31 Dec 2011

Easy Hosting Control Panel

There are a number of free hosting panels available for Linux and I've evaluated them all. The main contenders are ISPConfig 3, ZPanel, OpenPanel and EHCP (Easy Host Control Panel).

In this post we're going to take a look at EHCP, a product I'm happy to both recommend and use. It offers easy installation and comes with a comprehensive range of features coupled with a clean and intuitive look and feel.

27 Dec 2011

Secure Linux in the Balanced Cloud

A recent client project required a resilient framework from which to deliver their secure web facing application. Their initial request was for a load balanced, Linux AWS EC2 platform with MySQL replication and https (SSL) access, what we delivered provided all this, but with the added bonus of Intrusion Detection and self monitoring, self healing servers with eMail alerting. Below is a schematic displaying the build and server relationships. A detailed explanation follows.

26 Nov 2011

Cherokee - Little Big Web

In Linux world the ubiquitous Apache web server has held position as undisputed big chief since inception, however technology, as it does, advances and amongst an ever increasing proliferation of realised Linux platforms there's many a sysadmin embracing the rise in popularity of it's biggest contender, Cherokee, still from the same open source 'reservation' but with a fresher, faster footprint and a substantially more user friendly admin interface (in that it actually has one). Could the days of cli admin and confusing .conf file editing be over? Well, I must admit since discovering Cherokee I honestly can't see me using Apache again.

25 Nov 2011

SSL Load Balancing on AWS EC2

In this post I'm going provide an overview for one of the most sought after AWS EC2 setups - A securely load balanced pool of instances with HTTPS pass through all the way from client to instance.
Not only does this solution offer secure pass-through, it also provides a method for using a single signed SSL certificate across multiple servers/IPs. 
Amazon may have their own way of doing things but the results you can achieve with the tools they offer in the admin panel alone are really quite splendid.

21 Nov 2011

Domain hosting - Easy as 1-2-3

I've had fun and games with various different web hosts over the years and service levels ranging from restrictive to blatantly annoying. The jokers who lost a full months worth of blog posts and IMAP emails because the "...hard disk has failed" were a particular set of idiots I'd rather forget (I mean, 'The' hard disk? Seriously?). However they're not all bad and in recent times I've settled quite happily with 123-Reg, for many reasons but predominantly due to their clean and simple options for self DNS management at NS (nameserver) level.

If you manage web hosting it's important to be able to point your domains NS records at nameserver names & associated IPs you manage, and create the relevant entries for doing so. Not all domain reg hosting companies will let you do this and of the ones that do I've yet to discover any who offer such an accommodating no-nonsense method of doing so than 123-Reg.

123-Reg provide a superb DNS overview which explains everything you need to know through A records to CNAME and mailserver (MX) entries in easy to understand stages. Download the free PDF HERE.

14 Nov 2011

OSSEC HIDS - Secure Protection for your Web Face

Running a server platform requires escalating levels of security awareness and best practice if you want it to keep functioning and your data safe. Business systems incorporate lock down policies which predominantly deal with threats from holes at user level, however if you're web facing, outside the snug protection offered by a corporate firewall, you'd better make sure you're zipped up even tighter. 
The internet is a very, very dangerous place and if you're open in anyway *they* will be in, there's nothing so certain.

26 Oct 2011

DMR, 1941-2011. The inventor of modern computing logs out

Overshadowed by the high profile departure of Steve Jobs into an iCloud this month was the equally notable death of Dennis Ritchie, a name the vast majority will not be familiar with however without him the world of IT and computing would be a very different place.

Along with his work partner, Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie was responsible for inventing and developing the greatest computer operating system of all time, UNIX.

6 Oct 2011

Happy Mac - The Legacy of Steve Jobs

The flip side of losing Steve Jobs is the legacy, vision, and of course the products and iLifestyle he's given us. I remember the beige years without Steve when Apple computers were perceptually sub-standard, even though OS9 was still a far superior and more advanced operating system than anything Microsoft could produce. And today, after the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the visionary successful iPad, look where we are, it's an iWorld, and I would say a much better, happier, and more enjoyable place for being so.

I previously blogged about the original iMac and as I said at the time I still rate it, without exception, as my all time favourite computer, for many reasons. Technicalities aside, its visionary design quite literally rebooted computing for us all and its ubiquitous impact cannot be underestimated.

