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Plone on $5 a month

Posted by Steve McMahon at Aug 23, 2013 06:15 PM |
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Yes, you may do it; yes, it works.
Plone on $5 a month

Hardware

For as long as I can remember, we've been telling folks that "you can't run Plone on cheap $5 a month hosting." Well, both Plone and cheap hosting have come a long way, and it's time to reevaluate. It's now possible to do a very nice Plone installation on a $5 a month hosting plan.

$5-a-month hosting has come a long way

When I've thought of $5-a-month hosting, I've tended to think of non-dedicated, cpanel-style offerings that give the owner the ability to turn on and off some pre-chosen web apps to run in an unreliable environment. Until they actually get traffic, when you'll need to buy a better plan. Or get hacked.

Compare that with some of the current cloud offerings: for $5 a month, you may now get a virtual server running Ubuntu LTS with 512MB of RAM, 20GB of SSD, 1 TB transfer and 1 core of computing cycles. (Figures from DigitalOcean.)

(It's also worth factoring into that hosting environment equation that you can get free CDN services to take some of the load.)

Plone has come a long way

If you're reading this, you probably already know that Plone 4.x runs faster, and in less memory, than Plone 3.x. However, if you're like me, you've thought of the big payoff as being in how much better you can run your larger sites. You may not have experimented with low-resource Plone configurations.

What's small?

Plone 4 runs beautifully for a small site on the $5-a-month hosting described above. Unauthenticated page delivery is lightning fast and editing is responsive.

So, what do I mean by small? By small, I'm thinking of a site that has up-to hundreds of pages, but does not have more than a very few editors working at the same time. If you need to maintain performance with more than a few editors, you need more memory and cores. That will allow you to add proxy cache and do some load balancing. Fortunately, most cloud hosting plans offer easy scaling.

How's it done?

I wrote up a soup-to-nuts tutorial on setting up this kind of configuration, Installing Plone for production on Ubuntu. (If you've got ideas on how to make this better, while keeping it simple, please contribute.) Start-to-finish, it shouldn't take more than half an hour the first time you do this. Feel free to automate the procedures if you're going to do it often.

So, what's the catch?

There really is a big catch here. When people asked "can I setup Plone on name-here cheap host?" what they often really meant was "I have no server administration skills and want to know if I can run Plone in a flip-the-switch environment."

Reality check: Console (cpanel-style) server hosting is not — and never was — a good way to deliver web apps. People needing a flip-the-switch environment are much better looking at Software-as-a-service (SAAS) offerings. If you want Plone without server responsibilities, use Ploud or hire a Plone hosting company. (Likewise for WordPress and Drupal!)

The $5-a-month solution I'm describing is a great resource for consultants and hosting companies that want to get (or stay) out of the hardware business. They can use a solution like this to do a great job for smaller clients without trapping them in an environment that can't be scaled.