Where the heck do I host my … .NET app?

In this short series of posts, I’m looking at the various options for hosting different types of applications. I first looked at Node.js and its diverse ecosystem of providers, and now I’m looking at where to host your .NET application. Regardless of whether you think .NET is passé or not, the reality is that there are millions upon millions of .NET developers and it’s one of the standard platforms at enterprises worldwide. Obviously Microsoft’s own cloud will be an attractive place to run .NET web applications, but there may be more options than you think.

I’m not listing a giant matrix of providers, but rather, I’m going briefly describe 6 different .NET PaaS-like providers and assess them against the following criteria:

  • Versions of the .NET framework supported.
  • Supported capabilities.
  • Commitment to the platform.
  • Complementary services offered.
  • Pricing plans.
  • Access to underlying hosting infrastructure.
  • API and tools available.
  • Support material offered.

The providers below are NOT ranked. I made it alphabetical to ensure no perception of preference.

Amazon Web Services

AWS offers a few ways to host .NET applications, including running them raw on Windows EC2 instances, or via Elastic Beanstalk or CloudFormation for a more orchestrated experience. The AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio gives Windows developers an easy experience for provisioning and managing their .NET applications.

Versions Capabilities Commitment Add’l Services
Works with .NET 4.5 and below. Load balancing, health monitoring, versioning (w/ Elastic Beanstalk), environmental variables, Auto Scaling Early partner with Microsoft on licensing, and dedicated Windows and .NET Dev Center, and regularly updated SDKs. AWS has a vast array of complementary services including caching, relational and NoSQL databases, queuing, workflow, and more. Note that many are proprietary to AWS.

 

Pricing Plans Infrastructure Access API and Tools Support
There is no charge for the Elastic Beanstalk or CloudFormation for deployment, and you just pay for consumed compute, memory, storage, and bandwidth. While deployment frameworks like Elastic Beanstalk and CloudFormation wrap an application into a container, you can still RDP into the host Windows servers. AWS has both SOAP and REST APIs for the platform, and apps deployed via Elastic Beanstalk or Cloud Formation can be managed by API. SDK for .NET includes full set of typed objects and Visual Studio plugins. Pretty comprehensive documentation, active discussion forums for .NET, and the option of paid support plans.

AppHarbor

AppHarbor has been around for a while and offers a .NET only PaaS platform that actually runs on AWS servers.

Versions Capabilities Commitment Add’l Services
Supports .NET 4.5 and older versions. Push via Git/Mercurial/
Subversion/TFS, unit test integration, load balancing, auto scaling, SSL, worker processes, logging, application management console
Focused solely on .NET and regularly updated blog indicates active evangelism. Offers an add-ons repository where you can add databases, New Relic APM, queuing, search, email, caching, and more to a given app.

 

Pricing Plans Infrastructure Access API and Tools Support
Pricing page shows three different models ranging from a free tier to $199 per month for more compute capacity. No direct virtual machine access. Fairly comprehensive API for deploying and managing apps and environments. Management console for GUI interactions. Offer knowledge base, discussion forums. Also encourage use of StackOverflow.

Apprenda

While not a public PaaS provider, you’d be remiss to ignore this innovative, comprehensive private PaaS for .NET applications. Their SaaS-oriented history is evident in their product which excels at making internal .NET applications multi-tenant, metered, billable, and manageable.

Versions Capabilities Commitment Add’l Services
Supports .NET 4.5 and some earlier versions. Load balancing, scaling, versioning, failure recovery, authentication and authorization services, logging, metering, account management, worker processes, rich web UI. Very focused on private PaaS and .NET and recognized by Gartner as a leader in this space. Not going anywhere. Can integrate and manage databases, queuing systems.

 

Pricing Plans Infrastructure Access API and Tools Support
They do not publicly list pricing, but offer a free cloud sandbox, downloadable dev version, and a licensed, subscription based product. It manages existing server environments, and makes it simple to remote desktop into a server. Have REST-based management API, and an SDK for using Apprenda services from .NET application. Visual Studio extension for deploying apps. Offers forums, very thorough documentation, and assumingly some specific support plans for paid customers.

