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Managed WordPress hosting is big business at the moment within the WordPress eco-system, over the past year many hosting companies have started which specialise in WordPress and the established hosts have started offering packages tailored to WordPress users and developers. Hosting has evolved from single servers hosting multiple websites to now using cloud systems which can scale easily and cope with the demands of a rapidly growing website.

When we think of hosting a WordPress installation we used to think in terms of a single machine - larger WordPress sites now need to serve huge amounts of daily visitors, such as seen by the large global brands now using WordPress for their sites. And that’s really where the difficult job of infrastructure and service management starts to rear its ugly head. As WordPress developers and consultants, we want to spend our time in the guts of WordPress, not having to configure load-balancers, routers, firewalls and all the other stuff that goes with a high-scale, highly available system.

Microsoft have now entered this space with their Azure Cloud platform which allows you to build and deploy web applications, websites, storage and backups in the cloud. The interesting point for me is that they provide WordPress features which will allow you to setup an enterprise-grade WordPress installation in a couple of minutes.

Microsoft Azure

In partnership with Microsoft

This post will walk you through the installation of WordPress and setup on Microsoft Azure, which even includes a free month so you can test out the service for yourself.

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Register for Free Account

The first thing you will want to do is head over to Azure and register for a free trial which gives you €150 credit to test out the service, the free trial is a month long and will give you access to test out many different features of the service, including:

  • Virtual Machines
  • SQL Databases
  • Websites
  • Hadoop
  • Mobile Push
  • Media Streaming
  • Active Directory
  • Everything else...

Signup requires you to have a Microsoft account, which you will have if you have ever used a Microsoft website such as Hotmail etc. On registration you will need to enter your phone number and verify it by text message or a phone call. Your credit card details are also required for verification but you will not be billed for anything.

Azure Signup

Once your details have been entered and you are signed up, you will see a "Portal" link top right which is where you can begin setting up your first service. This is what the portal screen looks like when you begin :

Azure Portal Screen

Free WordPress Hosting

In this post we are showing you how to setup a WordPress site using the free trial account, I'd like to note that you can also host a WordPress website for free indefinitely as well. Of course there are a few restrictions such as having to use a .azurewebsites.net sub-domain and would only be suitable for smaller personal sites. You do however receive some extra benefits over other free solutions ( like WordPress.com) such as FTP access and the ability to add any theme or plugin you choose.

How to Install and Configure WordPress

The first step in adding a WordPress install to Azure is to select a free database, so click on the "New" link at the bottom and select "Store" and choose the "ClearDB" MySQL database from the list.

ClearDB mySQL Database

Click the next arrow and choose the free option and the database will be added to your account. Once the database has been added which takes a couple of minutes, you can then add a WordPress website. This is done within the Azure gallery which has a number of apps you can choose from. Once again at the bottom click the "New" link > "Compute" > "Website" and then "From Gallery" which loads up the available apps.

Add App from Gallery

There are a number of categories and an impressive amount of apps to choose from such as Drupal, .NET CMS, Better CMS, Django, Ghost, Joomla!, MVC Forum and of course WordPress. Choose WordPress from the list ( under the CMS category ) and click the next arrow.

WordPress App

You can then enter your site URL and choose the database you created before ( you also have the chance to create a new database at this stage) , there are also spaces if you wish to enter authentication keys.

Finish off here and you will see the website being created, once its finished you can click on the name of your site and will be presented with your dashboard.

Dashboard

Visit the URL of the site you created which will be on an .azurewebsites.net sub-domain and you will see the familiar WordPress setup screen where you can create your admin account, enter your email and so on. Enter those and you will now have a functioning WordPress installation.

WordPress Install

Benefits of Cloud Hosting

Many people are choosing to move their sites and apps over to cloud hosting from more traditional hosting environments, but what exactly are the benefits of doing so?

  • Scalable - You have the option to upgrade your site at a moments notice if your traffic increases, you can also set it to do this automatically if you should receive a traffic spike so you can benefit if you experience the "Digg effect".
  • Reliability - Cloud hosting is a lot more reliable than single server hosting which could mean your site is not available if the host machine goes down.
  • Multiple Environments - It’s about more than just Websites. You can create Virtual Machines, Cloud Services, Mobile Services, Media Services and more. There is support for a wide range of platforms such as Linux & Windows Operating Systems and Developer framesorks such as PHP, Java, Python, .Net, Node.js, Ruby and mobile platforms such as Android, iOS, Windows, Xamarin and Phonegap.
  • Pay for what you use - You only pay for the exact resources you use so you are not overpaying for more than you need.

Conclusion

The Azure platform feels very slick - The portal interface is easy to use but contains many powerful elements so will take some time to learn everything that is available to you. From a WordPress point of view, the installation was a breeze and I had a functional WP install up and running within around 5 minutes. The ability to scale your site on-demand and only pay for the resources you use is a huge bonus - no more having to change servers or upgrade your hosting plan, everything is there when you need it.

With a huge company like Microsoft behind this, you know they have the infrastructure in place so your sites are secure and will always be available ( they include a 99.95% uptime SLA). In fact you are sharing the same platform that powers Skype, Office 365, Bing, and Xbox so your site will be in good company!

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If you are looking for a highly configurable, secure and reliable host for your WordPress powered sites then I recommend you take a look at Azure.

Signup for a Free Account »

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Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, An Internet Company based in Manchester, UK. I founded WPLift and ThemeFurnace, find out more on my Personal Blog. Thanks!

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