Free Web Hosting (and more!) with Microsoft Azure for Non-Profits

Ian Cole Marketing, Resources

A non-profit’s website is one of its most import marketing resources. For many non-profits, a small web hosting account will meet the need and be inexpensive. If your non-profit has a need to run larger web-based applications, or you have high-traffic websites, you could find yourself choosing between the right infrastructure and the infrastructure you can reasonably afford. Luckily, Microsoft’s support for non-profits includes a $5,000 annual credit for Microsoft Azure cloud solutions.

Microsoft Azure has a full suite of cloud services, from data storage and databases to Linux and Windows server instances. While this can seem quite complex at first, there are some easy ways to get started.

Azure Features

Obtaining the Azure Non-Profit Credit

You need to register your non-profit with Microsoft Philanthropies and receive validation through TechSoup. You’ll need organization info to get started – and note that the person that completes the process will receive the primary Azure account subscription (but can then add other users as needed). Note, if your organization has already registered with Microsoft for other non-profit benefits (Office, etc.), you will need your organizations Microsoft non-profit login to then request the Azure subscription.

Note: there is likely a middle step here to request the Azure subscription from the Microsoft non-profit portal, I didn’t document this when we obtained our Azure subscription. If you are doing this process and can capture the steps between registration and the subscription approval, please email me at ian.cole@themakereffect.org so that I can update.

Look for the sponsorship offer email with the big “Activate” button…

 

Once approved for your subscription, you will receive an email with your Azure subscription information so that you can then login to the Azure portal…

Once you have your subscription, click the link in the email or visit the Azure Portal to setup your subscription. In the event that the person that manages your non-profit account with Microsoft is not the same person that will manage your Azure infrastructure, you’ll likely want to add another user to the subscription so that setup can continue.

Hosting Websites on Azure

The Azure Portal is quite daunting at first – but there are a number of tutorials, and Microsoft has the  Azure Starter Kit for Non-Profits which is a set of video and article resources to help you get started.

The Azure Portal Dashboard…

In our case, we chose to get started by moving our websites from shared web hosting to Azure servers. Our website are built on WordPress, and there are quite a few ways to run WordPress on Azure. We chose the Bitnami WordPress Application Stack for Microsoft Azure – which is simply a pre-configured Linux instance which contains WordPress, MySQL and more in a “ready to run” setup.

Click to view full size (youtube)

Bitnami has a guide that shows the configuration of the WordPress application stack on Azure (note that the Azure Portal user interface has changed a bit, but the concepts are the same.

Note: If you will be running multiple WordPress sites and sharing a common administrator, you may want to install WordPress Multisite to reduce the Azure credit impact from each individual WordPress site. Bitnami also has a WordPress Multisite application stack for Microsoft Azure. You get started the same way – you can see it in the Bitnami WordPress search results in the gif above…

Once we created the Bitnami WordPress resources, we used the Bitnami WordPress Application Stack for Microsoft Azure guide to do the basic WordPress setup, then we migrated our website from the existing host to the new hosting. This can be done several ways including restoring a backup (especially if you use a backup solution like Vaultpress which supports restoring to a new host), or manually moving all WordPress files, and performing a manual WordPress backup & restore.

We started this with no knowledge of Azure, but a good background in hosted WordPress, and we figured out the rest. It wasn’t always simple, but the performance increases for our websites – AND the reduction of our hosting cost was well worth the effort.

Microsoft sends a monthly billing email so you know how much you are spending against your credits…

Azure monthly billing email

 

Now that we’ve moved our websites over, we’ve started using Azure for more services – including cloud backup from our Synology network storage device. How will you use your $5,000 annual credit – I’m interested to learn how you use Azure to benefit your non-profit. Send me a note at ian.cole@themakereffect.org – thanks!