www.asp.net costs millions to run?

For those who missed it, Joe Stagner commented that www.asp.net costs millions of dollars to run. Since Joe was a little vague about exactly what that meant, I’m going to assume that he’s talking about straight-up yearly hosting costs (because it was in the context of hosting, and if that was a monthly cost it would be 12-times more incredible than the already incredible yearly cost). I find this either highly doubtful, or really worrisome.

So let’s look at what $83 000 a month of hosting gets you. Now, there are tens of thousands of possible hosting companies. My top picks would be Softlayer, Peer1, DataPipe or LiquiqWeb – all of which have the right blend of price and reliability (Softlayer and DataPipe are always on Netcraft’s list of most reliable hosting providers). We’re talking real quality hosting here. For about $350/month, I can get (more or less) the following server from any of these places:

  • Quad Core Xeon 5335 Clovertown @ 2.00GHz
  • 2GB of ram
  • 2x250GB SATA RAID 1
  • 2TB bandwidth

You’d likely want different servers for different roles – such as more RAM and SCSI drives on your database servers, but for simplicity sake, lets keep everything homogenized.

That $83 000 buys you roughly 240 such servers – fully managed. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a lot? Consider too that this is retail price, surely Microsoft, with such a large order, could get drastically lower prices (and the fact that they heavily promote their existing hosting company). Now, it’s possible that Joe was talking about more than just www.asp.net, and possibly all of the “Microsoft Community” sites (channel 9, IIS 7.0, silverlight.net…). That might make things slightly more reasonable. However, I remain both skeptical, and very curious about the details of this server farm. How many memcached servers are in play? Is database sharding used? Are lightweight HTTPd servers or CDN networks used for static content?

What worries me is that if it costs Microsoft millions of dollars to run its own community sites, with its bulk-purchasing power and free Microsoft licences what chance to the rest of us have? It suddenly becomes obvious why IIS has a lower market penetration amongst popular sites (19%) than its average market penetration (29%). Its also obvious why that market penetration has gone down over the past couple years.

Finally, I’m curious if they do any carbon offsetting. I doubt this setup is even close to achieving google’s amazing PUE of 1.13.

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34 Responses to www.asp.net costs millions to run?

  1. karl says:

    @Anon
    Stephen Walther

  2. Anonymous says:

    “as a side note, you may know of a recent situation where a reputation-heavy .NET writer not only closed all comments to a popular thread, but even deleted them.”

    Who’s that then?

  3. Andrew says:

    Frankly, I’m not too caught up in reputations when it comes to things like being anti-Microsoft because the code articles Karl writes are quite good.

    My comments were really more in response to how it seems that people just abandon logic when they sit on the opposite side of an arguement. Obviously you see it in polititcs all the time, but I find it weird when it comes up from (and lets’ face it we’re pretty much all) computer geeks. We tend to be very logical people, but yet multiple people commenting on this and other threads re: MVC v. Winforms (the latest “political” topic to hit .Net) just seem to abandon all logic for the sake of for a lack of better words, grand standing.

    Maybe it’s just forums in general where people take disagreements as personal attacks, I really have no idea, but I’m sure there is a good pyche paper in there somewhere.

    Keep up the good work Karl, I think most people realize that for every pure “anti-Micorsoft post” (which really, what has there been, one?) there are plenty of great articles that are helpful to most people.

  4. karl says:

    @Shane:
    You might not know this about me, but…I don’t charge for speaking engagements (the few that I do anyways), I’m not a consultant, I don’t charge for books or content, I don’t have commercial libraries, I don’t do contract work. I don’t charge DotNetSlackers to edit articles or to occasionally write articles for them (even though they pay their authors) My point? My “reputation” isn’t a concern.

    I’d guess that not caring about my reputation has both advantages and drawbacks and that whether one outweighs the other is really going to come down to each individual (obviously they don’t for Bart but do for Andrew).

    (as a side note, you may know of a recent situation where a reputation-heavy .NET writer not only closed all comments to a popular thread, but even deleted them. ironically, he’s a measurable part of where those millions go (true story))

    As to your other point, I never used the word innovative. When I called the pay-for-community model “old-school” I was thinking of newer models such as wiki, digg and twitter. Sure it’d be great if MS innovated, but I don’t see why they have to when other models have been well-established.

