Category Archives: System Administration - Page 2

VMware Workstation Upgrades (v10 this time)

It always makes me nervous when a product says it has to uninstall the old version before it can install the new one. I always wonder – “Will it safely save all my settings? Will my personal files be retained? If it fails will I be able to go back to the old version?”

VMware does this forced uninstall operation before upgrades, and has as long as I can remember (I’ve used it since v1). But, I must say, I’ve never had issues with it.

Today I upgraded to VMware Workstation 10 and, as always in the past, it was painless and error-free. My VMs even cranked up (both fresh boot and resume from suspend) with no problems (wasn’t always the case with every past upgrade).

Rock on VMware. Rock on.

OrcsWeb Cloud Servers Compared to CloudServers.com

MeInRedJacketI’m running two primary brands now – still one company, ORCS Web, Inc., but two main brands… www.orcsweb.com (high-touch managed hosting) and www.cloudservers.com (IaaS unmanaged cloud servers).

Both brands sell cloud servers. Both brands have both email and phone support.

CloudServers.com Windows servers start at $34/month. OrcsWeb Windows cloud servers start at $99/month. BUT, when you go through and configure both apples-to-apples, the OrcsWeb server is only about 10% higher priced. And there are additional services included, and differences, that justify that difference in price:

  • Every OrcsWeb server has uptime monitoring that pages the support team 24×7 and they will respond to address any issue that arises – or contact the client as needed – even with the minimum level of managed services that are included in the base rate. CloudServers.com clients are responsible for configuring their own monitoring and responding to any issues specific to their server (not architectural).
  • OrcsWeb cloud servers are members of the OrcsWeb domain – allowing the support team to access the server to assist customers with any troubleshooting, performance analysis, or problem solving. CloudServers.com servers are not joined with any domain and the support staff has no direct administrative access to the systems.
  • Everyone OrcsWeb cloud server sits behind redundant high-powered physical firewalls that not only block all but primary ports, but also provides intrusion prevention services. Every CloudServers.com cloud server comes with its own virtual firewall. This provides a great additional layer of security but doesn’t have the advanced features of the OrcsWeb firewall solution.
  • OrcsWeb cloud servers are powered by VMware’s enterprise class (and license level) product solutions that are feature-rich and targeted toward a more enterprise level project and customer. CloudServers.com leverages CentOS, KVM, and a variety of different products for its cloud server architecture.

So which is best? It really all depends on your needs. If you want Linux, then CloudServers.com is the only choice today – OrcsWeb may start supporting Linux soon but it doesn’t currently. If you want an extension of your IT team to help with crafting solutions and assisting with any issues that might come up, OrcsWeb is best for you. If you self-administer your servers and just want cost-effective, yet still full-featured and fast-performing cloud servers, then CloudServers.com is best for you.

Hope this help clear up any confusion. If you are looking for cloud server hosting, be sure to check out whichever brand best matches your needs. Feel free to email and/or call in and speak with someone about either solution.

Happy hosting

DevOps. What does it mean?

MeInRedJacketWhat does DevOps mean?
Like many terms, there are a variety of slightly different (in some cases vastly different) definitions. The current definition per Wikipedia seems pretty good:

DevOps is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and information technology (IT) professionals. DevOps is a response to the interdependence of software development and IT operations. It aims to help an organization rapidly produce software products and services.” – Wikipedia

There has always been an important relationship between the people who develop applications, and the people who manage the servers where these applications live long-term. It hasn’t always been a positive relationship, but there is a relationship nonetheless.

What concern does this movement address?
Not everything fits into a generic generalization, but the contention historically relates to:

1)      Developers love to be nimble and make changes (bug fixes, updates, etc.) very quickly as they are ready. This is not a bad thing – especially if your business is dependent on the success of a particular application. A developer makes a change on their development machine, runs through some tests, and wants to push these updates to the production servers… where the contention arises…

2)      Operations people (think server, storage, security, and network administrators) are responsible for the 24x7x365 monitoring, operation, and support of the organization’s IT systems. These people thrive on consistency and plans. To do their jobs well they need to know the operating system, how it was configured, what changes were made, what changes are planned, how will those changes impact the running systems? Will there be performance impacting changes? Will changes push capacity thresholds? Will the changes impact the stability?

