Amazon S3 Static Website Hosting

Sometimes you don’t need a full blown web hosting environment with MySQL, PHP and other dynamic components.  Sometimes you just need to host a static website.

We can host static websites on one of our normal servers and support quite a large number of hits, but sometimes you may need VERY high availability service.

Examples of this include:

  • Informational sites with links to many downloadable files requiring high bandwidth
  • A “micro site” that is being sent out to a large number of people simultaneously requiring a large number of concurrent connections.
  • Static file hosting, such as images.  For example, if you have a blog with a lot of images, you can host the main site on a normal PHP server and the images on a high power system.

This is where Amazon S3 Static website hosting comes in handy.

You simply create a “bucket” in S3, create the website endpoint, choose the “index” file such as “index.html”, upload your static website and add a CNAME pointing to the URL that is given to you in the S3 control panel.

Although it’s not too hard to set up this service, we can provide assistance in establishing the initial site and helping you setup a client to upload files into the web space.

One advantage we can offer is the ability to host your static website on Amazon and still have some dynamic capabilities such as email forms, entering form data into a MySQL database, etc.

Contact us for more information and a quote on setting it up.

Rackspace Cloud Servers now Openly Beta Testing Windows Server 2003/8

As I’ve stated in the past, I’ve used a lot of different hosting providers and still have services remaining at most of them in some capacity.  With Rackspace Cloud (formerly Mosso), I still have Cloud Files CDN service on standby in case I need it.   On 2-2-2010, I got an email notifying me that they have started offering Windows VPS for beta testing.  This is very exciting for me as it was one of the main features I wanted in Slicehost (which I still have 1 256mb Slice).

I setup a 512mb Windows 2003 Server to test. So far it seems to be quite excellent and fast. On speedtest.net, I got 67mb down, 27mb up. Not bad. It looks like the Windows 2003 Servers are running under XEN and the 2008 are most likely under Microsoft’s Hyper-V.  The new machine I setup did have SP2 on it, but was unpatched otherwise.  First thing I did was update everything.  The Windows Firewall is completely closed off by default at least.

I’m definitely going to keep testing it on Rackspace, but it would be nice to have one control panel and have them available via Slicehost.com as well. Even it if is an extension to the Slicehost control panel accessing Rackspace Cloud’s API. Better integration of the Slicehost offerings with the Rackspace Cloud services would help both entities since they should be one big happy family now. ;-)

I almost wish they would merge completely and integrate all the features from both sides of the house.  I’m sure that’ll happen in time as the old loyal power users move off to Linode (I moved 4 VPS to Linode) and it’ll have the least impact, churn-wise, if done smoothly.

My setup, if anyone is interested, is the following:

  • 1x256mb Slicehost VPS running Cherokee/MySQL hosting ~25 sites.
  • 3x360mb Linodes + 1x540mb Linode.  3 Servers are dedicated to individual customers, the other is for more sites I maintain.  Mostly running Cherokee/MySQL or Apache/MySQL.
  • 1x1024mb CrystalTech VPS  running Windows 2008 for hosting email and websites for a number of customers
  • 1x2048mb SingleHop Server running Windows 2003 for a few sites that wouldn’t work correctly under 2008 for a number of reasons.  This is an Intel ATOM based Server w/ 320gb HDD.  Not bad for $99.
  • 2xMedia Temple Grid accounts for customer sites that need higher scalability.

If the Rackspace Windows VPS works out well, I’ll probably move the stuff off SingleHop since the Rackspace pricing is much better for me and SingleHop’s server is overkill memory and HDD wise for a few relatively basic websites and apps.

But I will say SingleHop’s services have been EXCELLENT in the year or so I’ve been using them.  No complaints at all, 0% downtime that I, or my monitoring software, have observed.  Good customer service and GREAT prices for dedicated servers.  I just don’t need dedicated servers at the moment.  If I did, SingleHop would be the place I’d go for both Linux and Windows dedicated.