So, where, and what now? Can Tim Cook steer Apple into the future with matched product vision and drive? Well, Jobs was one of those special people in time who are few and far between, and as such in all honesty cannot be replaced, however I for one have faith in Cook as CEO and firmly believe that the Apple platforms we run our media from, and the products they produce, which we love and enjoy daily, will still evolve and develop to further enhance our iLives. And even if things do change, the blueprint for the future of Apple was always there from the word go, for, as Steve said  - "Think Different".

Force Quit

Steve Jobs - 1955-2011

25 Sep 2011

Rolling with Arch Linux - No Upgrade Required

I've been a staunch Ubuntu guy (more recently Debian) for years, I provide free hosting from a Debian based server and produced my Linux Integration Workshop based on the Ubuntu Desktop release, however client needs have recently pushed me to look elsewhere for my server platform.

It's basically down to online merchant security. I have a client running Ubuntu 10.04LTS in a Linode, who needs installed packages (i.e Apache, PHP etc) to be the most recent version releases in order to comply with the latest PCI-DSS scan requirements. Ubuntu 10.04, although an LTS (5 year long term service release) doesn't deliver up to date package versions from its repos, which is somewhat annoying and requires back porting from the more recent distro repos to patch (I'm not a fan of manual installs in this instance), a workaround yes but not the cleanest, and, still a 'workaround'. What I needed was a rolling distro offering the most up to date versions of all packages at every upgrade, a bit like the Mint LMDE, but server based, i.e a distribution you only ever have to install once, and once only.

24 Aug 2011

Wunderlist - The wonderful ToDo for you for FREE

I've always used To-Do lists in one for or other and have been through a broad range of offerings over the years, never really settling on one in particular for sustained use, until I stumbled across 'Wunderlist'. It was so small and simple I never thought it would hang around past the statutory 'install and evaluate' 15 minutes most new software usually gets (if that) however it's still in my dock, and still in daily use almost a year after download.

22 Aug 2011

The IIS7 FTP Publishing Service 7.5 on AWS EC2 Instances

In a previous post I advised on how to configure a 3rd party FTP Server under Windows Server 2003 for an Amazon AWS EC2 instance and the tricks required to open up the data ports for passive transfer. 

In this post I'm going to describe how to install and enable the new FTP Publishing Service 7.5 under IIS7 on MS Server 2008, again this is relative to an Amazon AWS EC2 instance.

Original iMacs - The Colour of Cool

With the return of exiled Steve Jobs (to his own company) the "bubble" iMac, designed by Jonathan Ive, was launched in 1998 to huge critical acclaim. 
Apple declared that "The back of our computer looks better than the front of anyone else's" which in a world of faceless beige square boxes couldn't have been more true.

Dated as the original iMac is today, and although I don't own one anymore, it's still my all time favourite Apple computer.

ISPConfig3 - Two NS records for a single IP on AWS EC2

One of my servers runs ISPConfig 3 for entry level client web hosting, which is fine for in-house and personal use. It offers a professional front end with the installation routine to get there superbly presented on HowToForge and covering all variants of Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, Fedora and OpenSuSE.

8 Aug 2011

Postbox 2 - Purrfect eMail to make your Lion happy

I've never really taken to the OSX mail.app and to be honest haven't even opened the new version after upgrading to Lion, I know I should but I've read no glowing reviews and to be fair have plenty of other much more interesting things to do. Interesting to me of course, I am aware Linux VHost development might not be for everyone.

I use (and swear by) Google Apps for Business and have for some time used the wonderful Mozilla Thunderbird client to connect (see previous post). Built on Mozilla technology (the same people who bring you Firefox) Thunderbird is rock solid and delivers comprehensively as an integrated comms client where MS Outlook glaringly fails (i.e by accommodating Google contacts and calendar), however what with the softer, slicker (nicer) look of Lion I fancied something a bit more in keeping, so, I thought I'd give PostBox another try. I'm glad I did as the latest release (v2.5) is a joy.

