So EC2 has a role especially if the software you want to use runs on Linux.  You can scale quickly and coordinate activity between a farm of machines using SQS.  But if your software doesn’t run on Linux you’re stuffed.

 The principle of EC2 is great because you pay for what you need.  Need an extra server for three hours or a 100 for a week?  Its great but only if its Linux.  So it was great to come across a service by GoGrid that offers essentially the same ability to pay for machines by the hour.  The benefit, from my perspective, is that the GoGrid service also supports Windows.  That is, you can fire up an instance of Windows 2003 use it for an hour or several hours or a day or a year and you only pay for what you use. 

What’s intriguing is the GoGrid pricing model.  They charge $0.19 per hour per GB RAM used.  This means two servers, each with 512MB RAM can be started.   Not much you might say.  But web servers aren’t typically memory hungry.  However each server is given a 3.0GHz Xeon processor so they are able to generate pages quickly.  The basic account can use upto 4GB.  The 4GB can be allocated to 1 machine or it can be shared between 8 instances.

I like this.  It means we can run a web server with 512MB RAM and start demo machines when we need them.  If we need to we can allocate 2GB to the demo machine and create a separate database server to ensure prospects see the software at its best.  GoGrid!

Here’s my summary of the of the strengths and weaknesses.

EC2 GoGrid
Strengths Custom images;
Pay by the hour;
Rich control options;
Programmatic control of instances;
coordinate instances using SQS;
Windows and Linux;
3.0GHz Xeon processor;
Discounts for bulk purchases;
Per GB RAM pricing;
Web farm can be hardware load balanced;
8, free, static IP addresses;
Weaknesses Linux only;
Basic machine unit only 1GHz Xeon equivalent;
No option bulk purchase to obtain discount;
Only 5 static IP addresses;
Have to pay for each one when not in use;
Can’t create custom images (*);
Can’t control instance programmatically (*);
Charged even if a machine is stopped;
Can’t save images (*);

Update (May 11th): The guys at GoGrid saw this post and let me know their weaknesses I’ve marked with (*) are being resolved.  I look forward to being able to create custom images and save snapshots as these will provide fantastic flexibility in a Windows environment.  I’ll update the blog when these features are available.

The remaining weakness (being charged for a server that’s not running) remains a weakness for me because any servers I may want to run must be configured whether used or not.  On the other hand the reason for this is that memory is reserved whether a server is actually running or not and I like that their pricing model is based on memory use so maybe I can’t have it both ways.  Perhaps the ability to create custom images will resolve my concern in this area too and look forward to finding out.

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Reader Comments


Thank you for the nice review. I wanted to clarify some things that you have listed in the “Cons” section, namely:
* API – we will be releasing an API that will allow you to control your GoGrid servers much the same way you can within the Web UI
* Charged for stopped state – this is because the RAM allocation is dedicated and reserved for your server(s) should you need to turn them on again instantly
* Saving images – a server SnapShot feature will be rolled out fairly soon as well
Be sure to check the GoGrid blog for more updates.

My first experience with GoGrid was terrible. My servers had died 8 hours after initially starting them. Within the first 72 hours, my 2 simple tomcat servers had gone down 2 times for about 6 hours each. I asked several simple questions, such as “How can I change the allocated memory per server?” and “Why do I have to give a public IP address to a database server?” Each response was a canned response saying it can’t be done. Very disappointing for what appears to be a decent product.

Your experience was not encouraging. Did you get in touch with anyone senior at GoGrid?

What I liked about GoGrid is that it offered Windows. If I’d just been using Linux I’d probably have stuck with EC2. In fact now EC2 does support Windows I’ve moved back there.

I did have some frustrating experiences and the frontline support was not that good. It seems to me like they cut a corner and used a help desk based in India but did not provide them with the tools to address anything more than the basics. Any detailed questions could only be resolved when the staff on the West Coast clocked on. However these staff did seem able to resolve problems.

In the end we did go with EC2. I found there were connectivity issues. I put it down to being 8 timezone (and about 30 hops) from the server. But its not really good enough and is a part of the reason I’ve returned to Amazon’s EC2 which I really like (see later post).