Daniel Watrous on Software Engineering

A Collection of Software Problems and Solutions

Posts tagged hosting

Software Engineering

Revisit Webfaction Hosting

Several years ago I hosted with webfaction for about a year. I was drawn to them at the time because they allowed SSH access and I could run Java applications on my account. Those were not common features available under shared hosting at the time. I didn’t end up deploying any Java applications and the PHP sites I did deploy routed through webfaction’s nginx to PHP configuration which frequently failed. That meant that many visitors to my site saw nginx errors rather than my web page. When they couldn’t resolve the issue I moved my hosting to hostgator and have been extremely happy ever since.

I recently decided to explore Python Flask with MongoDB and was looking at hosting options. Google App Engine is a little too restrictive and I’ve had a mixed experience while working on the Software Licensing system that I’ve developed for that platform. I considered several VPS options including Amazon EC2 and Linode. As I was looking around I thought about webfaction again.

Ready to run Flask and MongoDB

I did a little searching and found that I could deploy Flask applications easily on webfaction. I could also deploy a MongoDB instance on webfaction.

I decided to give them another try and paid my first month’s fee. With about an hour of setup I had successfully deployed a Python Flask “Hello World!” application and had a running MongoDB instance. It was surprisingly easy, especially considering that with any VPS solution I would have needed to setup and worry about a lot more than just my Flask application. It saved me time and money.

Caveat Emptor

What I don’t know is whether they have addressed nginx errors (I recall that they were 502 Bad Gateway errors). Apparently it’s related to the nginx server not getting a suitable reply from the application. If I find myself fighting with that again this time around I may end up on a VPS anyway, but for development, it’s hard to beat their pricing and flexibility.

I really hope it works out that I can run in production on webfaction. I’ll keep you posted.

Software Engineering

Cloud hosting: Google App Engine vs. Amazon Web Services

My talented brother, Tim Watrous, has worked in the advertising industry for nearly 15 years now. His background started on the technical side, but he quickly found his strengths in the larger scope of marrying the business to a best possible advertising solution.

He and I often talk shop and tonight we got on the topic cloud computing. I mentioned some of my experience with the two most prominent platforms available, Google App Engine (GAE) and Amazon Web Services (AWS). The following details come from an email that I drafted for him to discuss these two platforms and some of the differences between them. Note that this is more high level than my previous discussion of GAE vs. AWS.

Google App Engine (GAE)

Google App Engine (GAE) is Google’s PaaS (Platform as a Service) offering. Unlike other mainstream hosting, they dictate the platform specifics and allow you to develop for it. This means it is not possible to run much off the shelf software on this platform. It is pay for use with a free quota, meaning small projects and testing are very cost effective.

Here’s a write up and video I did about GAE a long time ago:

I also have a couple of running services that live on GAE, including this one (written in python):

Recently I have published a lot on this site about using GAE for Java development.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Amazon Web Services (AWS) includes a growing suite of tools and technologies. Their main ‘hosting’ mechanism is EC2 (stands for Elastic Cloud Computing). This works a lot like a virtual server and can be setup in minutes. A principle difference between this and GAE is that AWS requires more consideration when deciding how the environment should be setup. There are times when that flexibility could both help and hurt a project.

AWS imposes fewer restrictions on what software you run and how you run it which makes more modern platforms accessible. Here’s an end to end example of an application that I developed and hosted on EC2 using Java and other modern technologies:
Java, Wicket and Hibernate on Amazon EC2 in a weekend

I have used the Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) for years now. It’s a type of content delivery network (CDN). I host files there that would consume too many resources on my main website and potentially make my site unresponsive. Most people never even know that I’m streaming video or downloading data from S3 instead of my own site because of how I define my URLs to amazon, like this video for my membership website:

Most people look at the first bit and think it’s hosted directly on wordpressmembershipuniversity.com…


I think the most common misconception most business folks have when they talk about cloud computing is the idea that it’s just a more robust or salable version of the solutions they have used in the past. In some respects that might be true. But there are some more significant differences.

Think about it like this. If you think about web hosting like a car, then you would be tempted to think about typical hosting like a little four cylinder economy car and cloud computing might seem like a V10 Dodge Viper. In reality, cloud computing is more like a build it yourself kit car and may be smaller than an economy car or larger than the biggest road car.

The importing point to be clear on is that it’s often NOT a drop in replacement for your current slow running web application.