1 Aug 2011

VMWare vSphere Hypervisor - Part 3 : The iPad client

When the iPad was unveiled I, like many, was mildly curious as to where it would slot in. Obviously I was aware Apple, being Apple, wouldn't bring out such a revolutionary new product without being confident it was going to be a success and I should have had more faith having being similarly bemused when first seeing the 1st gen iPod. Even so as a predominantly back-end server and systems guy I never considered all that swiping and gesturing would appeal to me, wrong again, for here I am promoting an iPad client utility for managing vSphere, and nice it is too.

14 Jul 2011

VMWare vSphere Hypervisor - Part 2 : Tools and Snapshots

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the VMWare vSphere Hypervisor product, the reasons for use plus installation and server VM image creation, in Part 2 I'm going to run through VMWare Tools for both platforms with accompanying machine instance snapshot and restore.

To provide maximum control of server VM's inside the ESXi environment you need to install the VMWare Tools for each instance. Doing so enables extra functionality such as dynamic vDisk resizing and controlled shutdown/restart.

13 Jul 2011

VMWare vSphere Hypervisor - Part 1 : Installation and Use

Cloud migration makes sense on many levels however there may be certain server operations your business prefers to keep local for whatever reason, and for multi-box resource intelligence a virtualisation solution delivering consolidated server IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) is the way to go. Gone are the days of a single server per function sat sucking up power at 2% of load 24/7/365. Thankfully technology has evolved and today we can operate our systems across substantially more efficient and manageable platforms.

7 Jul 2011

Server platforms need the X-Factor

In this age of rapidly evolving web applications, social networking and internet mobility it's easy to forget (or for some perhaps not even realise) that all this "stuff" has to run on something, the "something" being a server or server platform (or even a "web-farm" if you prefer the more contemporary term). As buildings and builders are to people and society as are servers and infrastructure developers to web content.
I don't doubt the majority of people will have heard of the internet, equally as many of Microsoft, but what of Linux?

27 Jun 2011

Mobile Websites - That's Handi

The mobile internet has exploded and today everyman and his dog has an iPhone or Android, devices used with increasing predominance as main access portals into our connected lives and pushing a whole new genre of mobile websites and mobile website design services.

When we say mobile we don't just mean accessible from anywhere, that's a given as all websites already are (providing there's relevant connectivity). Mobile in the context of handhelds means the site is specifically designed around touch tap technology for limited screen real estate. Desktop websites are meant for desktops and even with auto area selection are still annoyingly difficult to navigate when pinched, scrolled and sectionally zoomed.

17 Jun 2011

FTP access for Windows instances on AWS EC2

The Amazon AWS platform is firewalled using their superbly simple 'Security Group' method and as such is inherently secure from default, an obvious advantage however it can catch you out if you're not on top of the technology. 
One of the more common stumbling blocks, and an obvious show stopper for any web server, is that of FTP access for Microsoft based instances (Server 2003 and/or Server 2008). Across regular VPS offerings it's a simple procedure to install a 3rd party FTP server (i.e FileZilla or perhaps Cerberus) and configure secure access for uploading website files and data, however there are forums full of queries from tired sysadmins sat scratching their heads wondering why they're apparently connected but can't get a folder listing from their EC2 instance. In this post I'll show you how to get things hooked up.

10 Jun 2011

Ubuntu Server - The simple four stage security lockdown

Server security can make or break a web business and todays hackers aren't getting any less intrusive, nor is the data we publish on line geting any less sensitive, in fact quite the opposite. There is no such thing as a totally secure computer system, no matter what anyone may tell you, however at base level there is a simple four-stage configuration you can implement which will substantially increase your chances of protection from the vast majority of attacks.

The following four point system is applicable to the Linux (Ubuntu) server platform.

9 Jun 2011

Mini Me - The Dell 9" Home Server

So, you fancy a home server for bits and bobs of development, but don't want to buy another bulky computer, and especially not something expensive and server class. Aside from a need to house it in the garage due to fan noise, server units aren't renowned for their energy efficiency and that RAID array, although fault tolerant, will suck up more power than you realise. Unlike work it's you who pays the bills 'at home'.

How about something you could fit in a shoe box, something which will run completely silently, at an energy efficient 5w, comes with its own built-in screen and keyboard plus SSD hard disk and combined UPS (Battery), and all for just over £100? Am I deluded? Not at all, I run a Dell Mini 9 Netbook. Totally useless as a computer but absolutely brillant as a home server.

