AppHarbour – Azure done right?

What is it?
App harbour is a new kid on the block providing platform as a service backed by the resilience of Amazon’s cloud platform. For sometime they boasted it was “Azure done right” a very large claim to be make.

How does it work?
Appharbour directly integrates with source control and upon checkin it will pull the latest code base, build, run unit tests and deploy.

On top of this a Web interface is available that allows you to scale and rollback applications as required.

A free version is available to get running so it’s a good place to test and try new ideas.

Appharbour provides integrations directly into various source control providers including :

  1. Codeplex
  2. Bitbucket
  3. Github

For other source control providers an API is available to allow custom integrations.

Features
Something that’s particularly nice is the provider market place, from here there are many additional options that can bolted onto your account such as:

  1. Memcache
  2. Raven DB
  3. Sql Server

Each of these features also has a free option so you can try before you buy, something I find very useful.

The marketplace is also open, so new providers should have no problem integrating onto the platform.

Benefits
The main benefits with the system has to revolve around the one touch deployment, the automation process of build to deployment allows for a high degree of confidence that what’s deployed matches source control.

No matter how many nodes are required to run your application deployment is dealt with, another nice feature of the whole process is that rollbacks also become a breeze. Released a version that’s got a show stopping bug, rolling back to the previous version becomes a simple click in the web interface.

Drawbacks

Appharbour is a new kid on the block and doesn’t have the backing that other platforms have from the likes of Microsoft and Amazon.

As with anything in the cloud an investment is required and Appharbour is no different, but looking at $100 investment just to get IP-Based SSL could be a show stopper for individuals looking to boot strap an idea. The top level package at the time of writing is $199. This gets you 4 workers and Ip-Based SSL this service could be provided elsewhere for less, but I believe the benefits of the platform can outweigh this cost.

Conclusion

After a short amount of time the benefits of the platform quickly become apparent. Using naming conventions when naming solutions allows control over the application to be deployed. Within a single solution using a SQL Azure backend, I had a project that could be deployed either to Azure or Appharbour with almost all deployment hassle removed. With the current lowest service plan being free it’s definitely worth a look.