I took the “always on application” and ran through some numbers this evening. I was curious – with the hosting options available today, what would it cost someone to run an “always on” application.
The way I’m thinking about it, GAE probably isn’t the right thing. They don’t easily let you run repeated cron jobs, making an agent style application (i.e. proactive, rather than reactive) not quite a good fit. So what would be? A VM. Sure, you could slice it down farther and get a slicehost style thing – they’re excellent, but many of them have restrictions about “long running processes” – and that is exactly what I want.
So what’s it take to run a VM? There’s an interesting question. The cheapest I found was Rackspace – that offered a 256MB Linux hosting solution for $10/mo. Linode starts at 512MB for $19.95. Of course you need to at least make a vague attempt to compare to an EC2 instance. The always on really bites you there – the cheapest I could get my numbers was around $6/mo (a single micro instance, 1 yr commitment – minimal to no bandwidth).
I have to wonder – how well would something like that be received? Say you could offer a private agent/proxy service for $10/mo. I suspect you could get it cheaper – the compute needed for this kind of service would seem to smaller than the minimum you can purchase as a slice of compute. But people aren’t generally buying like this – at least not today.
I think most folks who have a desire for something like this would be more likely to have a desktop computer at home they could dedicate to leaving on. That’s assuming they have an internet service to their house too – so the real cost is more than the hosted compute, but since people often have it anyway… I’m guessing they’d be more likely to want to just use it.
The closest to paying as you go for an application gets to the Platform as a Service – Google App Engine or Microsoft Azure. Frankly neither of which I particularly want because they both represent a sort of technology lock in. In development now is OpenStack – Rackspace & NASA doing some of that base line commoditization work to drive down the costs of running small VM slices. We’re already on the sweet side of Moore’s Law for the commoditization of compute resources – it’s just a few more years until it’s a complete no brainer.
I’ve been thinking about a problem I’m having with twitter – that I want to see more than I can easily watch unless I’m checking on it every hour or so. This gets especially problematic when I’m gone for a long weekend or *gasp* on vacation and completely off the grid for a week. I don’t want to see it while I’m gone – but I would like to be able to review through what happened after the fact.
I also like using the desktop and iOS applications for watching twitter. They’re generally really good – give me a nice sliding window of news. But they only “go back” so far. The essential problem is that twitter has a limit to the history they’ll let you easily interrogate for your feed. My feed is wide enough that I’m starting to miss some pieces, especially as more of it is coming from around the globe and different time zones.
In thinking about it, we I think I need architecturally is something that’s “always on” on the Internet that can grab and watch my feed. Or, more efficiently, accept a twitter stream as events if they have a pub/sub model that is user specific (I don’t think so, but I didn’t look).
To me, that means leaving a desktop or something on all the time – kind of a pain, really. It’s way more compute than this little task needs. And my head is into cloud computing and various infrastructures – so what would it take to have something running – application as a service if you will – that I could cobble to do this for me? I think it would be pretty easy to arrange this with Google App Engine – and that feels roughly about right. A platform as a service engine – I can write and lay down the code on top of it, and then access it from the web through a browser or specifically out of an iOS application. I suppose someone could do this on a slicehost or other thin virtualization platform as well. This could all go into a dedicated JEOS VM and run on Amazon too.
What we’re down to is what’s it cost to run this sort of thing on a regular basis. Always on applications – can you do it cheaper “in the cloud” than you can at home?
And this whole thing is getting darned close to the concept of a personal agent – dealing with (aggregating, filtering) higher speed feeds on the internet than I want to dedicate my attention to. If you go beyond twitter, there’s a whole pile of social networking feeds that I review and look at with a variety of tools today – Netnewswire, browser, other dedicated applications… but all about consuming, filtering, and aggregating information I’m interested in. I get a heady feeling looking forward at how we might use it all.
Last couple of weeks have been spent on vacation – something I’ve always wanted to do – cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska. We left from Seattle, WA, stopped at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan (all in Alaska) and were dropped off in Vancouver, BC. Karen, her parents, her aunt and uncle, and mom all went – one of the last carnival cruises for the season. Pat (Karen’s aunt) has a great photo album of it on Facebook with 35 chosen pics. We came home with something like 2.5GB of photos from our collected point and shoot cameras.
The amazing natural beauty is what I went for, and definitely what I received. The bass note for the tour was news that my grandmother, Lela, was going downhill fast and was in the hospital (received just after we left Seattle), and passed away when we were in Juneau.
She was an inspiration to me in so many ways – grew up in Burlington, Iowa, stopped at a 6th grade education, lived through the depression, World War II, survived two husbands, and I think that shows she’s the most adaptable – bought her first computer 10 years ago in 2000, even had a facebook page and presence. I abused people complaining about “being too old” for computing with her accomplishments. Her passing wasn’t really unexpected – not at 97 years old, and when I visited her this past June she was definitely looking very frail. Aside from being very tired, and the various physical complications of just being old, she was sharp minded and had a great laugh through it all.
I got back from this all last week, had a day off at home, and then back to work for a couple of days. Now the weekend, where I’m writing this and reflecting a bit on the past two weeks. It was a really good vacation, definitely well timed, as the upcoming weeks and months are going to be darned busy.