Transition finished

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Transition finished

Published by on May 2nd 2011.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, rw-designer.com is now running on a different machine. In this post, I would like to summarize the event.

A little bit of history

I have registered the rw-designer.com domain in February 2005. Retrospectively, this was not the best choice. I was planning to get rwdesigner.com (without the dash), but unfortunately, the domain was registered 2 months earlier by a wannabe designer with RW initials ;-). That domain expired year later and a domain squatter owns it since that time (so, don't go there).

RealWorld.com was of course my first choice, but that domain was registered and showing an "under construction" sign (it is still there). I should have spent more time looking for a domain without a dash, but I did not believe it was a big deal. Oh well.

I started on a relatively cheap, shared hosting (~6USD per month). Shared hosting means that multiple web sites are running on a single web server, sharing all its resources. There is limited disk space, limited monthly bandwidth and the software installed on the server is controlled by the hosting company. This was a Linux server with Apache, PHP and MySql - still a popular choice these days.

As the site grew, the limitations of the shared hosting were getting annoying. I was looking for options.

I was considering getting a dedicated server, but these are pretty expensive to run. Nevertheless, In 2008 or so, I took my old computer, installed Linux and let a hosting company connect it to the internet using a fast connection. This was 10-times more expensive than the shared hosting.

But what now? Maintaining a web server is no easy thing. If something fails, it is my responsibility to fix it. It actually happened once - the power supply unit died and it took me 1 day to get a new one and replace it. I did not really feel confident to move the main web to this machine. Another problem was a limited monthly traffic (more traffic costs more). And so, this server was only running my blog, and the wiki. I did not know what to do, but my plan was to move all the software downloads to a different domain and run the CPU intensive part of the web on my server and leave the traffic intensive part (downloads) on another one. But the actual move never happened, I did not trust my years-old computer enough.

Another argument against moving the web was the lazy attitude of the hosting company (owners of the shared web host) to the bandwidth limits and disk quotas. Despite occasionally exceeding them, I never got a word from them. And despite sharing the web with ~100 other webs, rw-designer.com was actually responsible for about 50% of the total traffic. I was getting 50% of a web server with 2 Xeon CPUs for just 6USD per month. It is hard to walk away from that.

But there were also downsides. Backups were irregular, I could not customize the software running on the server, there were slowdowns, there were outages. Not an ideal situation.

The switch

When the database size was so much over quota I decided the time has come to switch the hosting.

I decided to get a VPS (virtual private server). This is a relatively new option and it is a breed of shared and dedicated hosting. While the physical machine is owned and maintained by the hosting company and shared by multiple clients, each client can install their own operating system and software. The virtual machines are isolated and each of them gets a separate IP address. They only share the CPUs and the network connection. Memory and disk space are exclusive. The price of the VPS lays somewhere between shared and dedicated hosting. This looked like the right thing.

The switch itself was not difficult, but there were many little annoyances.

I downloaded the php files and exported the database on the old server. Then I uploaded those on the new server and switched the DNS record to point the rw-designer domain to the new server. The whole operation took some time and due to the nature of DNS for a while both machines were available concurrently. I had to move few comments and 2 cursor sets (bad luck) manually from the old database to the new one.

Rw-designer.com will continue to run on Linux, Apache, PHP and MySql. I decided to use the CentOS Linux distribution. CentOS is based on RedHat and is very conservative distribution. That proved to be a bit of a problem and I spent a whole day getting a newer PHP.

The outdated version of PHP caused a lot of tiny problems. The image blending functions had bugs. Some array iteration procedures were not functioning. The new PHP defaults were set differently on the new server and my code did generate lots of warnings. While these warning messages were thrown away on the old server, they were placed in a log file on the new server. After one day, I was looking at a log file size of 1GB. Some of the warnings were actually indications of errors in my code. I used this opportunity to clean up the website code.

Another troublesome problem was the email processing. Due to spam, setting up an email server correctly is not an easy thing. I had to do this:

  • Set up a PTR DNS record that maps IP address to domain name.
  • Set up a SPF DNS record that indicates what servers are eligible to send messages on behalf of rw-designer.com.
  • Set the correct envelope address when sending emails.
  • Somehow deal with incoming spam.

I decided not to deal with the last point myself and left it up to google to manage incoming mail for the rw-designer.com domain. Google offers an "Email for domains" service that gives email accounts equivalent in functionality to gmail, but accessible on custom domains. Neat. All incoming email is handled and stored on Google servers. One less problem.

The result of the changes should be positive. By getting the DNS stuff right, some picky email servers (like aol or comcast) should now accept emails sent by rw-designer without problems. If you subscribed to notifications, but never got any, this feature should be working for you now.

What to expect in the future

The new server has enough space for the cursor and icon libraries.

My hand are now free to experiment with some database-intensive features. We'll see...

Recent comments

user icon sixλxis forum moderator on May 3rd 2011

Sounds like heavy workings are underway, and all in time for your birthday on Saturday :-D

user icon JDDellGuy contributing user on May 3rd 2011

Nice. I nknow exactly what you are talking about with the virtual machines. I have actually built a few myself. And with Windows 7 Ultimate, I have Windows XP mode of course which is a virtual XP.

user icon Anonymous
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