Cambridge Freegle pictured on a map backed by OpenStreetMap tiles from the Mythic Beasts hosted tile server.
We’re supporters of Freegle, a charity that recycles unwanted things by passing them on to new owners. As the COVID-19 lockdown is eased, many people have de-cluttered and have things available to be passed on to new owners. Similarly, a number of people have been struggling financially and will benefit from donations. Traffic on Freegle has rocketed.
Freegle used to use Google Maps for displaying items. In 2018, Google changes the terms for their maps service moving to pay-as-you-go, per-tile-served pricing model. Many sites are able to operate within the a $200/month fee credit, which buys 200,000 monthly tile requests. Freegle is now seeing enough usage to incur bills of over £750/month for map tiles — a significant expense for a small charity.
As is often the case with usage-based cloud services, a free, or very low, initial price can quickly escalate into a large and uncontrollable cost.
Fortunately, as is often the case, a comparable alternative based on open source software exists and can provide a much lower total overall cost.
Freegle contacted us looking for help in moving to their own tile server based on OpenStreetMap, providing lower – and just as importantly – fixed monthly costs.
Running an OpenStreetMap tile server
Freegle are using a Mythic Beasts virtual server to host OpenStreetMap docker image, fronted by NGINX to provide HTTPS and HTTP/2 support. The initial approach of rendering tiles on demand proved to be far too slow, so tiles are now pre-rendered and cached on SSD. Full details can be found in their article, Junking Google Maps for OpenStreetMap.
The initial pre-rendering is being done with a 256GB/16 core server. This is expected to complete within a few days, and once done, the server will be scaled down to 16GB/4 cores for normal production usage.
Costs for this custom solution? One working day of staff time, a few days of a fast virtual server (~£60), and the monthly cost of the product virtual server (~£50) which nets current monthly savings of £700 and gives long term guaranteed price stability.
The convenience of cloud without the price tag
Being based on open source software, there’s no risk of a future change in terms making the service unaffordable, and Freegle aren’t locked in to a single provider’s proprietary API. If we were to hike our prices, Freegle could easily move their service to another provider (although based on recent experience, we’re more likely to do the opposite).
Freegle implemented this service themselves on our VPS platform, but we can also offer this as a managed application, giving the convenience of a cloud-style service, but without the cloud-style lock-in and pricing.