    Some specific examples? why not officially adopt one of the digg-like sites, such as dotnetshoutout or dotnetkicks? Why not use twitter for conversation instead of advertising (or telling MVPs to tweet about the MVP submit, but hold them to a strict NDA which forces them to cheerlead (I wasnt’ there, just going by what I heard)). Why not adopt a true-wiki style of community editing for documentation, instead of the comment-based approach we currently have? Why not use RSS feeds like foundationsof.com ?

    None of these are innovative. All of them are established. All of them are are real form a community.

  5. ShaneJohn says:

    @Andrew

    I don’t think BrianE made a stretch at all. The magnitude of Karl’s mistake might have a smaller impact to the developer community, however it probably has a larger relative impact on his reputation than anything some community guys at Microsoft released.

    @Karl re: asp.net’s content model

    What is your sustainable and innovative alternative?

    It appears to me the codebetter content model is to occasionaly drive traffic to the site with inflamitory posts to pay for the other content.

    While this is certainly sustainable, as proven by TV news day-in and day-out, it is certainly not new and innovative.

  6. Andrew says:

    Brian E,

    “You think all Microsoft code releases should be held to a higher standard because Microsoft has a huge influence over the impressionable minds clueless developers. Yet you/codebetter don’t hold yourself to that same standard in the articles/bloggers you publish?”

    That’s quite a stretch there.

    Random off the cuff Blog Post read by a few 1000 people != Poorly written Sample Applications labelled as a Guide/Best Practice viewed by 10s of thousands of developers.

    You don’t really think these are the same thing, do you?

  7. liammcmullen says:

    I would not shout to much about the cost of asp.net – firstly it’s a enormous help to people starting out with ASP.NET and for people who get stuck with problems – it good to be able to get some input from experts. – I reckon that when the accountants in MS read this – they will have a few ideas of their own

  8. BrianE says:

    I have to agree that posting this kind of analysis based on assumptions is pretty irresponsible. I’d say it is hypocritical of you to do so.

    You think all Microsoft code releases should be held to a higher standard because Microsoft has a huge influence over the impressionable minds clueless developers. Yet you/codebetter don’t hold yourself to that same standard in the articles/bloggers you publish?

    If this article is any indication of the kind of detailed analysis and requirments gathering you do as you “codebetter” than the rest of us – count me out.

  9. karl says:

    Guys,
    I’m going to keep the comments open in the slight chance someone has something positive to add…

    …BUT…

    I admitted that my post was over the top. I admitted that I’ve been negative lately. I don’t think the negativity is nearly the same problem as the MANNER/TONE in which I vent it.

    There are clearly people on both sides of the fence. I do think the conversation has pros and cons, but I think there are ways to do it so that there are far more pros and far fewer cons.

    I hope you don’t judge me as anti-microsoft because of this or other negative posts – but I realize its hard to guess at someone’s motives/intent via blogs.

    @Bart
    I do think you missed the point of my comment to you. I don’t think you meant to offend me, I haven’t taken any. I didn’t mean to offend you, I hope you haven’t taken any.

    @Joe:
    I’m sorry for assuming/taking your comment out of context

  10. Matt Briggs says:

    @Bart

    He didn’t call you a Microsoft Fanboy. You’re whole point was based on his oxite, kobe, and this blog post, that he had a thing against microsoft. His point was that oxite and kobe are just plain bad for numerous, quite obvious reasons. If you read his (or anyone elses) posts on those two technologies, you would have to agree. That means one of three things happened

    1) You didn’t actually read more then the titles of the posts
    2) You are a Microsoft fanboy, because you refuse to admit they did wrong
    3) You are not a competent developer.

    Forgive me if I am missing something here, but from where I am sitting, saying that if you genuinely think oxite and kobe were solid products you must be a fanboy is the most polite and least offensive way to put it.

    For the record, I think this post was a bit over the top in tone, and Bellware’s comment was WAY over the line. As long as we are working on the platform, it is important to stay polite, positive, and give the benefit of the doubt.

  11. Bart says:

    Just to clarify:
    I read with great interest Karl’s comments on MVC, Oxite and Kobe. I have not yet begun to use any of those technologies and do not have any pre-conceived notion on them. I had been considering using Oxite for a project I’m working on and was pretty much “scared off” by not only Karl’s comments but several of the other reader comments on it.

    Then, when I read this assumption-filled posting on the ASP.NET website, I thought “How can I trust what this guy says… he seems to just have a vendetta out on Microsoft.”