30 May 2011

Microsoft Web Farm Framework using AWS EC2

As can be the case with some products there can be a degree of tweaking required outside the advised setup to get them functioning, and the recent addition to IIS, the 'Web Farm Framework' (WFF), is no exception.
WFF is great in concept and there's no doubting it's usefulness for distributed web application and site replication across a multi-server platform. In this post I'm going to show you how to set up a basic two server WFF using EC2 instances across the Amazon AWS platform.

20 May 2011

Autosnappy for EC2 Snapshots - The No Brainer

The bulk of our recent development has delivered various virtual server platforms across Amazons superb EC2, which, on the back of last months outage has prompted an extra level of awareness for built in resilience.

Multi-zoned load balancing for web boxes is easily catered for using standard AWS tools, but what of SQL? Especially for a client budget restricted to the non-replicative self-contained simplicity of MS SQL Express (It's free for a reason).

27 Apr 2011

Thunderbird and Google Apps - Mail/Contacts/Calendar.

Google Apps for business is great and MS Outlook is the most widely used communications portal in business, two statements of fact which need a third to highlight a problem and the reason for this post - They don't interface correctly.

Although Google Apps provides comprehensive Exchange configuration with seamless mail, contacts and calendar it's only good for the iPhone, desktop mail is relegated to IMAP with calendar and contact sync flaky at best (if at all) and certainly not accommodated comprehensively by Outlook (2011). Not much help to the organised amongst us who like everything in one place, I mean come on, it's 2011, communication platforms should communicate with each other.

14 Apr 2011

Hosting in style with OpenPanel

Moving up from simple vhosting the next stage has to be an ISP style platform functioning as it's own DNS offering full on multi-domain functionality with combined eMail and W.H.Y, all quite achievable via CLI fun and games but it is 2011, time is short and rewarding as it might be for the geeky amongst us we all succumb to and enjoy (expect?) a more stylish and smoother way of doing things these days. It's all Apple's fault, but in a good way and for todays task in hand we present the elegantly intuitive Apple-esque hosting platform from OpenPanel.

6 Apr 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

I recently attended to a spot of cloud admin for a fast moving media delivery client. They already host data on Amazon S3 and after having dedicated VM problems decided to migrate their web front end across to a couple of MS 2008 EC2 instances. With sticky sessions scripted and running happily across two load balanced AMI’s thoughts moved toward an easier method for updating replicated copies of the inetpub.

5 Apr 2011

NFS - A Home from Home

The holy grail for enterprise clients are networked home directories, for many reasons, but most importantly they provide a centrally managed location for sys admins to take care of precious user data, you know, all those comedy email attachments and JPEGs from last years holiday in Benidorm, that important, business critical stuff we backup daily, weekly and monthly for them.

4 Apr 2011

Word Up - An Amazon EC2 LAMP for Wordpress

AWS EC2 is a virtual server platform hosted in the Amazon cloud which you manage yourself. It offers builds around MS Server 2003 to 2008 as well as varying flavours of Linux and is priced intelligently on a “per use” basis. You can choose the server location and either build your own for upload or choose from one of the many pre-configured Amazon Machine Images (AMI’s). 
In this post I’ll provide an overview of instances and run through a base Wordpress installation to an Ubuntu LAMP.

3 Apr 2011

LTSP - Back to the Future

During our Linux for Business Workshop we demonstrate Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) technology, and it’s fun to note parallels between what was, what is, and what’s going to be, as it seems the old saying is indeed true in that nothing is really new and “What goes around comes around”.

A “client/server” model was the original method of computing. Resources were held centrally and computing (processor) time allotted to remote terminals. Technology has of course evolved and now we have more computing power in a digital watch than was once delivered from the monolithic mainframe systems that used to spit out punched cards to the bespectacled analysts of the 70's.

2 Apr 2011

Listen in Colour

Just because something is more technologically advanced doesn't mean it's intrinsically better, in a lot of cases this can be true however we had a recent discussion about the Kindle and I won't lie, I hate the things. For me a book is more than the mere words it contains, I treat mine as respected artifacts and can't imagine reading (for leisure) from anything else. Digital text is cold and transient (and where do you put your bookmark?). 

