Why Dark Sky chose the Linode cloud for its weather app

Linode made its share of headlines last year, sometimes for the wrong reasons. But the cloud service provider has a large following among startups and developers supporting fast-growing mobile apps and services.


Pretty much everyone with a smartphone has some sort of weather prediction application because most humans love to obsess about that sort of thing, so any developer targeting this market must have a unique value proposition.

In the case of Dark Sky, that differentiator comes in the form of hyperlocal, up-to-the minute forecasts that are presented with some pretty elegant visualizations (like in the screenshot I've included to the left). It focuses on a very short window of time, up to an hour into the future. Behind that app is a powerful cloud-hosted forecasting service, called Forecast.io.

When Dark Sky's founding team started developing the service slightly more than two years ago, they tapped the Linode cloud for their project, mainly because they were familiar with the environment. "It was the most straightforward and easiest to get up and running," said Dark Sky co-founder Jason LaPorte.

Linode, which has about 150,000 customers worldwide, has been offering Linux virtualized servers to developers -- both startups and those working on enterprise skunkworks projects -- since 2003. It was the subject of some unwanted attention last April, when a hacker broke into its servers as part of a revenge attack , and in January, when someone called in a prank bomb threat directed at its New Jersey office.

Drama aside, Linode is very busy making its hosting environment attractive to those who need to manage applications that may, or may not be, accessed by lots of people. Last November, the company updated its node balancer service, for helping distribute application workloads. The feature is priced at $19.95 per month, and scales automatically to handle up to 10,000 concurrent connections.

"As our Dark Sky and Forecast apps grew rapidly in popularity, NodeBalancer was the obvious solution for distributing incoming traffic intelligently across our backend servers," said LaPorte, in a press release about the technology. "Linode allowed us to easily scale to multiple servers right when we needed to. NodeBalancer is much more efficient at SSL-termination than our own systems are, and when switching to NodeBalancer, our Web server fell to below half its previous utilization before we even added a second Web server."

Here are two other reasons that Dark Sky sticks with Linode:

  1. Pricing transparency - While it is difficult to compare the pricing of different cloud service providers in an apples-to-apples way, LaPorte likes the fact that a lot of bandwidth is built into the plans, because this is a cost that can quickly add up. He finds Linode's pricing predictable. The 1 gigabyte (GB) plan, for example, is $20 per month for 8 CPUs (1x priority), 1 GB of RAM, 48 GB of storage and 2 terabytes of data transfer. 
  2. Simple analytics tools - Linode's Longview analytics dashboard makes it relatively simple for the Dark Sky team to manage its configurations and preferences, and to detect performance issues. "You know what will happen and what will be billed," LaPorte said. "That's compelling to someone who it just trying to get started."

Linode's operations span six data centers in North American, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Its cloud encompasses 16,000 CPU cores, totaling 38,000 GHz, and 10,000 terabytes of raw disk storage. There are 220,000 zones in its DNS Manager. Approximately 56 percent of the deployments within the environment are for Ubuntu, and 21 percent are Debian.