Monthly Archives: June 2010

Jesus

From the words of Casting Crowns:

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day,
oh glorious day

(Chorus from Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) off the Until the Whole World Hears album)




VPS.NET – 9 Months in

thought i would update on my progress with VPS.net as i have been with them a little bit longer and i also have a couple of clients and friends that i have helped here so by proxy have had the chance to experience a wide variety of setups and situations, including managed support

last time i reviewed them (see: http://antsomerset.co.uk/2009/09/29/vps-net-thoughts-and-review-kinda) i talked about pricing and some of the issues regarding IP’s and logins etc. firstly it might be appropriate to give an update on new key features, changes etc since last september. firstly nodes have been given a 50% boost, instead of 256MB ram and 400Mhz CPU you now get 600Mhz and 376MB RAM all at the same price! Introduction of Zones within regions to seperate local servers, Rsync Backups as well as snapshots, licensing manager and pricing for litespeed, softaculous and rvskin, free hostbill, FusionIO, delayed storage upgrades on node increases, Akamai CDN, By the Minute Billing and therefore crediting for unused node time and a host of other smaller backend adjustments and lots more new templates to play with including CloudLinux, ClearOS and FreeBSD (Beta still) with Windows imminently expected.

coming back to my last review i pointed out an issue with wanting to reinstall a VPS if a mistake was made or to try a new OS you had to delete and recreate and there was no gaurentees of keeping the same IP address – glad to say this was resolved very soon after with the handy reinstall vps button on the vps screen:

with this function you can create either from the same template originally used – a manual backup you created a template with or even a whole new template and with any of these options you keep the original IP so all the server licenses that you may have had for that specific IP are retained, which is a huge time saver for people.

second issue pointed out previously was security and with regards to vps.net staff needing access to servers/vps.net account, since then there have been a slew of improvements including pin based authorisation for key tasks via sms. and also the ability to leave server details securely in a support ticket (without the root password being seen in plain text in the middle of your support ticket) this has allayed a lot of my fears with this aspect.

support over the 9 months or so has been up and down, i guess like any normal team you have good days and bad days, generally support is very good, sometimes not so, and the issues usually are speed of response or support agent not understanding/reading the actual issue/requirements and therefore not giving relevant and correct advice. as a kind of quality control feature the team have now released a report to manager button which is very good for highlighting times when the team are very good or bad so that they can be given more beer or beaten with a stick depending

uptime again has been variable, they have suffered from some quite huge DDoS attacks and as a result learned from the problems and made the correct adjustments and policy changes to eliminate them and i can say that the service has stabilised massively since that time. there are some outstanding niggles that seem to happen with stability and range from Hypervisors locking up and your server going offline but not self healing again, to other san related incidents (with which no self healing currently happens if its SAN related) but they are being addressed and seem to be very minor when you consider the sheer number of VPS’ operated here (pretty sure the number is way above 10k)

Akamai another new addition to VPS.net in that you can get very very favourable pricing for akamai (pretty much worlds biggest and best CDN), i have the chance to use this for my main work job currently and it has been a large improvement in site load time and taking load off the server for the ChristChurch London podcast. i cant fault this addition at all.

there have been lots and lots of features and changes for vps.net and as i write about them i remember more so i could easily turn this into an never ending article but will close it off with what i think are one of there biggest updates and most significant, firstly is by the minute billing, this just means that your usage is tracked by the minute so that if you decide to delete a node mid way through your billing month, you will get an account credit for however many Minutes, Hours and days that deleted your Node early, this is obviously not convertable to cache but it certainly brings VPS.net in with services like Amazon EC2 and in fact makes them even better  and more competitive than such services.

the next big thing which is not yet officially been launched but has been talked about and is literally very imminent (i wouldnt be surprised to see the open beta pop up any day) is windows support at long last! obviously details yet to be released but it sounds like the only extra charges to use windows will be licensing (so existing nodes will work fine) this could very well shift a huge move in the server market as very few companies i know do windows hosting well and even windows vps hosting at that. like the Iphone 4 this is likely going to turn into a game changer.

so 9 months in, still a true VPS.net fan and totally happy with the service i get happy to stay for another 9 months or more 🙂




Lion King!

well i thought i should write something about this, been planning this for a little while to make Marie’s first ever theatre show a special one. and i have to say it does live up to its hype and advertising.

Lion King is currently in the Lyceum Theatre, near strand and is based very obviously on the Disney classic with Music written by Elton John and Tim Rice.

i originally thought it was going to be a play with good costumes and good music but i wasnt expecting to be blown away by the whole “Experience” of the Lion KIng, from moment one you are immersed in the show with some of the actors opening the act from some of the VIP boxes – with spectators in them as well and with the some of the animals(not live)/puppets/cast coming in through the stalls and onto stage including a large elephant.

now i mention puppets or animals its not puppets in the strictest sense that you would naturally visualise but what i can only describe as a synergy between masks/costumes and people, so the lions had like a headress/mask the hyenas had similar headdresses etc etc.

my geek side comes out now when i say it truly was a technical spectacle with a stage that rotated, lowered, raised and even the pride rock staircase came out of the floor to a good height as well.

in terms of the performance, it was grand and the show has cast a great balance of holding true to the film and written music yet having some interaction with the audience and some good comic moments. the quality of the acting was top notch and so was the singing too. i really cant pick a favourite character/actor because quite frankly they were all pretty outstanding and really really made the characters come alive. particular mentions are the classic comic duo Timon & Pumbaah and Zazu and Raffiki which were played with a uniqueness that captures the essence of the film characters but still they took on a newer edge which was funnier and more alive than the film could do.

we went on a saturday evening and we managed to get front row of the grand circle (top deck) and the view was quite excellent, we were a touch high but it definitely did not hinder us from seeing any of the action, if anything being that slight bit further away allowed us to take more in because there truly was lots happening at times  and being able to immerse ourselves in the whole thing helped a lot. the theatre was fully packed and all in all it was an excellent show.

i dont think i was very good at reviewing this and i think i was biased but i think my bias is good because you should really go and see experience it!