1 Apr 2011

Messagical - The Newton iMessage Pad3

Today Apple launched a surprise product as both a thank you to long time Mac fanatics and to address the staggering demand for the iPad2 which they are struggling to meet.

The new product is actually a revamp of an old favourite and those who have a history with Apple will immediately recognise the Newton, Apples 'vintage' iPad and the worlds first tablet computer, released way ahead of it's time in the late 1980's.

31 Mar 2011

Keep Control - The Turnkey Linux PDC

I’ve previously mentioned the need (or not) to implement a server at small business level (SMB/SME). Office workgroups (up to 12 PC’s) can happily share files and printers from a SAMBA NAS whilst running eMail & collaborative groupware from Google Apps, account admin is quite manageable with a dozen or so users and if remote desktops are enabled both application and operating system management can also be kept in check by the *appointed* office IT individual. 

30 Mar 2011

Continental Cost Savings - The French Police and Linux Ubuntu

If implemented intelligently the resultant cost savings from mainstream software licensing against an open platform can deliver quite substantial returns. The larger the organisation the greater the potential for reduced TCO and there can be no greater example of this than the on-going migration by the French 'Gendarmerie Nationale' (National Police Force), the results are quite amazing.

29 Mar 2011

Open All Ours

Open source means different things to different people. To some it’s a descriptive tag for certain platforms of community developed free software, to others it’s “lab” computing for geeks and at the far end it’s a comprehensive lifestyle ethos, however there is a constant and if we dig down we’re going to end up somewhere around root “collaboration”.

28 Mar 2011

The Funky and the Fear

I like the Germans. I love their open boundaries for inspired technical innovation, not only are they huge advocates (and users) of Linux but outside the virtual their adventurous ingenuity has developed all manner of engineering icons, many now globally revered for brand performance and reliability, but some, like the BMW C1, predominantly confined to a brief few years inside the physical and cerebral borders of the Fatherland. 

27 Mar 2011

Likewise 6 - Instant Integration

The core of our Linux workshop revolves around the integration of Linux desktops into Microsoft Active Directory via a utility produced by US company Likewise. As such we were most keen to evaluate v6, their most recent release. The following review is based on a basic installation to MS Server 2003 SP2 with the concurrent client installed to Ubuntu 10.04.1 Desktop.

26 Mar 2011

AWS - The Amazon Cloud

For the majority of organisations data backup is a full time job. As a former I.T Service Manager I was once responsible for ensuring a digitised archive was backed up, a lengthy and laborious process involving a multi-site system of networked tape libraries with accompanying software and a regimented physical routine for changing tapes and/or rotating them to off-site storage.

25 Mar 2011

Clean up with Google Apps

For one reason or another (invariably an infected PC running a local mail client unknowingly knocking out SPAM) it’s not uncommon to find your hosting providers mail server IP address has found its way onto an internet blacklist and you’ve frustratingly become some sort of virtual e-leper, unable to contact your important clients due to an inbox full of rejected messages.

Seasoned Support

The major mental hurdle for any business assessing open source software is that of support -  migration support (impact on existing business), user support (familiarity training) and on going support (upgrades/roadmap etc). Such concerns can, and do, offset the most substantial of cost savings, but what’s the actual situation?
Microsoft obviously factors into the mindset and with its 90% market share support is more than available, however it does come at a price. 

23 Mar 2011

Linux - Realised

With a 70% forecast for enterprise additions over the next five years it seems the realised benefits of Linux have finally filtered through the proprietary marketing machine. It’s taken a while, but cream always rises to the top ;-)
Interesting too are the figures for new installations with a huge 66% across greenfield deployments.

In with the In-Box

Email is, of course, the ensconced backbone of global business communication at all levels and there’s no apparent mystique on how to use it, i.e “Create Message” and “Send”, that’s it? Well yes, that’s the bottom line, however in a dynamic business environment if you haven’t got a handle on your data flow and message management things can quickly get out of hand.

Does todays SME really need a server?

Due to their size and admin requirement many small businesses cannot financially justify a fully dedicated I.T department (or employee), as such their computer systems usually evolve (in)organically over a number of years from one or two computers into a disparate mixture of self-installed desktops running an insecure and unmanaged mixed platform.