IaaS vs. PaaS: Deploying a Web Application

My buddy and partner-in-crime, Adron Hall, built a web application that we at Tier 3 plan on using for our internal/external product catalog. He initially deployed the app (ASP.NET + SQL Server DB) to our IaaS fabric, but wanted to compare THAT experience with the steps to deploy to our PaaS (Web Fabric) instead. So, while Adron has written up his experience on the IaaS side, I thought I’d throw out my experience taking an existing web app and deploying it to our PaaS.

Adron had the source control for the application in a private Github and I used the very nice Github for Windows to pull it.

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After opening the solution in Visual Studio, I could see that Adron’s solution had four projects (and a set of database creation scripts, because he’s a nice guy).

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The primary project, Catalog, was an ASP.NET MVC application that interacts with a SQL Server database for storing and returning details about our products. To successfully push this to the Tier 3 Web Fabric (or any PaaS, really), I needed to do three things:

  1. Deploy this application to the PaaS fabric.
  2. Create the database in a PaaS-accessible repository.
  3. Update (if necessary) the database connection string for the web application.

That SHOULD be a lot simpler than building out a multi-node server environment, installing software, opening ports and all that infrastructure stuff that gets in the way of deploying cool software. It’s definitely necessary to have SOMEONE doing all that great infrastructure stuff, but preferably, not me. Let’s walk through the three steps I just outlined.

1. Deploy this application to the PaaS fabric.

The firs thing that I did was right-click the Catalog project in Visual Studio and select “Publish.” This built the project and gave me a deploy-ready version of the application on my file system.

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Unlike other PaaS platforms that are completely multi-tenant, a Tier 3 Web Fabric environment is instantiated for each customer. Anybody can go into our Control Portal and provision themselves a dedicated PaaS that supports all sorts of frameworks/languages while being physically separated from other customers. In this case, Adron created a Web Fabric environment that this web application would get deployed to. I opened up the Cloud Foundry Explorer tool, added an entry (with credentials) for the Web Fabric environment, and chose to “Push” my application.

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After choosing a name for my application and selecting the provisioning size, I was good to go.

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In a few seconds, my application was running on Web Fabric. From start to finish, this first step (“deploy app to PaaS”) took less than three minutes.

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2. Create the database in a PaaS-accessible repository

Our application was up and running but clicking through it reveals the obvious: there’s no database yet! This next step required me to provision a database that my web application could access. Fortunately for me, “SQL Server databases” is one of the many Web Fabric services available to developers. From the Cloud Foundry Explorer, I added an instance of this database service.

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With the service created, I bound it to my CatalogSample application. Binding a service to an application caused my application’s web.config to get updated with connection details for the (database) service.

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I wanted to run Adron’s database scripts against the instance so that I could get the tables our application needed, so I took advantage of the Cloud Foundry Caldecott technology which lets you tunnel into a service and interact with it. In this case, it’s very easy to create a quick connection to my SQL Server service, and then use the SQL Management Studio against my database.

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With my tunnel up and running, and credentials returned, I could then open up SQL Management Studio and connect. After running Adron’s script, I then saw a multiple of tables in my database.

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At this point, I had my application deployed and database provisioned. This particular step took about 3 minutes total. In the final step, I needed to update the connection strings in Adron’s web application so that they pointed to my Web Fabric database service.

3. Update (if necessary) the database connection string for the web application.

As I mentioned earlier, when you bind a Web Fabric application service to an application, the application’s configuration file gets updated with connection details. What this means is that a new connection string named “Default” is added to the web.config. If you already have one named “Default”, then that connection string is overwritten with the details for the Web Fabric database. This is GREAT when you want to develop against a local DB, but be confident that the push to a public PaaS won’t require code/config changes.

So how did I get ahold of this new connection string? From the Cloud Foundry Explorer, I browsed to my application and opened the web.config file.

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I could see the new, appended “Default” connection string in the Web Fabric application.

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I simply took that connection string and replaced the values in Adron’s other two connection strings. Moving forward, I’ll harass Adron into using a single “Default” connection string that gets rewritten on deployment. After republishing my application, and doing another push to Web Fabric from the Cloud Foundry Explorer, our application was now fully operational. I could browse, create, edit and delete records in this data-driven product catalog application.

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This final step took me a couple minutes to complete.

Summary

Not every application will cleanly migrate to the cloud, or offer the right cost savings to justify the effort (as Christian Reilly pointed out in a series of tweets with me and a corresponding link to his great post on the topic). But in this exercise, I took an existing, data-driven ASP.NET MVC application and moved the entire thing to the Tier 3 Web Fabric in about 10 minutes. Don’t forget to check out Adron’s post to see how he did this deployment to an IaaS environment.

There are reasons to take an existing application and move it to an IaaS-like environment instead of a PaaS, but as you’ve seen here, it’s REALLY straightforward to use a PaaS and avoid the messiness of the underlying hosting infrastructure!



Categories: Cloud, Cloud Foundry, Tier 3 Web Fabric

3 replies

  1. Thanks for the comparison between IAAS and Paas. It has been a while now since it was written, but it is nice to see a brief description of a comparison between using two kinds of cloud services. Thanks also to your colleague on whose blog I cannot commend, since the comments are closed.

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