I use many services every day to get my job/life organized and completed. I thought that I’d make a list of the services I use and rely on day to day.

This blog is hosted at HostGator and in several years, we’ve never really had any problems. Their support is quick whenever I’ve posted a question or needed help. Their pricing is inexpensive, the service is robust and if you’re looking for an inexpensive shared host, I’d recommend them. (Affiliate link)

Amazon Web Services
From S3 to CloudFront to EC2, Amazon’s tools are well engrained in my daily workflow, whether its content delivery, backups or servers to test things.

Digital Ocean

This may be a company you haven’t heard of, but you will. They offer cloud-based servers starting at $5 a month – and all VPS’s use solid state drives for better speed. I’ve spun a few up to test and have been really pleased with their ease of use and speed. We’re running a new university service on one as a test. They have a free trial period if you want to try them out. Using the code SSDGEEK20 will get you a $20 credit, basically giving you 4 free months of service.

Oh, SendGrid, you make my life so easy. You take the headache out of managing transactional emails and we’re even transitioning to using SendGrid as part of our email marketing toolkit. I wrote about SendGrid here last year. (affiliate link, but they have a free plan you can use.)

There are many project management system, but Basecamp has worked really well for me. It’s been instrumental to us keeping track of our projects, especially since my promotion to creative director last year. Now, I’m keeping track of projects and both on and off-campus service providers, printers, and staff. It really has made life somewhat bearable. This is another product that I use at JCU and Gas Mark 8.

Higher Ed doesn’t pay what the private sector does, so if you’re like me, you do freelance work on the side. The part that was always the worst was invoicing and keeping track of who paid and who hadn’t. Freshbooks takes away all that pain, and it’s been fun to watch them continue to add new features that make life easier. They will email invoices or even snail mail them out for you with a return envelope included. I use it for my personal work (friends and family) and our web consultancy, Gas Mark 8. (affiliate link)

This has proven to be an invaluable tool in our day-to-day work, whether it’s easily sharing files, screenshots and more. I have it set to auto-upload screenshots I take (and I take a few every day) and copies the link for that drop for you so you just have to paste it into the browser, Twitter client or IM conversation and it’s there. It’s that simple. It’s not just for screenshots, however. You can drag any file to it and it knows what to do. I’m happy to pay a few bucks a month for this service.

If your inbox is anything like mine, its pure chaos. SaneBox learns your email habits to help you be more productive. I’ve tried it out for a few weeks and it’s been pretty interesting. You’ve got give them access to your inbox, so just be aware of that. (affiliate link)

Last, but not least, is Spotify. It’s technically a web service, but not like the other ones. I love music. I don’t like to be without it. I open this when I get to work in the morning and close it when I leave. I listen to it on the drive home and then on my laptop while I work into the evening.

We’ve all been asked over the last few years to stream live events on our campus – one of the challenges has been what service should you use to livestream your events.

There are free services, such as uStream and Justin.tv, but the quality they offer can be erratic and, if you are using one of the free tiers of service, your content will have pre-roll and/or pop-up ads. This is annoying.

In a perfect world, we’d all have our own Flash media streaming setups we could push a button and start using. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time to manage all that stuff.

Enter Amazon, naturally.

They’ve announced today a new service and framework to get up and running doing live Flash media streaming. They’ve combined several of their services, including DNS, servers on demand and their content delivery network to offer an interesting on-demand Flash streaming rig.

The actual setup looks like this, but don’t be scared by all the pieces.

With their CloudFormation service, much of the work of setup only needs to be done once. Instances can be created from that template as needed.

Let’s look at costs for this type of setup. According to Amazon, they say this about costs:

In addition to the $5.00 monthly subscription fee for Flash Media Server on Amazon EC2, you pay for only for the AWS resources you consume.

Let’s examine those costs for a moment. After the $5 monthly charge, you’ll pay $0.44 USD for a server in Virginia that can support 100 simultaneous connections. Prices go up from there. Streaming to 1,000 users would run you $1.30 USD per hour. Prices are higher in Asia and Japan.

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The big unknown here is bandwidth usage. I’m having a hard time trying to estimate the amount of bandwidth needed for an event, such as graduation. 20GB? 50GB? 100GB? If you have a number you’ve seen in the past, let me know so I can correct the numbers.

Let’s use 100 as our basis here – that bandwidth would cost you $15.00 USD.

So let’s say you are streaming two hours of Commencement. That would be:

  • Flash: $5
  • 1000 streams at $1.30 per hour: $2.50
  • 100GB of Bandwidth: $15.00

Under $25 for a platform you have full control over? That’s not too shabby.

Let’s compare that to some other services out there:

uStream offers ad-free streams, and you can get 100 hours for $99 per month. 4,000 ad-free hours per month will run you $500 a month. LiveStream.com offers 3,000 ad-free hours and HD quality for $350 per month.

Looks like an interesting offering from Amazon. As we start to plan our graduation streaming, it will definitely be in the mix. If you’d like to read a tutorial from Amazon on live Flash streaming, you can check it out here.

AWS logoIf you’ve been hesitant to try out the cloud and some of the services that Amazon offers, you may want to pay attention to this.

Beginning November 1, new Amazon Web Services customers will receive an unprecedented amount of services for free to introduce you to their services and how you can implement these into your web workflow.

Here’s what you get.

  • 750 hours of Amazon EC2 Linux Micro Instance usage (613 MB of memory and 32-bit and 64-bit platform support) – enough hours to run continuously each month*
  • 750 hours of an Elastic Load Balancer plus 15 GB data processing*
  • 10 GB of Amazon Elastic Block Storage, plus 1 million I/Os, 1 GB of snapshot storage, 10,000 snapshot Get Requests and 1,000 snapshot Put Requests*
  • 5 GB of Amazon S3 storage, 20,000 Get Requests, and 2,000 Put Requests*
  • 30 GB per of internet data transfer (15 GB of data transfer “in” and 15 GB of data transfer “out” across all services except Amazon CloudFront)*
  • 25 Amazon SimpleDB Machine Hours and 1 GB of Storage**
  • 100,000 Requests of Amazon Simple Queue Service**
  • 100,000 Requests, 100,000 HTTP notifications and 1,000 email notifications for Amazon Simple Notification Service**

Seriously – you get all this. I’m stunned. That’s basically a free server for a year from Amazon, storage, load balancing and more.

So how can you integrate these into your web workflow?

1. Backups and content delivery

With 5 GB of free storage, use it to backup your blog or website. There are automated plugins for many CMS and blog systems, especially WordPress.

If you run WordPress, use the TanTan S3 plugin to have media that you or your content creators upload go right to S3 and be served from there. Why? Bandwidth and storage space mostly.

2. Try out a new plugin, code framework, blogging tool, CMS, etc.

With the micro server, you can fire up whatever you want and try it out – especially if you’ve always wanted to run, say, Ruby on Rails on a CentOS server, this is your opportunity to try it out.

3. Get out of your comfort zone.

I’m a pretty heavy AWS user, and I’ve never used their SimpleDB or Simple Notification Services before. I’m going to use this free tier (on a new account, naturally) to put them through their paces and see if they are things might make my job easier on any given day. I’m especially interested in the notification service.