    I have benefitted greatly from the ASP.NET site. It’s certainly not perfect, but it has been great to have so much information available for free. That doesn’t make me a Microsoft fanboy, just like writing valid negative comments about some Microsoft technology make you a Microsoft hater.

    Of course it is important to point out flaws and help improve products by doing so. But calling someone a liar goes over the line.

  12. pete w says:

    Wow what a bunch of deconstructive comments in here!

    Karl- dont let these negative nancies get to you, I like your writings and your dedication to speak what is on your mind. Some people are way too critical of blog posts and need to stick their heads in a bucket of ice water.
    Please keep up the blogging I’ll keep reading!
    -p

  13. @Phill: Karl actually provides that for you already if you’d like, which I thought was a pretty fun move on his part :)

    http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=6nM_D6Qu3hGvRFnSwjSbTQ

  14. Phill says:

    I wish i could filter Karl out of the codebetter rss feed so it stops clogging up my inbox.

  15. Haacked says:

    Karl, I think it’s a good thing to hold Microsoft to task in an objective manner. Many of your posts have the effect of sparking the type of discussion and debate that can lead to improvements.

    But in this post, the following phrase is striking:

    Since Joe was a little vague about exactly what that meant, *I’m going to assume*…

    Why would you do that, you know what they say about assuming, right? 😉

    You then go write a detailed analysis based on those assumptions rather than facts when you could have simply ask Joe to clarify first.

    I think that could have led to a more interesting post in which you critique the “old school way” Microsoft builds community sites (as you did in the comments) as it would be based on facts, rather than your actual post.

    In this case, all the good stuff is in the comments where a lot less will see it. :)

  16. Andrew says:

    “…Oxite and Kobe would be the standard barer”

    I should learn to proof-read. 😉

    Also, the “shot” at Bart about not knowing that Oxite and Kobe were bad seemed to be more a shot at the actually applications than anything else.

  17. Andrew says:

    Bart,

    Whoa, talk about totally missing the point of what Karl said about your comment.

    You read three blog postings and deemed him anit-Microsoft so therefore you will ignore him which is no different than him labelling you a MS Fanboy who should be ignored. I’d say that perhaps your sarcasm detector is broken, but he even explains his point, so I’m a bit baffelled why you couldn’t pick it up.

    His posts about MS have been negative as of late, but some of those blogs have been spot on, mainly his (and pretty much everyone else’s) critizism of Kobe and Oxite.

    You state that you’ve just started stepping into the ASP.NET world, but you’ve seemed to automatically taken the position that everything Microsoft says about building application is correct. I’ll gladly admit that I used to feel the same way, so I can understand where it’s coming from. But the reality is, and it’s been shown multiple times (again with Oxite and Kobe not to mention the numerous horrible examples in MSDN) that this just isn’t the case.

    If it wasn’t for the blogging community pointing out the obvious flaws, Oxite and Kobe would the most standardbarers of how to build new applications with Microsoft Technology, and that would definitely be a bad thing.

  18. Hectore says:

    I just don’t get it, it seems as if the only goal is to poke holes in all Microsoft business strategies. First you seem outraged by the costs of maintaining asp.net considering metal and licenses is all it takes, then you get an explanation and disapprove of it just because it includes paying for content generation. I just wonder if they didn’t pay for it, and no content was created by the “community”. Would our discussion gravitate around Microsoft leaving a “community” site to rot?…

  19. Bart says:

    Karl,
    The comment about me being a “Microsoft Fanboy”, is the exact kind of negative, condescending tone that I was talking about. And then you enhanced that image with the comments about Kobe and Oxite.

    The fact is that although I have been a programmer for 25+ years, I have only recently begun to step into the ASP.NET world. My history is with Linux and Java, but a few recent projects have pulled me into this world. I read your entry about MVC because I have had my own concerns about it. I agreed with most of your technical points, but your tone was out of line (you speak as though no one at Microsoft has a brain as big as yours.)

    After reading the current attack on the ASP.NET site, which seems more like a personal attack on Joe Stagner, I decided to write you the note.

    Being negative towards a product is appropriate when the product is lacking. Attacking people and essentially calling them liars (or “Microsoft Fanboys”) when you don’t know the full story is not appropriate.

    If you would just change the condescending tone, it would do much to improve your posts.