CrystalTech has also been extremely reliable and fast, but the pricing is way too high, in my opinion.  $149 (including backups) for a 1024mb VPS w/ 60gb HDD when I can get a dedicated for not much more at SingleHop.

I’ll post more on Rackspace Cloud as I start using it more.

Multi-Domain Linux Mail Server

Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a lot of blogging on my new provider, Slicehost, and the steps I’m taking to move away from Windows Server hosting to the Linux platform, at least for my personal sites and client development.  I still have to use some Microsoft technologies at my day job, but I am even in the queue to switch to Linux on my workstation at work too as new machines get ordered.  I plan on running XP in a VM for necessary things on the new workstation.

Well, so far with Slicehost, I’m now up to 3 Slices.  The 512mb one for the websites, a 256mb for development which will turn into another webserver once the 512 is “full”, and now a new 256mb one as a mail server.  I found a good tutorial on how to setup Postfix, Courier, MySQL & Squirrelmail with Spam Assassin and ClamAV in a multi-domain virtualized setup. (LINK)

This took a few hours to get working as intended, there were a few minor details missing, but I was able to track them down and get it working.  Most of it was just copying and pasting commands and changing a few details to my configuration.

The only part I really changed during this installation is NOT to use Spam Assassin and ClamAV, at least for the near term.  Both of these programs take up large amounts of RAM even with the base setup.  With the 256mb Slice, it was going into the swap memory as soon as I booted up and accessed anything.  Without these programs and with a bit of Apache tweaking, I got the memory down to around 116mb while idle.

Also, instead of SquirrelMail, which is “ugly” compared to modern web interfaces, I chose Roundcube, which has really gotten better over the last year.  It is still simplistic, but is very nice and functional.  With my setup, any email user just logs into the Roundcube interface with their email address and password.

Since all the usernames/passwords for this mail server are stored in the database, I was able to quickly write up a little PHP web interface to add/remove/modify email accounts and domains.  Once it is more stable to functional, I will release it here on this blog for others who have a similar setup.

As a test, I’ve been forwarding all my email on my primary account to a test account on this new server and every email has been received properly.  No problems whatsoever.

I plan on moving a few of my friends and family onto this to see how it works for them, if good, then all my customers will be migrated.

Moving away from Windows & IIS (ASP) to Linux @ SliceHost

I have, for years, been developing web apps and so on using ASP (Classic) on IIS.  It’s a “fine” platform, but I have, over time, become weary of the Microsoft bloat that accompanies running a Windows Server… Especially in a colo/dedicated/VPS environment.

Over the last few months, since my major GoDaddy Windows Dedicated servers got hit by a worm or something, I’ve seriously started learning PHP with MySQL.  I used MySQL quite a bit with ASP and am quite familiar with it, but PHP experience was rather limited.  In the last few weeks, I’ve written a few things and ported a customer’s website over from an ASP CMS I wrote to PHP (still need to finish the CMS in PHP).  The site runs so much faster and I am now able to host it on my new Slice VPS that I setup earlier this month.  In 15 minutes or so, I can have an entire new Slice setup with Apache or Lighttpd and PHP/MySQL and, with a little tweaking and securing, have a server up and serving sites.   Can’t do that with Windows that quickly.

Slice is still running strong and I’m going to do my best to get ALL my ASP sites “ported” over to PHP over the next few months.  I’ve been using ASP/PHP cross reference sites like Design 215 and a few others and have been able to do things very quickly.  The database part was the only part I really needed to find good samples  for, but they aren’t even too hard once you use them a few times.

SliceHost has inspired me to really learn Linux and abandon the Microsoft OS, but there is still one caveat to Linux that I am very disappointed with.  There is not a single (that I’ve found), reasonably priced, multi-domain, domain level administratable email server with a nice webmail interface for users and administrative functions.

I know there are a ton of “pieces” that I can put together to get something like that, like Postfix, EXIM4, Dovecat, etc., but I just simply don’t have the time to wade through the massive pile of config files to get all those pieces working together in a nice secure and highly reliable fashion.

