at a fixed price? The Windows Azure Pack (WAP) allows hosting providers to bring you just that. The WAP is a hosting platform based on Azure, but which can be installed in private data centers. Not all of Azure’s services are available in the WAP, just the ones needed by hosting providers. Everleap has more of an explanation on their blog, at http://blog.everleap.com/what-is-windows-azure-pack/.
Earlier this year, DiscountASP.NET committed to building a new hosting experience with WAP at its core. Like many other hosts, Everleap supports ASP.NET, PHP, node.js, SQL Server and MySQL, allowing you to host a huge number of the most popular applications. Through its own web app demo gallery, Everleap supports several major .NET apps, such as DNN and nopCommerce (see http://on-everleap.com/), and Everleap hosts its own blog on Wordpress, as told in http://blog.everleap.com/why-we-moved-the-everleap-blog-to-the-everleap-servers/. Unlike other hosts, scheduled tasks and sockets (e.g., SignalR) are enabled, allowing you to add more sophisticated options to your applications. As they did with their standard IIS hosting, DiscountASP.NET built a custom control panel which allows you to manage all aspects of your services and account. You can see more details about the control panel at http://www.everleap.com/cloud-hosting/features/control-panel/.
What makes Everleap special isn’t having the same features you can find everywhere else. Perhaps the most important standard features of Everleap is that every site has two load-balanced servers available to it. Unlike traditional shared hosting where files are stored on the same machine as the web server, your files are stored on a SAN, and the VMs only host the web servers. With Everleap, two front end servers on different virtual machines are available to serve up your site. Billing plans can be for a single domain, or a multi-domain option, which allows for five domains per account (for a comparison of standard billing plans, see http://www.everleap.com/cloud-hosting/compare-plans/). With the multi-domain plan, all domains have two different server VMs available to them and are completely distinct websites from each other—they’re not sharing an app pool or require nameserver trickery to resolve to the proper site. You can always add more domains to your hosting account should you need them. Multi-domain is a great option for consultants who handle hosting for their clients, and since Everleap is fixed price hosting, your clients can budget accurately.
For many sites, shared web servers deliver suitable performance and a lower cost. Should you need your own dedicated web servers, a reserved server option is also available; see http://www.everleap.com/cloud-hosting/features/reserved-cloud-servers/ for details on this option.
"Cloud" and "scalability" are intrinsically linked concepts, and WAP-powered Everleap has several options which allow your site to grow. Should you need to scale out, you can do so by adding additional web servers. Scaling up—adding more memory and CPU per server, plus additional storage capacity—is possible via the Power Pack. The scalability options are introduced at http://www.everleap.com/cloud-hosting/web-sites/scaling/.
When it comes to deploying to Everleap, you have three choices—traditional FTP, WebDeploy, or using a Git repo. The Git publishing with Everleap is different than with Azure Web Sites. With Azure Web Sites, you provide credentials to a repository hosted on BitBucket or GitHub. Everleap creates a Git repo as part of your account, and you push directly to that repo.
Additional services offered by Everleap include domain registration, SSL certificates, SiteLock security and CDN, all of which are described on their site.
Once you’re signed up
Once you’ve signed up for Everleap, there are a few settings you’ll want to configure. If you’re interested in Git deployment, you’ll need to enable it. To turn it on, see http://blog.everleap.com/deploying-to-everleap-using-git/.
As mentioned above, Everleap creates a private Git repo for you, and you push to this repo as any other Git remote. The master branch is what gets published. This repo is very bare-bones and isn’t in any way a replacement for BitBucket or Github (especially if you have a team), but it’s lightweight and easy if you know Git.
Also, although two web servers are available to you, only one is enabled from the start. That’s because not all sites are prepared to handle multiple instances. Everleap has some advice (as far as the application is concerned) at http://blog.everleap.com/running-your-site-on-multiple-load-balanced-servers/. It would be a good idea to test for concurrency issues in your database also.
It was hard to find something I didn’t like, but after working with Everleap for a couple weeks (see below) there are a couple details you may want to note. Firstly, the reason only one of two web servers is activated by default is because not every application (especially older applications) will work behind a load balancer. Depending on how you handle session state, viewstate encryption or concurrency in your database, you may not be able to take advantage of the load balancing without some rework. Most well designed applications using a newer version of the .NET framework should have no problems, but if you’re concerned, sign up for the free 30 day account and test like crazy.
The other thing to be aware of is the Git publishing. Like I said above, if you’re familiar with how Azure Web Sites works you’ll think Everleap does things very differently. Regardless, Git publishing is suitable more for PHP, classic ASP or upcoming ASP.NET vNext, where code is not compiled into binaries. Typically you don’t check binaries into a Git repo, so if you want to use Git with a compiled site (such as anything ASP.NET MVC) you’ll need to make sure your Git tools are configured to commit binaries to the repo. Also, the Git repo is very lightweight, and is not really suitable for use as a true source control repository. It’ll work in a pinch, but it’s basically for deploying only.
My Personal Experience
For the purposes of this review, I was given a discount code, which I used to set up an Everleap account. Life quickly got in the way of my plans, and I did nothing for a week. One of their customer support reps reached out to see if I needed help setting up my site. That started a discussion about the Git deployment and future of ASP.NET vNext on Everleap. The ASP.NET vNext discussion was passed to a software engineer, who acknowledged Everleap will upgrade once WAP supports vNext. That’s a level of attention and information you don’t get everywhere.
To get an idea of how difficult it is to set up a site on Everleap, I decided to install Drupal on my account. I logged into the control panel, enabled PHP, created a MySQL database, and enabled Git deployment. Everleap’s custom control panel is smooth and well organized, so this entire process took only a couple of minutes. Locally, I used WebMatrix and installed Drupal from the gallery. I added my Everleap repository as a remote, and pushed all the files. Within a few minutes, I was able to access the site via the temporary URL assigned to the domain. I provided the MySQL credentials and completed the Drupal installer. All told, it took around 20 minutes from the time I logged in to the control panel until I had a fully functioning Drupal site running. The process could not have been easier. All that’s left is to update nameservers with a domain and I’d be running a full site.
With all the standard features—the number and capacity of databases, two load balanced servers, the file storage and more—I find it hard to believe the price is comparable to a good shared hosting plan. $20 a month goes a long way with Everleap. In fact, I have a couple of websites I’m paying more than that that, and getting less, so I’m seriously considering migrating them. Through the years I’ve hosted dozens of sites with about 6 or 7 hosting companies, and Everleap’s offering is the first one I’m really excited about.
Everleap is a new hosting options offered by DiscountASP.NET and powered by the Windows Azure Pack. Everleap offers basic features and scalability not found in other hosting plans with other providers, at a price which is comparable or less than close-comparable plans. I found Everleap to be easy to use, and for any recently built application a migration should be easy to accomplish. I’ve hosted dozens of websites on a number of hosts over the last 15 years, and I am truly impressed with Everleap.
For more information about Everleap, visit Everleap.com.