Hosting a Site on Microsoft Azure

This is part of my series of try some alternative hosting options. I decided not to stop with S3 and instead to carry on with a few more options I found. One of these was Microsoft Azure.

I was thinking, like Google and Amazon, I would use their storage platform, using a Blob on Azure Storage. The problem was getting my domain pointed at it and the lack of support for default documents (so you have to specify index.html on the end of URLs).

They do offer some free tiers for their Web Apps though, which is their names for hosting websites, whether they be static HTML, PHP, Python, NodeJS or .Net. You can build and host up to 10 apps for free. So I decided to give that a whirl.

Getting Started

To start you need to sign up for a Web App. That will ask you to create an account using Microsoft Online, Google or Facebook logins. You’ll also need to pick a type, based on the language you want to use. I opted for an ‘Empty site.’

When it’s created you’ll get a random subdomain of azurewebsites.net. For some reason I had a countdown suggesting the app was only available for an hour. There was also a link to click to extend it to 24 hours. There was also the option to sign up for a free 30-day trial, which allows the 10 apps. So it’s all very misleading.

So next I had to figure out how to sign up for the free trial, which seemed to send my round in circles. Then I went through a sign up process on a page that took forever to load and re-load. I had to verify myself by text (or phone), I thought they weren’t going to request my card details, but they did. Eventually it created my account (which can take up to four minutes apparently). What a rigmarole.

Once you’re over that hurdle you’ll find your test site is now pointless and you’ll have to create an app all over again. Now you get to pick your type of plan and have to find the free one as it’s tucked away. You also have to create a resource group, something to with sharing permissions. Then you get to wait until the app is deployed. Finally you have a site!

There’s a bunch of options to load your files, from git to Visual Studio. One option is good old FTP (yay). I found the FTP/Deployment User was set to ‘No FTP/deployment user set’ and no obvious way to change it. It took me a web search to find I had to go to ‘Deployment credentials’ and enter some details. Finally I could upload my files to the wwwroot folder.

Then I ran into a showstopper: Custom domain names are not enabled for the Free tier. You have to switch to the £5.91 per month ‘Shared’ tier instead.

Bullshit Microsoft.

Speed

I again ran my standard series of tests once uploaded.

Original hostTest host
PS Rank (Mobile)88/10074/100
PS Rank (Desktop)93/10087/100
WPT First Byte0.156s0.261s
WPT Fully Loaded2.892s1.791s
WPT Bytes (KB)1,093333
GTMet YSlow88%91%
GTMet Load Time2.5s3.9s
GTMet Size (Mb)1.05300
GTMet Requests1515

Page Speed dropped but YSlow increased when compared to a standard LAMP host.

Other stats got a slight boost. So it looks a reasonably snappy platform.

Summary

Set-up difficultyPoorIt was a total pain in the rear to get this set up, then I found some things aren’t available on the free tier.
Set-up timeAverageIt took a while to figure it all out. Things that should have been simple, weren’t.
SpeedGoodPretty good when it came to speed.
CostPoorThe supposed free tier was a waste of time.

Final Thoughts

It turned out to be a waste of time. Microsoft really should be more upfront about the limitations of their ‘free tier.’ For starters, if you go that route you only get a site for, at most, 24 hours. If you opt for the free trial, despite offering so many dollars/pounds of usage, note that it’s limited to 30 days. There’s also the limitation that on the web apps you can’t use a custom domain!

They don’t support static sites through their Blob storage so you’re stuck with a web app, which is overkill for a static site and expensive compared to what you can do on other cloud offerings or via standard shared hosting.

Which is a shame as my quick test suggested that it was a reasonably quick platform. If only Microsoft would offer a decent free trial and stop trying to pull the wool over your eyes.