Picking a Cloud Provider

Here are some of my suggestions about picking a cloud provider.  I will mostly cover the billing cycle and the network metering.  As time goes on and more articles are ready, there will be more links and contents in this page.

Billing Cycle

Users have to pay in order to deploy virtual machines on the Internet.  Yet, different providers have different charging models.  Some are paid before use; some are paid after.  Some charges per hour; some charges per week or per month.

Be careful when you are asked to prepay for longer periods.  The services are usually not refundable and need your extra caution.  Firstly, the service qualities are not completely quantifiable; few people is able to guarantee the service qualities through the long period.  Secondly, you are unlikely to foresee your requirements for long period, such as the size, quantities of hardware resources, etc.

Especially when you are experimenting, I recommend you starting with services that are charged per hour.  You will be experimenting different operating systems and deployment scripts.  With hourly charges, you can easily discard your used virtual machines and start over.  When you become an expert in automated deployments, you can experiment large scale clusters and discard them before they burn a hole in your wallet.  In situations where hourly charges are not possible, look for services that allows redeployment.

Network Metering

There are different preferences when it comes to the network charges.  Usually, network traffics within the same data centre (like between neighbouring virtual machines) are free.  The providers charge mostly on the Internet traffics, especially out-going ones.

Some people prefer metered bandwidth for guaranteed service levels.  It is believed that, with metered bandwidth, the cloud providers can reasonably stop abusive neighbours from causing havocs and collect money for the premium network traffic.  How true this statement is depends on the provider and requires your experiments.

Meanwhile, some people prefer unmetered bandwidth for easier billing purpose.  With the network bandwidth removed from the formula, those compute services are usually in a flat rate, such as $20 for one month.  This makes new comers feeling more comfortable since they need not to worry about bill shocks.  Of course, the free network does not mean you can do whatever you like, you are still bound to the acceptable use policy and you are likely to be throttled when your site becomes too popular.

If the configuration allows, you can setup proxy servers and network gateways so you can cache and control some Internet traffic.  The system update patches and deployment packages from the respective HTTP servers can be cached so that repeated accesses to a manifest is faster and free (as in the Intranet).  The Internet gateway is helpful in consolidating network bandwidth; instead of paying 1-Mbps network for each of your 10 virtual machines, you can have a shared 5-Mbps gateway and make sure the bandwidth is better utilised.

For experiment purpose, it is best to pick a service that is unmetered, or those that comes with large quantity bandwidth free of charge.  When you are getting serious, you can also consider dedicated bandwidth as a mean to guarantee your service level and avoid bill shocks.

Points of Presence

Last but not the least, pay attention to the points of presence of each provider.  You are going to have different network bandwidth and latencies to each of the points.  The different points are also likely to have different regulating laws.  Try to use the services in countries that support free speech should you worry about Internet censorship.

Affiliated Links

Here you can find some affiliated cloud providers who support FreeBSD.  The information are valid as of early January 2017.

  • Vultr charges per hour in flat rates and supports FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Linux and Windows.  It provides high-speed solid-state drives (SSDs) and the virtual machines come with large complimentary network traffic.  There are a bit more than a dozen points of presence.
  • RootBSD charges per month or per year.  As the name suggests, it supports FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and Linux.  It provides on high-speed SSDs and come with large complimentary network traffic.  There are a bit more than two dozens points of presence.
  • Fengqi Asia accepts payments as short as a week and free trials are negotiable.  It provides Joyent container and storage (ZFS) technologies.  The network is unmetered or you can buy dedicated bandwidth.  It supports FreeBSD, SmartOS, Linux and Windows and provides services in Hong Kong.

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