Going back to my roots.. now hosting with Memset Hosting

I spent a very happy 9 years at Memset Hosting as an employee, working my way up from systems administrator to a senior systems administrator and finally to First Line Team Leader.  Changed offices three times (with two location changes).  Dealt with more customers and configurations than I care to count.

Now I’m working for an entirely different company that specialises in e-commerce/e-business platform development, I don’t get the perk of free servers or hosting.  Have to pay for it myself now.  For two months after leaving Memset I moved my cPanel and Ubuntu server to Digital Ocean – mainly to avoid any potential conflict of interest and also I wanted to check DO out properly.  All was good – I have no complaints with Digital Ocean.  I’d recommend them for development or testing stuff, and no doubt I’ll be doing so when I need to spin up a server for a day or two to try something out.

But gradually I’ve been moving stuff back to Memset – this time as a paying customer.  I got a bit fed up with Rackspace Cloud Files and the lack of decent granular controls over containers.  It just wasn’t the same experience I had back at Memset.  So I set-up a pay-as-you-go Cloud Storage service for backing up my virtual private servers.  Interestingly I’m using Nick Craig-Wood‘s (one of my former bosses at Memset)  rclone to push the backups to Memset Cloud Storage as well as Backblaze’s B2 object storage system.  I like some redundancy in my backup strategy in case things go completely awry.  It’s been working great so far.  And since I started the new job, I’ve been exposed much more to “git” and BitBucket, so I now use that to store configuration and automation tools I’ve written for my blog server.

I finally decided to commit to Memset for my long-term virtual private server needs. I set-up two of them – one for the blog, the other for cPanel.  I have an external cPanel license which I can take with me from hosting company to hosting company, but the downside is that it’s about £3/month more expensive than Memset – so there I’ve made a mistake.  But next year I’ll probably switch to Memset’s cPanel license instead.  I find cPanel to be like the G Suite of the hosting world – I can set something up and it’ll just work.  Doesn’t require too much effort on my part (except for the initial set-up and hardening/locking down).  So I decided to move my blog (which was running Varnish as an exercise for what I’m playing around with now) to cPanel.  That doesn’t run Varnish, but Memcache is still giving WordPress the edge.  There are a few hundred milliseconds in it, but that’s fine.  Everything on one server.  So the old new(!) blog server is retiring next month.  I upgraded cPanel to a better specification (and here’s one difference between Digital Ocean and Memset – you get an extra 2 CPUs at the 4Gb RAM mark with Memset and you do notice the difference).

I’ve had to make just one support query with Memset about the initial set-ups of my servers, and my former colleagues did me proud with a quick turnaround.  The only other problem was that the monitoring configuration was slightly wrong – I guess the CentOS 7 image might need looking at – but it was easily fixed and I’m using the bundle self-managed Advanced Port Patrol to notify me of any problems.

I provisioned each server with 20Gb of block storage, mounting it under /backup and keeping backups dumped there.  If I ever need to re-image the server itself, that block storage will be persistent and I can just restore from the backups stored there.  I also have the Cloud Storage backups too, of course, but this is ever so slightly quicker.

Overall I’m paying £35.50 including VAT for a 4Gb, 4 vCPU, 60Gb SSD Centos 7 virtual private server including the extra 20Gb block storage.  Cloud Storage costs me around 60-70p per month including the backups AND two snapshot images of the server.  Compare that to the £26 I was paying just for my Times and Sunday Times iPad newspaper subscription, it’s an absolute bargin.

(And before anybody asks – no, Memset are not paying me to post this, nor are they giving me any freebies – I’m 100% paying my own way here )

You don’t need ransomware to make me WannaCry about Windows..

Windows Servers.  What a load of old tosh.  The past three weeks or so have seen me tinkering unnecessarily with the blasted things because of Microsoft’s inability to write an operating system which is so super sensitive to hardware changes – principally because of licensing – that just by upgrading underlying virtualisation software triggers the operating system to think it has a new network card.  You can imagine the chaos something like that can cause!

It’s not just that which makes me despise Windows Server.  For similar reasons, if a dedicated server chassis dies and needs to be swapped out – you’d better have a spare because any hardware changes will cause Windows to freak out.  Linux has no problem with such things providing you’re using a modern distribution and reasonably up to date hardware.  Generally speaking, with maybe a very few exceptions, Linux Just Works(tm).

Don’t get me started on those people that are still running the now 15 year old Windows 2003.. (though this article about Fasthosts running Windows 2003 for their backup platform made me laugh a lot more than it should – and bury my hands in my face for leaving an obsolete OS in charge of managing critical customer backups).

The whole WCry situation around these parts has been, strangely, pretty good – indeed, a lot more people have taken an interest in their backups and patching their systems and this is only to be commended.  A good old major outbreak tends to kick people in the teeth and get them thinking about disaster recovery.

Just because I use MacOS and Linux isn’t making me complacent – oh no.  Very recently Apple just released updates to iOS, MacOS and WatchOS to fix a rather nasty exploit, as well as general performance updates.  It’s one of the reasons I went back to iOS – Apple has become very good at rolling out updates much faster and on schedule than the likes of Samsung.

