Run a Postgres instance for cheap in Google Cloud

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An elephant

Postgres in a container

In this blog post, I will explore running a Postgres instance in a container within Compute Engine for a fraction of what it costs to run in Cloud SQL.

Scenario

Cloud SQL is kind of expensive:

  • f1-micro gives you a weak instance with only 0.25 vCPU burstable to 1 vCPU, from $9.37.
  • g1-small is still 0.5 vCPU burstable to 1 vCPU, but the price jumps to from $27.25.
  • Let’s not even talk about the non-shared vCPU standard instances.

For toy project or production projects that just don’t need that power, Cloud SQL is overkill, at least the price is overkill.

This blog post is for smaller projects that need Postgres but without Cloud SQL, and without the maintenance hassle of running commands to manually install Postgres.

Get started

  1. Sign up for Google Cloud. Free trial gives you $300 credits lasting one year.
  2. Create a project to house your related resources.
  3. Navigate to Compute Engine.

Create a compute instance running a Postgres container

  1. In the Compute Engine instances page in the Cloud Console, click on Create.

    Click on Create

    Click Create

  2. Select the E2 series and the e2-micro machine type. E2 series is a cost-optimized series of compute engine instances. Read more about it in the launch blog post. e2-micro is like f1-micro, but with 2 shared vCPU, which is good enough for almost any small project, but not compromising like the weak f1-micro (which hangs / throttles when you try to do too much CPU work).

    The e2-micro starts from $6.11/month.

    Select e2-micro

    Select e2-micro

  3. Check Deploy a container image to this VM instance. This will cause Compute Engine to only run the given image (next step) in the compute instance. Each compute instance can only run a single container using this method, and since we have sized our instance to only have just enough resources, this is totally fine.

    Check Deploy a container image to this VM instance

    Check this to deploy a container image to our Compute Engine instance

  4. Choose a Postgres image from the Marketplace.

    1. Search for Postgres in Marketplace:

      Search for Postgres in Marketplace

      Search for Postgres in Marketplace

    2. Select a Postgres version:

      Choose your desired Postgres version

      Choose your desired Postgres version

    3. Click on Show Pull Command to retrieve the image URL:

      Click on Show Pull Command

      Click on Show Pull Command

      If you click on Get Started with Postgresql 11 it will bring you to a Github page with more (important) information.

      Notably you want to take note of the list of Environment Variables understood by the container image.

    4. Copy the image URL:

      Copy the image url

      Copy the image url

  5. Paste the image URL into previous Compute Engine step. Set the minimum necessary environment variables. The default user is postgres. POSTGRES_DB is arguably unnecessary, you can also create it manually after instance creation.

    Set the image and environment variables

    Set the image and environment variables

  6. [VERY IMPORTANT] Mount a directory and point it at where the container stores data. IF YOU DO NOT DO THIS, WHEN YOUR INSTANCE REBOOTS OR STOPS FOR WHATEVER REASON, ALL DATA DISAPPEARS.

    Mount a volume at the Postgres data directory

    Mount a volume at the Postgres data directory

    It is somewhat container intuitive, usually in the command line we state the host path first, and then the mount path. Here Mount path (the container directory) comes first, and Host path (the OS directory) comes second.

    Click Done.

  7. Some optional settings to configure:

    Turn on Secure Boot

    Turn on Secure Boot

    Uncheck Delete boot disk when instance is deleted

    Uncheck Delete boot disk when instance is deleted

  8. Click Create.

Add a Firewall rule to connect to this instance

By default, post 5432 is blocked in a Google Cloud project. To allow connections from your local machine, do the following:

  1. Go to Firewall rules.

    Search for firewall and click on Firewall rules (VPC network)

    Search for firewall and click on Firewall rules (VPC network)

  2. Select Create Firewall Rule.

  3. Name, allow-postgres (or anything you like)

  4. In Target tags, add allow-postgres.

  5. In Source IP ranges, add 0.0.0.0/0. Or Google “my ip” and paste in the result (safer but cumbersome, IP changes frequently).

  6. In Specific protocols and ports, add 5432 in tcp.

  7. Click Create.

  8. Go back to the DB instance, click Edit.

  9. Add the allow-postgres network tag:

    Add the allow-postgres network tag

    Add the allow-postgres network tag

  10. Click Save. Your instance is now accessible from your local machine.

Migrate data to new DB

  1. Dump your current DB data:

    pg_dump -d mydb -h db.example.com -U myuser --format=plain --no-owner --no-acl  \
      | sed -E 's/(DROP|CREATE|COMMENT ON) EXTENSION/-- \1 EXTENSION/g' > mydb-dump.sql
    
  2. Get the external IP of our new DB:

    Copy the external IP of the new instance

    Copy the external IP of the new instance

  3. Use the external IP to psql to the instance. When prompted, paste the DB password from POSTGRES_PASSWORD earlier. The following command restores the dump back into the new DB instance:

    psql -h [EXTERNAL_IP] -U postgres mydb < mydb-dump.sql
    
  4. Your DB is now ready. When creating the DB, note the internal hostname for this instance:

    Note the instance internal hostname

    Note the instance internal hostname

    You can use this internal hostname to talk to this DB from within your VPC (another Compute Engine instance, Cloud Run, GKE, etc.). If that fails, then you can fallback to the Internal IP (see screenshot in Step 2).

  5. [HIGHLY RECOMMENDED] Stop (shut down) your DB instance and start it again. Connect to your instance via psql (note that the External IP will likely change). Check that all your data is intact.

  6. Remove allow-postgres from your instance Network tags (Edit, remove, Save). Your instance is no longer publicly accessible. By default, all internal network ports are open in Firewall rules so your DB instance remains accessible from within your VPC.

Summary

In this blog post, we have successfully created a Postgres instance from a container image in Compute Engine. We configured a firewall rule to connect to that instance from our local machine using a network tag, and we removed that network tag to lock up access to that instance. We also used the instance External IP to connect to it and restore dumped SQL data from our old instance (with the firewall rule in place).

If you are confident about the needs and performance of your application, you can choose to downgrade the instance to f1-micro to save another $2/month. Eventually GCP will come along and tell you that your instance is over-utilized (you can ignore or reject the warning). Note that all the risk is yours if your DB instance hangs because it is CPU-starved. There is an increased risk to cheap in the cloud.

Alternatively, there is a Postgres Google Click to Deploy option in the Marketplace. This will run Postgres in Debian OS, not a container. And you also cannot run it in an E2 instance (only N1 is supported). But it is probably more production ready, I presume.

Also highly recommended is that you take scheduled snapshots of the boot disk of the DB instance. This is important for data recovery and backups. Usually Cloud SQL takes care of this for you, but we need to handle it ourselves since we are DIY-ing here.

Disclaimer

The information provided in this blog post is provided as is, without warranty of any kind, express or implied. By following the steps outlined in this blog post I do not guarantee that your database will be free from any sort of failures or data losses.