Moving Wordpress to Windows Azure

For the past year or so I’ve hosted this blog at Godaddy using their web hosting service. It took a little getting used to compared to having a full server, but overall it worked well enough. Performance has been up and down, ranging from ok to terrible, which I’d guess is a combination of being on a shared server and a low traffic blog that maybe gets spun down and then back up. Still, for $6 a month it was functional and let me dabble with plugins and settings more than I could with a WordPress.com hosted blog.

One of the things I want do this year is try “the cloud” more. It feels like the tools have matured enough that it’s viable for some cases, I need to understand if that is true and what the cases are. Doing something as simple as moving a blog over is a chance to learn by doing – and learn I did. The first step was to figure out whether to get a true VM or just a web site. A VM on Azure didn’t strike as much different than a VM elsewhere, so I opted for the web site. There is also a cost factor to consider and I found this post from Scott Hanselmann useful in learning about that. I get a bunch of free hours from MS so the cost doesn’t matter right now, but it will at some point.

The web sites come in three flavors, starting with free. The downside to free is that you can’t use it to host your own domain. Still, I started there because I didn’t know if I would like it or if I could get it working the way I wanted – why pay money to learn if you don’t have to. Installing WordPress was cake, just click a button and it’s done. It installs 3.6, so I did the upgrade to 3.8 just to see if it would work – a good first test. My plan for moving the content was to export the WVR file from the live site and import it to the new one. The exported file was about 4.5 megs, the import has a 2m limit (which seems way too low). I duid a little reading and the limit can be changed by changing a setting in the PHP.INI, but that file isn’t accessible with this type of hosting.  This led me to figure out how to connect using FTP, easy enough once you realize you can’t use your Azure login – you have to create a new one (but still use your Azure password!). I found that I could do most of the changes by creating a “.user.ini” file, so I created that and FTP’d it up. I finally got it loaded, but it was painful. It would partially import the file. I’d submit again and get  a few more posts in. I spent an hour messing with it, including some time using a splitter to see if the size was the issue.

With the posts loaded I added back a few plugins I use.  The next step was to move to standard hosting so I could point my domain at the new install. It’s reasonably easy, a matter of adding a couple DNS records, but you have to wait for them to post and while you wait you’re wondering if you got it right. In about an hour I had it working, I just had to go back and edit the WordPress site URL that had defaulted to the Azure generated web site name instead of my domain. I don’t need Standard, Shared should be good enough, but I’m wanting to experiment with the options in Standard some. If I was writing the check I’d be moving faster on that, nice to have time.

It’s been a couple weeks now and all seems good. The only issue I had was with a backup plugin, I changed to Updraft and that seems to be working ok. I just got an email from ClearDB, the company that provides the MySQL hosting. I’m at 18m of my 20m database limit. That both seems like a lot and not much. It’s free up to the 20m limit, once you hit it then you’re locked – no more data in unless you upgrade to next plan which is $9.95 a month. $10 a month for one mySQL db seems high. I can set up the smallest Windows VM on Azure for about $15 a month and – in theory! – put multiple db’s on there. I may try that, it’s not going to need a lot of CPU and it would be nice to be able to spin up a new site without additional cost.

It’s kind of a weird mix of technology if you think about it. No OS to manage. No patching the OS! Yet it requires installing WordPress, plugins, deciding on the database, managing backups, etc.  It’s better, arguably, then having an OS that would have to be upgraded at some point. It’s not the near zero touch experience you get if you go with WordPress.com. As far as cost, it depends. Dedicated hosting sites are still cheaper if you want to use your domain name. Not a lot cheaper, but some.

I found quite a bit on how to get it all done so I didn’t try to write my own tutorial (plus I’d have had to do it all over again to get it right!), but I’m including some links I found that you might find useful:

It’s been worth doing for the learning.

8 thoughts on “Moving Wordpress to Windows Azure

  1. Hey Andy,
    I host 2 wordpress blogs on Azure and at first it was rosy and so much easier than setting one up on EC2 like I did the first time!

    Unforunately, the past 6 months have been a bit dire. There are some umask issues behind the scenes that mean some themes and plugins cannot update properly and you have to do a lot of FTP work – there’s a lot of complaints on the tinternet and not a lot of response from Microsoft on it. Secondly, if you want to avoid the cost of paying for a second DB to host another wordpress blog you have to use the Brandoo edition which uses a SQL Server backend, unfortunately because most WordPress plugin writers do not use ANSI compliant code, many of them simply will not work on the installation.

    I’m considering trying to spin up a multi-domain WordPress instance on a server and port both blogs and manage it myself – purely because I’m afraid to update my plugins on both my sites!

    The plugin issue is a doozy and hopefully they’ll fix it, but if you have minimal plugins or are happy using FTP, then the sites are great and really cheap.

    Cheers,
    Steph

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    1. Steph, I looked at Brandoo, was reluctant to try, guessing at the issues you mentioned. Back a couple years I tried the conversion layer plugin – worked reasonably well. I’d much much rather put the data in SQL that I understand, but I really don’t want to end up being a version of WP behind or troubleshoot plugin issues…or, or, or! I haven’t seen issues yet, guess I won’t be surprised. A limited hosting environment of any kind is challenging at times, saw that when I had it up on cheap Godaddy hosting. I do use WP_optimize, but it didn’t help. I ended up hitting the cap and then struggling to get into the ClearDB site for some reason, finally yesterday was able to do the upgrade as a stop gap. I’ve never run the multi-domain, I know it’s gotten better. At the same time, when you have a server, it’s easy enough to install new single copies and then you can run diff versions.

      Thanks for the comment:-)

      Andy

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  2. Read the blog on WordPress. I and my partner found your experience very interesting since we want to move our business app to the cloud.

    Any comments on WAzure as opposed to other sites. Our db is currently120M
    And is growing at 50M per month.

    Any other comments or pitfalls you experienced is setting up a cloud?

    Thanks! – Jim

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    1. Jim, it’s still early days for me. I think there are tipping points where cloud makes sense, then owning hardware makes sense, and back again. I think there are a few pitfalls; learning how to use it the ‘right’ way, getting a handle on the true cost, and tools that are still in the beginning stages – you can connect to SQL Azure from Management Studio but you can’t design a table, you have to write the create/alter. The data size seems fine, easily within the range that it can handle.

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      1. Andy:

        Many thanks for the reply. My partner and I are finding the same experiences you are at this time. We are converting an access app to the cloud with 2013 from 2010.
        The app is a school app for teachers and admin in managing the progress of a student with their testing scores. If you have children then you proably heard of MAPS and ISAT scores.

        We’ll keep up the excellent blog. We (I) would like to hear more of your excursion into cloud computing and mgmt!

        Thanks again!

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  3. I can’t believe bow terrible ClearDB is, given that it is endorsed by Azure at the go-to MySQL solution. I hit their query limit eight away and I had to upgrade, twice. BEFORE even launching the site.

    I’m going to just move to a VM for the whole site including MySQL, for now. Its less than ideal because you are losing the benefits of the cloud (independent DB, supposedly nore efficient), but hopefully Azure will correct their MySQL situation eventually.

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    1. Joe, it’s worked ok for me since I moved to the paid version, but then I had an issue changing credit cards. I think I’m going to end up just hosting mySQL in the smallest VM that will work. I think that $15/month. More than Cleardb, but if I add a 2nd blog I’m ahead and better still after that. No enthusiasm for it, I really would rather not install/document/backup it up. The WP on SQL Server stuff worked when I tried it a couple years back, not sure it’s been maintained, guess I need to look again.

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