So, I am going to continue moving all my websites over to Linux/Apache/Lighttpd/PHP/MySQL and keep a small (30gb, 768mb RAM) Windows Virtual Dedicated server running with SmarterMail 5.x mail server on it. SmarterMail is probably one of the BEST email servers for a web hosting environment.  It is a snap to setup, backup and move to a new server if needed (Trust me, I know!). I already own an Enterprise license and am just waiting for one last very important domain to move off a temporary dedicated server before I move it to a new Windows VPS to serve the remainder of my customer’s email needs.  SliceHost isn’t a fully “managed” solution, but with the Slice Backup capability, you can have daily and weekly images made and restore to them quickly at anytime in case anything happens…

Mosso is good and is finally rectifying the Compute Cycle issue I mentioned previously,  I may keep them if I can break even with the few sites I still host on there, but their servers aren’t nearly as responsive as a VPS or Dedicated server probably due to the massively clustered setup they run.  I don’t really need individual site scalability… If a site has high requirements, I’ll just stick them on a new slice and charge the customer accordingly.  Most of my sites that would need to scale are WordPress Blogs and could easily handle being Digg’ed etc, by installing WP-Supercache.

Ultimately I plan on hosting all websites and blogs on Ubuntu 8.04 @ SliceHost and email on a Windows VPS @ GoDaddy (for now) until I find a Windows VPS provider as excellent as SliceHost is (hint hint to SliceHost)…

That’s all for now…

If anyone knows of any turn-key type mail servers that are free/inexpensive (< $500) for Linux please leave a comment.

Clark Connect Community Edition as a Gateway

I’ve always have used simple WiFi routers to be the “first device” connected to my network here at home.  Over the last year or two, I have been experimenting with SveaSoft Talisman Opensource Router Firmware, on my Buffalo WHR-HP-G54, as well as DD-WRT.  DD-WRT has been my favorite and seems the easiest to use firmware with the slickest interface.

But it just didn’t feel like “enough” protection.

Enter Clark Connect Community Edition 4.2

Clark Connect Community Edition, CCCE for simplification, is the free edition of this OS.  It is a Linux firewall based on Red Hat Linux and contains many excellent features to protect your network and give you services that only much more expensive solutions offer.

I grabbed one of my “old” Dell servers, an SC430 Dual Core machine that I’ve used for reviews here in the past and started install of the ISO I burned (~487mb).  To utilize the firewall “gateway” mode of the OS, I installed a second old 100mb NIC card to be the external WAN side and kept the faster GB NIC for “internal” use.

Installation was a breeze, as most are these days, and within 20-25 minutes, I had the core system up and running.  It took a little bit of configuration to get both cards recognized and to get my cable modem provider to reset the ARP table (by rebooting the cable modem) for the external WAN side to kick in.  I just put a ping from a commandline on the gateway and watched it.

Pings were replied to…

The console interface is limited and mostly allows you to do simple things like configure NICS, view a traffic monitor (IPTraf) and other minor things.  There is a relatively new “graphical” GUI that lets you see some more, but it is still mostly limited.

The best way to configure the gateway is by logging into the web interface.  The web interface can be accessed by the URL https://yourgwIP:81 and entering the root password you chose during installation.  Once in, virtually every feature can be configured, services started/stopped and a full statistical interface can be seen.  More stuff can be installed/configured from the commandline via SSH or direct console access.

As stated above, in my network, this CCCE gateway replaced my DD-WRT WiFi router as the “first device” connected to the internet.  I then plugged the internal LAN NIC into a 24 port gigabit switch and connected my nearby workstations to it.  For my “remote” WiFi devices like my Laptops and iDudette’s Mac Mini, I reconfigured the DD-WRT router to be an internal device on the network.

The CCCE machine become the primary DHCP server on the network and the DD-WRT provides a seperate subnet that is not routable directly to the CCCE. I may change this in the future to make sharing a bit easier between the two networks.