See the potential issue there? I can’t count how many times I’ve heard from a developer “but it works fine on my machine” after deploying code and either it doesn’t work as expected or it creates operational support challenges. It is very likely that the development environment isn’t as secure as the production systems. It’s also fairly common for a developer to install an update – perhaps the latest version of some development framework – and assume that it is either already on the server or that installing it there won’t be an issue.

So what’s the solution? What is DevOps?
The solution is actually rather simple in concept (but not always easy to get people to follow). A main ingredient needs to be communication. Operations people need to communicate the environment, its constraints, generalized reasons for certain “restrictions” (permissions, changes, etc.). Developers need to communicate what they’re planning, what dependencies exist, what changes made need to be made to the systems, and generalized reasons justifying the changes.

Another key ingredient needs to be education. It’s fine to communicate things, but both departments need to understand what the other is doing and why. It will make the communication part easier, and will help both departments appreciate the reasons for certain guidelines.

DevOps in hosted world
Addressing the DevOps topic is often a easier in a corporate enterprise environment. Communication not working? Let’s get the IT Director involved and they’ll referee to straighten things out. There are a lot of hosting companies that either hide from this type of interaction or don’t have the experience and expertise to deal with it. The support teams may know operating systems but not know a model view from a case statement from a dynamic query (whatever – you know what I mean). This increases the challenge level but definitely does not rule out successful DevOps implementation. It just takes a bit more work up-front before engaging with a hosting company.

First, successful DevOps interaction with a site or server host is going to require managed hosting. In an unmanaged situation the client is generally on their own. Super-cheap hosting models are generally unmanaged – it costs money to maintain quality, experienced, and educated operations people, and make them available as-needed.

Second, you’ll want a host that doesn’t hide. Does the host respond quickly to email tickets? Do they provide telephone access not only for critical issues, but for talking about plans and changes and working proactively through upcoming deployments?

Third, you’ll want a host with knowledge and experience. Do they have developers on staff that work in the same development stack that you do? Are those people available to help out if needed? Sometimes development topics can be extremely technical and it might help to have a developer-to-developer interaction. Do the support people have some basic development knowledge? If you explain to them that your code is doing X, Y, and Z – do they get it?

Lastly, you’ll want a host who is proactive. Communication should flow both directions – not just from the customer’s developers to the host – but the host should also proactively review the systems and communicate and trends being noticed. Patching and change schedules should be communicated and coordinated. Operations people should make themselves available during deployments to assist and closely monitor for any issues. Scheduling a planning meeting to discuss ideas, plans, and suggestions (from both sides) shouldn’t be a hassle.

Do any hosts really operate at this level?
Yes, some do. Definitely not all of them though – in fact, in a world with thousands of “hosts” available, a small percentage provide this level of quality interaction.

If you don’t already know, OrcsWeb was founded 17 years ago (1996) and focuses on exactly this level of interaction with its customers. Its goal is to operate as an extension of the customers IT team and work proactively together for the overall success of the project. The Complete Care Managed Services (CCMS) that is available to all cloud server and dedicated server hosting clients provides all of the above: Proactive system reviews, system operational analysis, performance analysis (slow load pages, long running queries, optimization pointers, etc.), architectural guidance as needed – in addition to 24x7x365 monitoring with immediate alert response, 24x7x265 critical issue resolution, security solutions (VPN, firewall, ISP, etc.)

There may be other options too – I’m just not familiar with any. Before you decide who to partner with, I’d suggest picking up the phone and calling candidates. Chat a little with the person who answers the phone. Ask about the possibility of having a pre-sales architectural call to discuss your project and their solutions. Are you dealing with just a sales person or do they engage experienced architects to understand your concerns and needs?

