Blippex moves from cloud to terra firma

Wed, 16th October 2013, 12:06

When we think of the cloud, we tend to think of it as a next step. Migrating to cloud might be one of the most common phrases in business this decade. The goal of any given business is growth, of course, and the opportunities provided by the cloud hosting are only growing more appealing. But today we’re going to look at a company that’s moving in another direction: down from the cloud. What are the benefits? And could it be time for your company to come back to earth?

Blippex is a search engine with an evolved purpose: trying to understand just how the end user responds to its search results by monitoring the amount of time they spend on each link. It’s a novel concept, and it’s met with a lot of success. Recently, they’ve switched from AWS S3 to their own dedicated servers at webhosting provider OVH.

Explaining the migration in a recent blog post, Blippex stated;

AWS is great for a startup, you think you need to put the cache-server on a extra machine? Test it with a few mouse clicks! Need storage? great, use S3 for unlimited storage!

And at the first glance it looks quite cheap. A Web Server for $40 something? Nice! And you can backup it very easy with a mouse click while running, great!

But after some time you realize that you have to pay for everything extra: traffic, bigger disks, etc. And the basic servers are not really fast for databases because Amazon wants you to use their databases! Which is completely ok and their databases are great too, but for a small startup this gets quite expensive fast.

The bottom line they concluded is that their new servers from OVH cost about 4.4 times less, while offering enhanced speed and better privacy. Now, taking that at face value, this seems like a no brainer. And it’s quite possible that this was the perfect move for Blippex. But let’s dissect all the factors and see what’s in the guts of the change.


Blippex’s new servers require complete self-management.

This cannot be overstated. Managing, administrating, updating, licensing and securing are entirely up to the end users, in this case Blippex. It’s not just that this demands a further investment of time and expense, but that not all companies are prepared for full control over their own data infrastructure. The myriad options available to startups today have partially mystified the complicated nature of managing one’s own servers.

A Codeship blog provided a thoughtful retort and different perspective:

Blippex’s blog post didn’t mention that the team behind blippex has been working on their former company, Archify, for a few years. The technology behind Archify evolved into what is currently blippex. At this point they know and understand their infrastructure needs. Thus a self managed hosting became an option but would probably have been hard to do before when building the infrastructure.

Not everyone agreed with the Codeship retort as shown by this comment:

Let me get this straight-- you're saying that if you create a layer of automation on top of AWS, then it becomes usable and fast. Except, you can create a layer of automation on top of any number of other hosting services-- all of which offer you better price/performance than AWS. Many of which can give you the agility to do what you want, without having to learn (and be locked into) a bunch of proprietary amazon APIs.

Which is central to the next point.


Blippex, ostensibly, knows what they need and their business

AWS is really great and I can tell everyone use it when you start! But when you know what you are doing think about alternatives. This could be moving it to other cloud providers like RackspaceLinode or Digital Ocean or move it to your own server as we did. Of course, there are also downsides when moving it to your server, more system administration, you have to build your own firewall, take care of security & backup, etc. But quite often, once you have set this up, you get better performance for a lower price. The biggest downside is not to be able to start new servers just with a mouse click

Again, it’s not just that Blippex is aware of their current needs and has the IT support necessary to manage their own data, it’s that through a long period of gestation they've grasped an awareness of how their business and product will grow. As they concede in their original article, the hardest thing about moving away from AWS is losing the freedom to create new servers with the click of a button. This is really central to AWS’ value to startups. Data storage and hosting is truly reduced to usage, rather than the physical capacity of one’s real-world servers. Even with their knowledge, the move from AWS could be a dangerous one for Blippex. A sudden takeoff is something that’s easy to handle with the flexibility of AWS, and much less so with their cheaper dedicated servers. And that’s what brings us to the final point.


Blippex is choosing cost optimization over freedom to expand

That’s not to say such a move is a mistake, but it’s one that should be realized for what it is, and considered very, very carefully. The point Blippex makes is a valid one. For their new investment they’re saving the cost of a new office.

But what’s the opportunity cost? Flexibility, like so many other intangible qualities, often has a value that’s only clear in retrospect. No one should accuse Blippex of not knowing how to run their own business, of course. But in considering emulation of their example, always remember that comparing something tangible, like dollars per month, with something intangible, like flexibility and scalability, the concrete and immediate option can be deceptive.

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