I also run a 4 node Meraki network directly off the CCCE gateway and now I can better control the bandwidth and service usage of possibly “unknown” people to limit torrenting and other “illegal” activities.

There is so much more I can say, but you gotta see it for yourself.  This is the simplest of all the linux firewalls I’ve tinkered around with, even those who aren’t familiar with all these things should be able to figure it out.

Clark Connect also has a subscription level which will give you more features within the gateway, like Exchange Connectors and so on, and online DNS and other services.  See their website for more.

Here is the feature list from the site.

ClarkConnect provides all the necessary software and tools required for an organization’s server needs.  The details of the following features are described below:

Gateway and DNS Services
To complement the ClarkConnect feature set, we offer a suite of services to help deploy, manage and maintain a ClarkConnect system:

* Gateway Services
* DNS Services

Firewall, Networking and Security
ClarkConnect provides several levels of security.  At the network level, the firewall restricts access to your systems and provides advanced features, including DMZ, 1-to-1 NAT and Port Forwarding.  At the protocol level, the Peer-to-Peer detection system lets you manage peer-to-peer file sharing usage.  At the application level, the Intrusion Detection and Intrusion Prevention systems provide another layer of defense against threats to your network.

Multi-WAN
With the Multi-WAN solution, you can connect two or more Internet connections to your ClarkConnect system.  The solution not only increases your available bandwidth, but also provides automatic network failover.

Bandwidth Management
Some applications are more important than others.  The Bandwidth Manager lets you prioritize network traffic — downloading the latest Windows updates will no longer interfere with your Voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls.

1-to-1 NAT – DMZ – Peer-to-Peer Management – Intrusion Detection – Intrusion Prevention – Multi-WAN / Dual WAN  – Bandwidth Management – DHCP Server – Caching DNS Server

VPN / Virtual Private Networks
With the PPTP VPN solution, you can use the built-in VPN client that comes with Microsoft Windows to connect remote desktops and laptops to your network.  There’s no need to purchase and install expensive third party software — the PPTP VPN solution works right out of the box.

VPN – Connecting Local Area Networks
If you need to securely connect two or more networks via the Internet, using our unique Managed/Dynamic VPN fits the bill.  The VPN solution not only makes connecting remote networks easy, but also more reliable.  This solution is based on the standard IPsec VPN protocol, so you can count on industry standard encryption and authentication technologies.

Web Proxy and Filtering
The Web Proxy server reduces bandwidth usage and speeds up web browsing.  In addition, the proxy can be configured with user authentication.  With authentication enabled, you can control and monitor access to the web.

Content Filter
Whether you are concerned about students accessing pornography or employees checking their personal webmail during office hours, the Content Filter provides a flexible way to enforce web usage policies for your network.

Banner Ad and Pop-up Blocker
If you find that banner ads and pop-ups are slowing down your network, you can enable the Banner Ad and Pop-Up Blocker to speed up web page loading times.

E-mail
ClarkConnect has integrated the same scalable and reliable POP/IMAP and SMTP servers used by large organizations.  Thanks to the open-source revolution, it is possible for a small business to enjoy an enterprise class e-mail system.

Webmail, Outlook and More
End users can access their e-mail using any number of standard e-mail clients.  Though Microsoft Outlook is the most popular way to access mail on a ClarkConnect server, you can also use the built-in Webmail module and other popular e-mail software packages.

Multiple Antispam Engines
Our server solution provides several different antispam techniques to maximize the spam detection effectiveness.  The antispam engines include the SpamAssassin, Dspam and Greylisting.

Affordable Antivirus Protection
Expensive antivirus solutions are a thing of the past.  The Antivirus solution not only detects viruses, but also phishing attempts.  In addition, both antispam and antivirus scanning can be configured in Mail Gateway Mode so you can protect existing mail servers (including Microsoft Exchange) on your network.

Groupware
The suite of groupware features allows your organization to share and manage information.  With the Microsoft Outlook connector, you can share Calendars, Contacts, Tasks Lists and Notes.  Whether you need a company calendar or a sales contact list for a few members of your staff, sharing information is simple and affordable.

