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.
Openpanel are a relatively new (2010) player to the field and slot in around the likes of EHCP and ISPConfig (but without the client shell). Their slick and stylish offering is advised for installation on Debian 5 (Lenny) and is a real joy. Let's take a look at how it pans out from install to domain go-live.
I used a 10GB Amazon EC2 Debian Lenny AMI for the base, to save you time the EC2 instance number is ami-9a6b9af3.
The Openpanel installation procedure is seamless and quick, simply connect to your instance via ssh, add the relevant repos and run the apt command to fire things off, accessing the GUI through https port 4089 when finished (Instructions HERE).
Operational documentation is presented cleanly on the OpenPanel website and even for those with limited knowledge of domain platforms is easy to follow, running through quick and simple domain creation with associated web & eMail. It is useful to have a handle on the basics though and for anyone who doesn't here's a 'nutshell' breakdown of how it all works for a machine configured as a Web DNS.
- NS records - These relate to the name server. The nameserver ns record covers main domain direction, i.e so 'the internet' knows which server your domain and related services are hosted on. In Openpanel we configure x2 ns records to match our domain, i.e ns.ourdoman.com. & ns1.ourdomain.com. (note the trailing . ).
- A records - The a records point to IP's (i.e in this case the elastic IP of our EC2 server) and are used to both back up linked ns records and to handle web (www) + any potential sub domain direction (i.e support.ourdomain.com or mail.ourdomain.com), we need to create x2 ns a records linked to the server IP to link with the main ns records.
- MX records - Created for mail, mx records also require a corresponding a record pointing to the server IP.
It's all about the a records….!
I configured a domain, added the website name (+ alias) and corresponding site FTP account, stuck an eMail address or two up and pointed the domain name hostside to the newly configured ns records. After that it was just a case of waiting for internet DNS replication to do its thing. Replication round the web is advised at around 48 hours however I've had Google Apps migrations dropping eMail in under 30 minutes and things popped up live here in an easy half a day, not bad. I FTP'd the website up, tested eMail send/rec and that was it, clean, quick and seamless. I've had things up for over a week now with no problems at all.
The OpenPanel admin GUI is one of the cleanest I've seen and aside from general domain config also provides easy options for MySQL, Firewall and User management, heck, it even let's you directly update the OS.
The OpenPanel GUI.
And there you have it, who says life has to be difficult? OpenPanel not only make ISP style multi-hosting a breeze but do it with a stylish and intuitive solution. My only gripe would be the lack of a dedicated web panel to facilitate individual client accounts but that said it's not a show stopper and I'll certainly be continuing to use it myself, it's OSX-ey design and super slick functionality I don't think can be beaten.
Oh, and did I mention it's Open Source and Free?