The server on which this blog runs on utilises something called KernelCare which patches the kernel in real time for newly discovered exploits.  This has the advantage of:

  1. Not having to wait for the OS vendor to release a patch.
  2. You don’t have to reboot the machine.

In my testing of KernelCare, it has worked very well.  If you’re using it in a VPS, it must support full virtualisation – paravirtualisation won’t cut it.

Meanwhile, Microsoft should stick to producing office productivity software and gaming (Xbox One) – it’s what they’re good at.  I’ve completely lost faith in their desktop and server operating system divisions.

Flim Flam Film Spam

I am convinced somebody out there is putting themselves out there as a spammer-for-hire for a number of UK film distributors.  It’s all exceptionally dodgy because the spammer is utilising a number of domains (far too many) and super cheap web hosting outside the UK where dedicated servers are super cheap – the bandwidth doubly so.

There appears to be absolutely no logic to the spammers mailing list of spamees – it feels completely random.  You’d think they’d use a list of known investors with money to burn, but this feels like it’s targeting individuals, promising them many riches and rewards for investing in the UK film industry.

The latest spam originates from a Spanish server.  The Spanish web host/ISP doesn’t offer an [email protected] email address (which they should under the relevant published RFCs), plus the unsubscription URL is invalid – it doesn’t resolve.

I’ve been in contact with the distribution company mentioned in the spam, asking them if they’re aware of the email (it could be they not, and the whole spam thing is a massive scam – in which case, the distribution company had better be informed so they can take action against the spammers themselves).  I doubt I’ll hear back, but it’s better to let them know than not.

If you do want to invest in British film – ignore random spam.  Look towards the BFI whom I’m sure can advise accordingly.  And remember – there have been a number of high profile court cases filed by the HMRC about tax schemes regarding alleged tax avoidance.  So it’s vital to get the correct advice.

Stay safe.

It’s the 20th Anniversary of Drake.org.uk!

Good grief, has it really been twenty years?

Back in 1996 I left UEA in Norwich early to pursue a career and ended up working for a company in Aylsham Road that specialised in building, selling, and repairing PCs. They took me on because I had experience with Linux as they wanted to set-up an ISP.  So I was charged with setting up the servers and infrastructure which would provide dial-up access to 400 customers and web hosting to a variety of local businesses and personal users.

On this day in 1997 I asked my boss if I could register my own domain for the purposes of testing stuff.  As we were members of Nominet, I used the automaton to generate the request and send it off as a PGP signed email. There were no fancy point and click web interfaces in those days!

In the twenty years since drake.org.uk’s registration, I’ve changed jobs many times.  Moved home multiples times.  Got married.  Got divorced.  And I’ve been travelling a lot too.  A quarter of my adult lifetime.  And my domain has been with me in one form or another during all that time.  I’ve ran multiple email services (settling on G Suite – but known as Google Apps for Your Domain back in 2006), multiple web servers (Zeus, Apache, IIS, and nginx to name a few), different web hosting providers.  But I’ve always been a blogger.

I’ve used the WayBack machine to go back through some of my old drake.org.uk web pages/blog posts.  Some of it WTF, some of it has me raging about this or that, and some of it deeply sad (when it came to IVF treatment).

Click on the images to enlarge.

I have had a love/hate (mainly hate) relationship with Windows Server ever since..
Here I was tinkering with FreeBSD and Linux. At the time I was running the Anglian Linux user Group web site/mailing lists too.
Moving houses .. and dedicated servers?
Unemployed just before getting married was awful – but thankfully it all turned out in the end. And this was the beginning of my journey into VFX..
I was still unemployed at the time, but I would find work (albeit I was taken advantage of) within a few weeks. Thankfully that job only lasted 5-6 weeks before I joined MPC.
Even when I was working in the VFX industry, I was thinking about web hosting..
Dealing with spammers was a bane both personally and professionally, and one of the reasons I switched to G Suite in 2006 rather than my own email services.

Sometime after that there are a number of posts about the ectopic pregnancy.  It was perhaps one of the most awful times in our lives and I’d really rather not post them here (although you can still read them on the WayBack machine).

It lead to a great deal of depression which I still struggle with today (though I don’t take medicine for it – I felt at the time that I don’t think the drugs that I was given did much anyway).  These days I deal with depression in a variety of ways – this blog (having an outlet to rant is great, though there are times I know I go overboard and have to tone things down a bit – thankfully my Dad reads everything and provides me feedback if I do!), the other is travelling – something I’m looking to do more of.  A bit difficult when one is single, but there are plenty of things I can still do.

It’s an ongoing struggle, but I seem to be winning for the most part.

Anyway, back to happier things.

When I went to the world premiere of Peter Jackson’s King Kong in New York. The ironic thing was that the associate producer of the film (who was there) came to work at MPC and it was only because I was wearing a souvenir t-shirt that I found this out.

 

When I went to Neil Gaiman’s private screening of a nearly compete version of Stardust. Not sure why I was having a rant at MPC, but it’d be a few months before I had quit and started working for Imagineer Systems.

 

That time when I went flying around filming interviews for a video for Imagineer Systems (and getting a valuable lesson on how to setting automatic gain control for microphones).

 

More filming for Imagineer. This time in New York.

So happy 20th birthday, Drake.org.uk.  Here’s to the next 20 years (good grief, I’ll be 60 by that time!).