The Five Megabyte Web Developer

In the last couple of years I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend: developers adopting free Heroku as their only means of hosting side projects. More disturbingly, I operated this way myself for a couple of years. (Yes, freemium can be a trap for customers just like it can be a trap for businesses.)

Heroku has five megabytes for database space, which often sounds like it ought to be enough when it isn’t. Want auditing and comments? Nah, that’ll take up too much space. Its single dyno free plan serves one request at a time. The next steps up are twenty dollars a month and five cents an hour for databases and dynos, respectively. These aren’t that expensive for a major project, but for several side projects it quickly adds up.

I realized this and switched back to running a VPS, this time on Zerigo, which I pay for annually. There is no limit to the number of apps I have. Concurrent requests are supported. They can use the same databases. Database backups are free and uncomplicated. I’m also happy to be outside of the cloud oligopoly that seems to be forming.

Besides that, it’s fun! I get to try niche language platforms. Node.js was building steam long before Heroku supported it, and it still doesn’t support websockets. It’s not hard to find, with a little thinking, other interesting platforms to try. How about Racket or Factor? Or setting up your own Lucene server, or a web server that uses the git command line tool? Those can’t (easily) be run with Heroku.

I find anecdotally that most developers don’t have their own websites or non-trivial side projects. I only have the first, but I can sense that my personal website is helping me prepare to launch non-trivial side projects. I’ve done very little work to set up this server, yet despite tweeting about it and having visitors and occasional commenters, it stays up. That gives me the confidence I need to launch something bigger.

My plea to other developers (and aspiring developers) out there is to draw parallels between programming and other creative works and find out how much you could responsibly be spending for hosting side projects, and then realize that there’s no reason you shouldn’t have at least a VPS.