Snapp

Brand new product who offers an interesting-looking (beta) public PaaS for .NET applications. Launched by longtime .NET hosting provider DiscountASP.net.

Versions Capabilities Commitment Add’l Services
Support for .NET 4.5 Deploy via FTP/Git/web/TFS, staging environment baked in, exception management, versioning, reporting Obviously very new, but good backing and sole focus is .NET. None that I can tell.

 

Pricing Plans Infrastructure Access API and Tools Support
Free beta from now until Sept 2013 when pricing will be announced. None mentioned; using Microsoft Anteres (Web Sites for Windows Server) technology. No API or SDKs identified yet. Developer uses their web UI interface. No KB yet, but forums started.

Tier 3

Cloud IaaS provider who also offers a Cloud Foundry-based PaaS called Web Fabric that also supports .NET through the open-source Iron Foundry extensions. Anyone can also take Cloud Foundry + Iron Foundry and run their own multi-language private PaaS within their own data center. FULL DISCLOSURE: This is the company I work for!

Versions Capabilities Commitment Add’l Services
.NET 4.0 and previous versions. Scaling, logging, load balancing, per-customer isolated environments, multi-language (Ruby, Java, .NET, Node.js, PHP, Python), basic management from web UI. Strong. Founder and CTO of Tier 3 started Iron Foundry project. Comes with databases such as SQL Server, MySQL, Redis, MongoDB, PostgreSQL. Includes RabbitMQ service. New Relic integration included. Connect with IaaS instances.

 

Pricing Plans Infrastructure Access API and Tools Support
Currently costs $360 for software stack plus IaaS charges. No direct access to underlying VMs, but tunneling to database instances supported. Support for Cloud Foundry APIs. Use Cloud Foundry management tools or community ones like Thor. Knowledge base, ticketing system, phone support included.

Windows Azure

The big kahuna. The Microsoft cloud is clearly one to consider whenever evaluating destinations for a .NET application. Depending on the use case, applications can be deployed in virtual machines, Cloud Services, or Web Sites. For this assessment, I’m considering Windows Azure Web Sites.

Versions Capabilities Commitment Add’l Services
Support for .NET 4.5 and previous versions. Deploy via Git/TFS/Dropbox, load balancing, auto scaling, SSL, logging, multi-language support (.NET, Node.js, PHP, Python), strong management interface. Do I have to really answer this? Obviously very strong. Access to the wide array of Azure services including SQL Server databases, Service Bus (queues/relay/topics), IaaS services, mobile services and much more.

 

Pricing Plans Infrastructure Access API and Tools Support
Pay as you go, with features dependent on whether you’re using free, shared, or standard tier. None for Windows Azure Web Sites. Can switch to Cloud Services if you need VM-level access. Management via REST API, integrated with Visual Studio tools, PowerShell commandlets available, and SDKs available for different languages. Support forums, good documentation and samples, and paid support available.

Summary

The .NET cloud hosting ecosystem may be more diverse than you thought! It’s not as broad as with an open-source platform like Node.js, but that’s not really a surprise given the necessity of running .NET on Windows (ignoring Mono for this discussion). These providers run the gamut from straight up PaaS providers like AppHarbor, to ones with an infrastructure-bent like AWS. Apprenda does a nice job with the private space, and Microsoft clearly offers the widest range of options for hosting a .NET application. However, there are plenty of valid reasons to choose one of the other vendors, so keep your options open when assessing the marketplace!



Categories: .NET, AWS, Cloud, Cloud Foundry, Node.js, Tier 3 Web Fabric, Windows Azure

7 replies

  1. For what it’s worth, follow the cost trail. For proof of concept or startup web apps, one is better to use Python as there is a lot of free hosting, then re-write in .NET when it starts to work. Also, when the web app gets big enough, get off the cloud and back into your data centre.

  2. What a great post – lots of options here I didn’t know about – Snapp and Apprenda being foremost among them. Thanks!

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