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Migrating To Cloud, Digital Ocean, Cloudflare

by @ 4:14 pm
Filed under: computers,email,internet,technology,web — Tags: , , , ,

When I started this site decades ago, I followed the usual path at that time to launch sites, shared hosting. There were many vendors to choose from but nothing like the quantity and diversity of what’s available today. I registered the domain, settled on a small vendor for $5/month, got my cPanel and terminal login and off I went.

My server didn’t have much processing juice, storage, and bandwidth compared to today’s levels but plenty enough to host my website and email and other services within the same account. Things were running smoothly but as you’d guess, the account eventually started to push the envelope with the hosting limitations and over the next few years I migrated from vendor to vendor in the perpetual quest for more resources and better prices.

Still all this time I was a slave to the hosting companies and their rules. If my services were abused by outsiders my account was suspended. If my site was spamvertized, my account was suspended. They’d change prices, modify account agreements, deprecate services, migrate servers, upgrade products, get merged or acquired and I had to go with the flow.

So a few years ago I finally decided to give self-hosting a try. I signed up for Comcast Business with static IP addresses, got a decent used computer and migrated all the services to a corner of my home. I was paying more for business Internet at home but I was saving on hosting costs.

Self-hosting Server at Home

This arrangement worked fine for many years but there were downsides too and with the passage of time those downsides became more prominent. To cite a few,

  • Being in a residential zone, power outages are inevitable and my puny UPS couldn’t handle long blackouts, such as those arising from intense storms.
  • Computers and equipment crash or power may be cut because of workers or a tripped breaker. If there’s no one at home to power up the equipment, services would remain offline.
  • The ambient temperature must be kept at a reasonable level. That means running the A/C on hot days even if no one is at home.
  • Hardware failures would mean outages until parts could be replaced and of course a good backup strategy is a must.
  • Software updates are necessary to support the latest or minimum required protocols or to patch vulnerabilities. For example making sure that TLS1.2 or IPv6 are supported or patch for Shellshock or Heartbleed bugs.
  • Monitoring and battling abusers and hackers become a daily stressful job.
  • With the static IP, it becomes impossible to be even slightly anonymous while surfing, unless one pays for a separate internet service.

In short, self-hosting became way too onerous and the cloud had finally reached a robust point where migrating back to providers could be a prudent move once again.

The first service to be migrated was email. I have covered the email migration to Google Workspaces in a previous post and have not looked back. The stress relief was almost immediate.

A few months later it was time to migrate the web services. For hosting I chose Digital Ocean. I had used Digital Ocean before for my day job and was impressed with their facilities and prices. Unlike the bigger players in the cloud space such as AWS or Azure that can inundate users with options, Digital Ocean has simple and straight forward options and pricing to choose from. I quickly set up a droplet (their parlance for a virtual server), transferred the files over, tested the web services, fixed the errors and incompatibilities and finally put the server into production. (My referral link, Get $100 credit with Digital Ocean.)

Shutting down the home server for the last time was a bitter sweet moment but there was no turning back and there was a tremendous feeling of relief.

The final piece of this project came with the addition of Cloudflare. Essentially Cloudflare is a web acceleration and SSL/TLS termination service and they have a lot of free services for the small operators. A few noteworthy advantages of Cloudflare are,

  • IPv6 reach. If a website is only available on IPv4, suddenly it’ll be accessible to all IPv6 clients as well.
  • Powerful and flexible firewalling and security capabilities, including DDoS handling.
  • Latest TLS and HTTP protocols.
  • Powerful web caching and acceleration features with automatic CDN.
  • Reliable and fast DNS hosting.
  • Web analytics.

A few months have now passed since I moved my server to the cloud and perhaps the only regret is not doing it sooner. I am saving money by using less power at home, terminating the static IP’s, and downgrading to lower internet speed. But more importantly I am saving my sanity by drastically reducing the stress of maintaining my own server.

Also, with the static IP’s gone, I can now replace the Comcast assigned cable modem with my own modem and hopefully save even more money every month. But that’s another project and maybe another post.

The Perils of Self-Hosting

by @ 2:58 pm
Filed under: web — Tags:

Two weeks ago, when nature was flexing its muscle in the northeastern USA in the form of hurricane Sandy, I was away from home on a business trip. When the alert email from my monitoring company arrived in my inbox informing me of the web server outage, I wasn't surprised. Power had been lost, the UPS had run out of juice and the server had gone silent.

But with the return of power, the server (which was setup to spring back to life) didn't come back and with me awaiting a return flight, the outage would go on a few more days. Diagnosing the server after returning home turned out to be a futile exercise. There were no hints as to why the server had failed to properly boot. So I just powered it up, repaired a few corrupt databases and thought that was the end of it.

But the server wasn't its old self, it kept on crashing with an ever-increasing frequency. Eventually I decided that the server had suffered critical, yet unidentified, damage to its hardware and last weekend I reluctantly replaced it with a newer box. Restoring a server is no walk in the park.

Over a year ago when I decided to host this site on my own server, I knew about the risks of self-hosting. The storm and the ensuing issues certainly proved some of those risks. There were loss of traffic, user inconvenience, and loss of Google ranking. A more robust setup might have averted some of that, but this website isn't quite at the point to justify that level of operation. Still I don't regret self-hosting. A hosted service can never match the same level of control and in the end it may not necessarily be that much more reliable either.

Hosted Apps Downside - Gmail

by @ 10:28 am
Filed under: google,web — Tags: ,

Yesterday without any indication my Gmail account went into a lockout mode displaying this message when I try to login:
Gmail account maintenance

Sorry... account maintenance underway

We’re currently performing maintenance on your account. You won’t be able to log in while maintenance is underway, but your account data and messages are safe. Unfortunately, we can’t predict exactly how long this will take.

If this maintenance lasts more than 24 hours, please contact us at [email protected]

As a developer, I put nary a confidence level in the veracity of this message and I'm fairly sure there is no maintenance underway. Something has gone wrong with the program logic or someone has flagged my account or a bunch of accounts to investigate something and now my crippled account is just sitting there until someone gets to it.

So for now I have no access to new or existing emails and judging by the Gmail forum it could be offline for days with no access to tech support. Which makes me wonder, this is the same platform as Google Apps and if a business decided to host their online apps on Google, would they be able to afford this kind of downtime and no support?

Larger businesses may receive some form of technical support, but what about the smaller ones? Something to consider as an overall migration strategy. Meanwhile I wait and see when my Gmail account is resurrected. Doesn't look promising though.

Update: After nearly a 26-hour outage, Gmail is back up for me as well as a group of other users who were affected by the maintenance lockout. There was no explanation on what caused the outage. Google is notorious for ignoring individual emails from people with issues, but they do appear to skim the forums and apparently in this case the number of people posting complaints got their attention.

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