  20. ABN says:

    Karl,

    I have subscribed to your posts and I do read regularly. But I think that your negative tone and negativity towards Microsoft’s intentions towards its community will kill your subscription base who really just wants to ready real meat and constructive criticism (if any). If you have real issues (which are there) just point out those and let community as a whole decide right or wrong.

  21. karl says:

    I appreciate all the feedback, truly I do. And I’ve said its something I plan on correcting.

    I do think Scott Bellware made an interesting point. It does seem at odds with current trends to be paying for such “community”. I completely missed the mark about server costs, but instead we see that the biggest costs come from paying vendors to write articles and doing videos. Only Bellware and I find that really old-school and non-sustainable? Really?

    Planning a short series on server + client validation (which was a big part in why I wrote the half-baked post…from complaining to solution)

  22. Dirk says:

    IMHO, spreading pseudo-scientific calculations based on as vage information as you can possibly find and then sticking a provocative title on it doesn’t help either…
    I was also taken aback by the negative articles lately, not because they are critical -they should be-, but because they are both aggressive and counter-productive.
    I have the impression there are many people within Microsoft working towards openness and quality -call me a fanboy if you want :-)- Blocking off dialogue with articles like this one is not helping them or the community in general.
    I have no blog, so I am in no position to critique you (nor your content nor your ads :-)) but maybe your articles would end differently if you first set a goal on what you try to achieve?

  23. Bob says:

    Carbon offsetetting?

    Are you a 10 year old girl in public school?

  24. Reading your article I though you were making some harsh assumptions and I had to agree with Lee that leaving out the people out of equation was cutting it somewhat short. It did howover provoke an interesting response from The Gu about what is really going on. To me that makes this a nice article that a little of what is going on inside a company as big as Microsoft.

    As to the negative spree mentioned by Bart, I don’t agree with him. I think a blogger is suppost to be inquisitive and sometimes critical about topics that interest him. I have been reading them with interest and I hope you keep it up.

  25. Stacy says:

    This article is obviously nonsense. Stick to the technical stuff Karl. You don’t have the chops for this kind of analysis OR opinion.

  26. karl says:

    @Bart:
    No doubt there’s been much negativity lately. Definitely hoping to get onto a more positive trend. Your comment is helpful for reminding me of that.

    Two things though.

    First you’re flat out ignoring the possibility that I’m right. Should I simply not blog about the problems I’m facing with MVC and the bad code of Oxite and Kobe because it might seem like too many negative posts in a row? That just isn’t me.

    Secondly, I can admit that there has been a very negative tone lately. But judging me, or my contribution, solely on that narrow perspective seems as wrong as what you’re accusing me of. Following your logic, aren’t you simply a Microsoft Fanboy (btw, you may be if you thought Kobe and Oxite weren’t bad)?

    Whether you care or not, do know that I’ve vowed to either blog more constructive posts for a while, or, failing that, simply take a break from blogging.

  27. Bart says:

    Karl,
    I’ve never paid any attention to your posts until this morning, when I read your ASP.NET MVC subject line grabbed my attention. That article led me to your articles on Oxide and Kobe. After reading your rantings on Joe, I now understand that I can’t rely on anything you have to say because you are just an anti-Microsoft nut.

  28. Ed says:

    @Scott

    Did you ever consider a second career in dramatic acting/theater?

  29. Another great post that strikes at the heart of the Microsoft cultural and values issue, Karl! Great stuff!

    I think the point is ultimately lost on most folks in the Microsoft community, though. It’s a culture whose hallmark is adherence to immutable fundamentals – whether those fundamentals are still applicable to our present context or not.

    Scott Guthrie’s response is great for pointing out the presumptions of the business model that the Microsoft community sites run on. While it’s somewhat interesting to have a few details about costs and operations, I think it’s even more interesting to get a glimpse at the presumptions of what’s needed for community.

    It shows the house of cards of presumptions that precede, and the organizational incapacity for Microsoft to take action on most every initiative that crosses internal departmental lines. Microsoft isn’t a customer value-centric matrix organization, and the bigger it gets, or the more involuntarily constraint forced upon it, the more its organization can be seen as one of its greatest limiters.