Flexshare
The powerful Flexshare feature allows people in your organization to share files and helps bring out the value of of all the information in your organization.

Database and Web Server
Do you need to install a web-based application on your network?  ClarkConnect provides the LAMP application engine with easy-to-use web-based administration tools:

* Linux
* Apache Web Server
* MySQL Database
* PHP

File and Print Services
The ClarkConnect solution provides both an FTP and Windows/Samba file server solution.  These two file server modules coupled with Flexshare Groupware gives you a powerful tool for sharing files in your organization.

Backup, Backup, Backup
There are two kinds of people — those who have lost important data, and those who will lose important data.  Backup is often overlooked, but it is one of the most important tasks for any organization.  The comprehensive LAN Backup and Recovery solution provides all the necessary tools to protect against disasters.

My first look at Ubuntu 8.04 LTS as a Desktop and Server

Last week, after much waiting by myself, Ubuntu 8.04 LTS came out. Before the release, I didn’t have the time to really mess around much with the BETAs or the last Release Candidate, but the morning it was released, torrenting commenced and went to work.

Got home, burned it to a CD and installed it on my primary Windows workstation (running Vista) using the Wubi Installer.

For those of you not familiar with Wubi, here is the blurb from their website:

“Wubi is an officially supported Ubuntu installer for Windows users that can bring you to the Linux world with a single click. Wubi allows you to install and uninstall Ubuntu as any other Windows application, in a simple and safe way. Are you curious about Linux and Ubuntu? Trying them out has never been easier!”

So basically, you can install Ubuntu into C:ubuntu then when rebooting your machine, you will have another option to boot to besides Windows… The Wubi Installer by default only created a 12gb “container” for the Ubuntu installation. If you plan on actively using Ubuntu under Wubi, make it as large as you can do without, space wise, in Windows. It can get a bit geeky to add more space to the Wubi side after the fact. I didn’t realize it at the time and went with the 12gb, but then I wanted to run XP inside a Virtual Machine, which didn’t leave me much space left. I ended up Googling around and found a method to create a second Wubi disk and copy over your /home/ folder to it and changing your fstab to use it. So I had the 12gb for system stuff and another separate 25gb /home/ disk image.

The best thing about Wubi is that it allows you to test out Ubuntu on your machine without wiping out anything, no re-partitioning, no real impact on your system at all. You do take a slight performance hit since you are running this off a file on the NTFS file system, but the hit isn’t anywhere near as much as running it from VMWare, which doesn’t help if you are looking to see if Ubuntu is truly compatible with your hardware.

First Install as Desktop

Here are my basic system specs of my first install:

Lenovo something…
AMD 64 X2 3800+
2048mb RAM
250gb HDD
nVidia GeForce 8600GT XFX XXX w/ 256mb RAM
22″ Samsung wide screen @ 1680×1050
19″ Samsung @ 1280×1024

The installation was a breeze and all I had to do was set my network information to get online (I don’t use DHCP on my router).

The nVidia “restricted” driver took a few minutes to download and install due to the mass deluge of downloaders hitting Ubuntu’s (and mirror) servers. Response time for all APT-GET queries were a bit slow over the weekend. It calmed down some on Sunday and I was able to get things done quickly.

Setting up the Beryl/XGL effects were easy once the aforementioned driver was enabled, but Ubuntu leaves out the “advanced” configuration options for the effects. Again, googling around, I was able to find the “apt-get” commands to get those utilities installed.

Probably the longest thing to get working was the true dual display.

Just after installing Ubuntu, both monitors had the same output. After installing the nVidia drivers, the secondary screen dropped out, but there was no explanation for it and no setting in the display properties would bring it back. Googling mentioned a program called “nvidia-settings” which I ran and after much tinkering was able to get a solid xorg.conf created to have the 22″ monitor primary and the 19″ as a secondary span to the first.

