Hosting my own blog

Currently, my blog is served through WordPress. Visitors either enter the site through the redirect at http://www.antonyjepson.com or by web searches. While WordPress is a simple way to maintain a blog, at times I would like to have a bit more control over my content in the event WordPress disappears or my credentials are hacked.

What follows is an investigation in self-hosting alternatives.

My baseline requirements were as follows:

  • Hosted in the EU
  • Easy off-site back up
  • Embedding of images permitted
  • At least 32GB of space for content
  • Thorough documentation of the service used
  • Basic analytics
  • Light-weight and fast loading pages
  • Reduced susceptibility to DDOS attacks
  • $10.00 / mo maximum base price
  • Supported in mobile / desktop web

My stretch requirements were:

    • Replicated across the 7 continents (in the event a post becomes popular).
    • Moderated comments
    • A/B testing on post content
    • Encrypted access via SSL

Starting with the hosting infrastructure, I considered various options.

Hosting

First was Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, with which I am very familiar with and have used for years. Referencing the EC2 Instance comparison in the Ireland region chart, a small T2 instance came up to $166.44 annually when reserved upfront for the year. It didn’t come with storage, so a 32GB general purpose EBS for one year comes to $0.11 / GB-month * 12 months * 36GB = $47.52 annually. Additionally, I would need to create a snapshot every two weeks with 2 months of cumulative back ups which would cost at worst case $0.05 * 8 back ups * 12 months * 32 GB = $172.80 / annually. Network I/O for Amazon is sufficiently cheap (monitored at the 10 TB / month scale) so that will not be included in the calculation. The final cost comes to $387 annually = $32 / mo. If we reduced the scale of back ups, to say, twice a month, the final cost would come to $31 / mo. Clearly, this is a quite a bit above my target of $10.00/mo.

Next, I considered hosting it on Windows Azure. Looking at the virtual machine categories, the A1 instance seemed sufficient, costing $20.83 monthly. This tier comes with two disks, a 20GB operating system disk and a 70GB temporary storage disk. Evidently, the temporary storage disk would not be the best location for the blog in the event of termination or other failure.

While Windows Azure seemed tempting, I wanted to drop the price even further. The next choice was Digital Ocean – well known for their digital `droplets’. Unfortunately, the full pricing scale was behind a sign-in page. On the public facing side, $10 monthly would secure a droplet (instance) with 1GB memory, 1 core processor (very vague), 30GB SSD, and 1TB transfer. While this certainly seemed like the best option, I wanted to make sure I evaluated 5 options.

The fourth alternative considered is Google cloud platform. Costs can be reduced by using a custom machine type, in this case, I would opt for 2GB ($0.0.00361 / GB-hr) instance with 2 vCPUs ($0.02689 / vCPU-hr), bringing the total to 744 hr * [(2 vCPU * $0.02929 / vCPU-hr) + (2 GB * $0.00393 / GB-hr) = $45.38 / mo.

A great alternative is actually using a static site generator and hosting the website on Amazon S3. This means that there are no security updates to worry about. Unfortunately, this would require me to run the site generator locally on my computer and back up my blog manually. The cost for Amazon S3 in Europe is $0.0300 / GB. So 32GB would run me $0.96 GB / mo. I am changed per 1,000 for the GET requests and they run at $0.005 per 1,000. A scenario I used to evaluate the price was if one of my posts went viral and got 30,000 viewers in one day and the page used 28kB of space, I would need to pay (3 items * 30,000 GET requests * $0.005 / 1,000 GET requests * 28kB * 0.01 / GB) = $0.45. Not bad!

The final option investigated was GitHub Pages. This lets you host a website directly from your public GitHub repository. I am also familiar with GitHub. While it is free, this does not let me select the region for hosting the page. Therefore, this was not a valid option.

After all options considered, I decided to move forward with static hosting on Amazon S3 for hosting my blog, with a back up at https://antonyjepson.wordpress.com in the event it went down or, worst case, I could no longer pay.

Now, let us look at the blogging platform choices.

Blogging platform

As much as WordPress gets a bad rep for not being a light-weight place to host content, it has millions of monthly-active-users. Transitioning to the new hosting engine, I wanted it to be simple, light-weight (so it could run on an cheap albeit underpowered virtual machine), and relatively secure. Furthermore, I wanted the resulting content to be performant on both mobile and desktop, with mobile being the primary form factor. Finally, as a stretch goal, commenting would be great and attract recurring viewers to my site.

I first considered Jekyll for the site generator. At a high level, it takes a text file and processes it into a webpage. While I have a more than adequate understanding of HTML+CSS, having to deal with the finer points of them would definitely detract from writing quality content. It enables me to write the posts in a blog optimised language like Textile. Referencing is updated each time my content is converted and published to the web.

Second alternative was Hugo. Hugo specialises in having partial `compilation’ compared to the monolithic compilation offered by Jekyll. While this might be great if I had 1,000’s of pages in my blog, I anticipate the size of it to grow the low hundred’s so I don’t think it makes sense to deviate from the most supported option.

Based on the above, I opted to go for Jekyll.

Moving forward

This is not a simple process and some additional voodoo will likely be required to enable SSL support and commenting support (likely with Disqus). Expect changes on http://www.antonyjepson.com over the coming weeks.

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