The British Museum

Spent the day with Marie on saturday, we chose to visit the British Museum because it was free and lots of good stuff in there, i have to admit i am not a huge museum fan, i like to go to places where i really can do something or get my hands on something, however i was more than impressed by it.

it was a huge building and from the outside you perhaps dont think its as big as it is when you get on the inside, there are so many floors and wings and sections, we actually got lost a few times! we started at 10 and gave up with sore feet at around 15:30 we definitely didnt get to see the whole museum – its just too vast i think to see it all in one day. we got to see the bulk of it though, some interesting observations were made, mostly that there just seemed to be a running theme of pots throughout the museum, so we figured that historians and archeologists must have been hungry people! some of the highlights of the visit were rather morbid, the Lindow man rather freaked me out how they just had this dead body on display preserved in all his glory (or lack of) having died sometime near the 30-40BC range, the egyption mummies were a good highlight, and i think that is the same for most other visitors to the museum as it was by far the most busy section of the day, i find it odd that man has this strange obsession with dead people but hey.

there were a wide range of exhibits and rooms but the one that caught my eye and was the most memorable was this small room that was about africa and its colonisation and independance over the last 150-200 years i saw some artwork which really struck me, it was a print where someone had printed a slogan on a mosaic of Zimbabwe currency (in the Hyper inflation stage) with the words, “Its cheaper to print this on money than paper” sadly my only photo of the day doesnt do it justice but none the less it is here for all its glory.

after the Museum a lazy afternoon and evening ensued and good times had by all 🙂 more next time




Amazon Cloudfront

i have been fighting in my spare time set up Amazon Cloudfront to take some of the hit off my server (i can then run it more efficiently and then save money) i wished i could have used VPS.net‘s akamai offerings but seeing as the idea was to try and save money it would have defeated the purpose. anyway shall post some thoughts now briefly and will later post some more info on how i got things going.

Firstly Cloudfront is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) there core job is to speed up your website by serving all the static files on your website (javascript, css, images and other files – no php) in a normal situation putting these files on another server doesnt neccesarily speed up a site but the core difference between that and a CDN is that the CDN is optimised to serve those files and also a CDN will have what are known as Edge Servers all over the world, the way the CDN works is that it caches all your files on these edge servers and when someone asks for the parts of your website off the CDN they get the server closest to them (closer server is a faster server). There are 2 types of CDN, Origin Pull & Point of Presence and they work in 2 different ways (obviously). by far often the most simple to setup and maintain is Origin Pull, the way this works is you upload your site as normal, you set the CDN to “Pull” its files from your server (like a normal client) and then to get your users to pull from a different CDN’ url for example your site is www.example.com and your cdn is at cdn.example.com your cdn pulls all your images as they are requested on the CDN from www.example.com but you provide links on your site to cdn.example.com. obviously for a big site renaming all those links to images and css files etc will be time consuming so you would need to perhaps use a plugin if you are using a CMS, Rails even has this built in as a configuration line! PoP is slightly different in that you still reference a CDN url but you have to prime the caches by uploading your data to your CDN provider, this obviously takes the pressure of pulling off your server but has the added complexity that you have to make sure files are uploaded, there are tools out there that will automate this part of the task though such as CDN module for Drupal or W3 Total Cache for WordPress.

Amazon Cloudfront is a PoP CDN and uses its S3 service as its origin so you have to manually make sure you have your content loaded up to s3 to make use of it, W3 Total Cache takes care of this and even in the sneak peak i had of the next version supported expires setting and gzip, more on that next time. the actual setup of s3 and cloudfront couldnt have been much easier, i got my Amazon Web Services (AWS) account up and running and enabled s3 and cloudfront. i created my bucket for hosting files and setup the cloudfront distribution attached to the bucket in no time, even setting up the CDN Cname record was quick and easy.

next is uploading content for now i am using W3 Total cache to take care of this but i have had one or 2 issues with url’s not being rewritten properly that i have yet to address, there are however many tools that can be setup to run via cron or in the background to sync your files to S3 s3cmd or s3sync are 2 that come to mind first. Amazon have no origin pull which i think is there first negative.

next hiccup i had was when setting up the site i changed the logo file because i had previously set expires for a week (and for some reason it registered as a year :S) i was stuck with an old file until i decided to just rename the file and force the change. there is a big problem here – i couldnt invalidate the cache on cloudfront as is normal with most other cdn providers, this is a big minus point – the only way to invalidate cache was to delete and recreate the cloudfront distribution which then left me at the mercy of dns propogation for changes.

next thing is gzip, cloudfront wont automatically send files as gzip encoding unless your pre gzip it or set the headers, this means you have to have 2 of all your CSS and JS files one compressed the other uncompressed and then rewrite your css and js rules appropriately depending on browsers this is a large overhead (Luckily solved in upcoming version of W3 Total Cache)

that said Cloudfront is decently fast, its extremely cheap although dont forget to factor in storage costs and it can also host html files with some providers such as akamai wont do on there basic object caching services

its early days and i wish i had a full blown cdn like akamai but cloudfront wins the day for me for the cheap pay as you go costs which work out well for me




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