Needing to work a lot in the Windows world, I keep a Raw XP VM Machine around that is patched (mostly) and ready to unzip and load to install the few Windows based utilities I need like Adobe Photoshop (doesn’t work well under Wine) and Microsoft Expressions/Visual Studio. Installing VMWare Player took a bit of hacking around, but installed fine. I used the secondary monitor to full screen XP while keeping Ubuntu on the primary.

Overall, things are MUCH better under 8.04 than any of the previous Ubuntus in my opinion. Googling around for things was key for me. Be sure to include “8.04″ in your search queries to limit the number of older pages from being returned. Some of those instructions are way out of date with 8.04.

Later this week, I am going to try my “dad test” on Ubuntu to see if he can handle it, I did install it on his machine, but had trouble getting his Wireless to connect to one of my many access points (He lives across the street with a WiFi repeater in his office). I think the driver is just flaky.

Might end up just putting an Ethernet bridge on his PC so it’ll just use his ethernet port which looked fine.

Second Install as Server

System Specs:
Dell SC430 Server
Intel Pentium D Dual Core 2.8ghz
1gb RAM
160gb SATA HDD
Integrated Video
17″ Viewsonic LCD

As has been usual with the later Ubuntu builds, Installation was a breeze. This time, I wiped out the parition completely and installed it directly on the box which made it very fast compared to the Wubi install above, which isn’t bad to begin with.

For this installation, I was more server focused, but did not install the “server” version of Ubuntu. I opted to use the same “desktop” version and install all the packages I needed to make it a “server”.

Doing a lot of WordPress Installations, I chose to get a Virtual host WP environment setup.

I’ve been hearing a lot of good about LighttpD lately and decided to apt-get that instead of Apache2.

LighttpD is a VERY fast alternative to Apache2 (up to 50% faster in some cases). Setting it up was as easy as “apt-get install lighttpd” (After removing Apache2).

# apt-get remove apache2.2-common
# apt-get install lighttpd mysql-server php5-cgi php5-mysql

I also grabbed PHP-CGI and did a little tweaking to get lighttpd to parse the PHP files using FastCGI which was not difficult.

# lighty-enable-mod fastcgi

Had to edit the /etc/lighttpd/conf-enabled/10-fastcgi.conf to get my paths correct.

Googling around gave me the conf file lines I needed for the Virtual host config:

For a single hostname like yourdomain.com

$HTTP["host"] == "yourdomain.com" {
server.document-root = "/your/www/path"
}

for anything.yourdomain.com use this…

$HTTP["host"] =~ "(^|.)yourdomain.com$" {
server.document-root = "/your/www/path"
}

Put as many as you need in there. I used a spare domain and pointed *.MyDomain.com over to it and setup a few virtual hosts to test them.

Restart Lighttpd using:

/etc/init.d/lighttpd force-reload

I had a LLMP (Linux, Lighttpd, MySQL, PHP) server setup and ready to go.

Download the latest WP files:

curl http://wordpress.org/latest.tar.gz -o latest.tar.gz

Uncompress them to the virt root of your choice and be sure to chmod the folders correctly so WP can run the setup and create the wp-config.php file.

To make Permalinks (friendly URLs) work, just add this into the lighttpd.conf before (or within) the virtual host directives…

server.error-handler-404 = "/index.php"

This will allow the permalinks to work correctly, mod_rewrite rules are not necessary.

There may be a little more to all this than the above instructions, depending on your configuration. The information provided was to just provide basic guidance.

My plans are to eventually backup all the WP blogs on host on my dedicated server and curl them over to this Ubuntu box, uncompress them, drop and restore the databases and have a mirror of them offsite from the dedicated server in case anything ever happens. This should be easiest enough to do in a few hours in one script file on the server to do the backups and database dumps into one compressed file, then another cron’ed script on the local Ubuntu to curl it down and restore everything. If anything ever goes wrong, just change the DNS for the domains and point them to my local Ubuntu which can be DMZed on my router. :-)