I hope this helps you better understand the DevOps topic and some of the surrounding challenges (aka opportunities), and I hope it helps you make a good decision with selecting your hosting partners. Remember that group of people is going to be key to your success as a developer/manager/owner, so take the time up front and choose wisely.

Happy hosting!

WordPress on Win08, Win12, and CentOS+NGINX

So… I’ve been reading a lot about nginx and how awesome it performs. It sounds magical!

The Issue

My blog (running WordPress) hasn’t been running as fast as I (or Google) would like. The TTFB (time to first bite) is often > 500 ms which is slower than it should be. I thought this would be a great opportunity for nginx to prove itself and impress me!

Right now the live site that you are viewing is running on Windows Server 2008, PHP (of course), MySQL and WinCache. TTFB ~ 500 ms.

The Second Location

I set up another location on a totally different server – running Windows Server 2012, same version of PHP, MySQL, and still running WinCache. I took a backup of the MySQL database and restored it to the new server, and took a copy of all the site files and copied them over. Everything was left default (no additional specific performance tuning). Got it up and running nice and easily (setting up sites on Windows + IIS is so painless!) and started some tests. Guess what… TTFB right around 500 ms. That wasn’t a huge surprise but it at least told me that the issue wasn’t something specific to my Windows 2008 install / configuration.

The Third Location

Okay, so now I moved over to a Basic CentOS 6 configuration. I installed nginx, PHP, and MySQL. There were a lot more steps to get everything set up on Linux, but I’ve been through the routine a few times so it was just a matter of running all the right commands. Got the content copied over, got the MySQL database restored, and got ready for some testing. I’m thinking “I wonder how close to 100 ms it will be.” I run an external page speed test against it… wait eagerly for the results… and there they are! Huh? What? 600 ms? What the…!?!? OK. Maybe something’s wrong so I opened up Chrome developer tools and run some tests there to see what it thinks about the TTFB. Pretty close. Hmm…

Test Results Summary

So, using the Developer Tools I run some more timing tests on Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, and CentOS/NGINX so that I can get some TTFB averages. When looking at averages the numbers of all three were REALLY close. Just as often as not, the NGINX site was slightly slower (by a minimal number of milliseconds). No clear winner on speed here. With everything being the same, I’ll stick with Windows. Call me crazy but I like Windows Server – always have and always will. I like Linux for certain situations too, but running WordPress has not made it onto that short list of preferred-Linux scenarios.

What Does it Mean?

Other than all three platforms running about the same in speed, which is a pretty interesting point in itself, what else do we know? Well, I’m going to say that the issue is with WordPress itself rather than the platform. To be more precise, and perhaps fair, I’ll say that it is either WordPress, MySQL, PHP, some WordPress plugin, or something in that part of the stack – it isn’t the operating system nor the web service that is causing the less-than-ideal TTFB.

Happy hosting!

 
Brad on Google+

Turn Off IE Enhanced Security Configuration

The Internet Explorer Enhanced Security Configuration (IE ESC) that is turned on by default on Windows Server drives me crazy. Being unable to download files, and constantly being prompted to add URLs to be viewed, is super-annoying. So, my SOP now is to disable that setting for Administrative users on servers (note: these are generally test servers that I use; consult your overall security policy before disabling this feature.)

So, how do you turn off IE ESC? First open the Server Manager then click on Local Server. Once there you can see IE Enhanced Security Configuration shown, but if you are like me, you may have missed that there is more content to the right of the screen. So to actually control this setting, scroll to the right:

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Click where it currently (by default) shows “on”:

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Then just select the Off radio button and “OK” to turn off the feature.

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Now close Server Manager and restart any browser sessions that you might have open. Life is now so much easier for you to administer the server and obtain files that may be needed to complete your custom configuration.

Brad on Google+