    Microsoft’s culture and values drive its presumptions just like anyone’s does. I don’t feel that Microsoft needs to have such a dated conception of either community or media, but it’s not unexpected considering that conservativism and fundamentalism are arguably strong drivers of the culture and values of an organization that is chopped up into thousands of sub-organizations with little horizontal value exchange and lots of blinder-wearing careerists with an unwillingness to even talk about the big picture.

  30. karl says:

    Thanks for clarifying that Scott.

    Certainly makes the “more than a million” figure more reasonable. But that’s still a boatload. Of course ads help vendors reach a wider audience (that’s the point of ads). We’ll have to agree to disagree about whether that actually serves more of a purpose than any other ad, or if its just a spin.

    Of note, the PHP sites even states that “The maintainers of PHP.net and the mirror sites are definitely not interested in graphical banner or text ad placement deals.”

  31. ScottGu says:

    I believe the entire http://www.asp.net site runs off of two web servers (I think there are then two database servers – with forums and blogs on one DB server, and everything else on the rest). Those web servers serve up more than 120 million page views per month, handle an average of 2400 forum posts per day, and host something like 500 blogs that collectively have over a million RSS subscriptions. All in all not bad for two web-servers…

    The cost of the site is not in hardware or software licenses. The biggest expense covers the vendors who write articles and create screencast videos (we have regular article series and videos posted that are original content), do development on the site (html page work as well as the dev work on the CMS, downloads, wiki, forums and blog applications, etc), and carry pagers to be on call 24/7 in the event of a problem. There is also then some expense related to covering things like bandwidth (the site does several TB/day of traffic), security audits, graphic design work, etc.

    The http://www.asp.net site itself does not cost a million dollars to run. It is one of several community sites (also including http://www.iis.net, http://www.silverlight.net, http://www.windowsclient.net) which collectively do cost money to do all the above (I’m not sure of the exact number – although it does all add up).

    We’ve found ads a useful way to cover these costs and grow the sites. It enables more articles/videos/tutorial content to be created (since it creates an economic model where content is self funding – since the content drives traffic which causes ad clicks, which funds the content). The number of monthly unique visitors to http://www.asp.net is up more than 45% year/year partly because of this. We’ve also found that people in the .NET/IIS/Silverlight ecosystem (control vendors, hosters, trainers) also find the ads on the site a useful way to get visibility and drive business. We also obviously have free control galleries, wikis, book galleries and hoster listing as well (so ads aren’t the only way people get visibility).

    Hope this helps clarify,

    Scott

    P.S. Windows server actually has 43% share of all web servers on the Internet (according to Netcraft). The 29% number you mention above is I think site count – which tends to be skewed by parked sites (domain name registrars), wordpress/blogger blogs (which each count as unique sites since they use unique subdomain names), etc.

  32. pete w says:

    Karl I respectfully disagree when you say its a reasonable assumption that all of that money goes towards leased servers. As your figures suggest, I cant fathom the need for 240 leased servers to keep the site up and running, and thats assuming they dont host it using their own internal server resources to begin with.

    I could see the initial manpower cost of designing and building that site in the first place took the better part of a million dollars. I wouldnt be surprised if there’s up to three engineers plus QA and managers dedicated to maintaining and coordinating content. Finally, there’s the possibility that all of the microsoft-based contributions in asp.net might be expensed towards this $1M number.

    In the big picture I have seen figures that the current trend of computing expenses is overall growing, but shrinking in terms of average hardware expenditures, and growing in terms of administrative costs.

    As a consultant, I am repeatedly amazed when I make an estimate, tally out all of the projected work to discover a much larger number than I originally estimated. Good production-quality software seems to always carry a hefty price tag.

    Either way, interesting food for thought though.

  33. karl says:

    @Lee:
    I specifically mentioned that, due to a lack of specific information, and given the context of the comment, I was assuming it was hosting only.

    I also only assumed 1 million, even though it was stated to be “well over a million dollars”. And I assumed it was yearly, even though for all we know it’s daily.

    I think all in all, my assumptions were pretty reasonable. I agree the information I have is very little to make a full-out blog-post, but I doubt we’ll get any more details unless we jump to conclusions.

  34. Lee Dumond says:

    Interesting that you’re only considering hosting costs here.

    I assume that it takes a few warm bodies to design these sites, keep them up and running, supply them with content, and so on. I am also assuming that those individuals have grown accustomed to eating regular meals and sleeping indoors.

    In any enterprise, payroll is always the biggest nut to crack. I’m surprised you’ve failed to take that into consideration.