Thoughts on Systems

Emil Sit

Colophon, the Beginning

I’ve been thinking about having a blog for a while and now here I have one with my own domain name running on outsourced hosting. That doesn’t really seem like me–I usually like to have more control–but I think Dan Sandler has really summarized the whole argument: it’s a lot of work to have featureful blog software and if someone else has done it, well, that’s less time spent building scaffolding.

This blog is powered by Typo, blog software that can be accessed via multiple XML-RPC APIs, store data in multiple database backends, and seems pretty easy to theme. I came across it while searching for non-PHP based blog software that supported SQLite. While trying to learn a little bit about it, I entered the Typo Theme Contest and wound up being one of the first ten entrants, scoring myself a free year of hosting. A few rounds with GoDaddy and here we are!

Some early impressions of the outsourced hosting process:

  • PlanetArgon’s sign-up process could use some more documentation. It wasn’t immediately clear to me whether or not they would handle acquiring a domain name for me (they didn’t) and what the management of those domains might be like.
  • GoDaddy’s ordering process and management UI is not great for beginners.
    • They advertised a free proxy feature (for privacy) when registering three domains but it didn’t automatically get added to my cart. (I’ve decided not to try and argue or fight about this.)
    • The normal search process for domains does not seem to allow adding multiple domain names to your cart without going through and entering some customer information. In contrast, their quick-search feature does allow you to just add a name to the cart. This made things a bit confusing when I was trying to sign up for multiple names.
    • The management UI has no-less than three ways to try and get at different features: the top, green nav bar which includes links to both product descriptions and management options via dropdowns, the white nav bar which does not have drop downs despite having the same visual arrow cue has the green, and a text-based list that is on the bottom third of the first page. I could write more about the inconsistencies of the UI but I was able to figure out how to change my nameservers and such to point to PlanetArgon’s servers. What amazed me was that the time between purchasing the names and having the show up in the root zone was basically instantaneous.
  • It’s nice not to have to worry about maintaining my own hardware and software but perhaps next time I should go for a Xen-based hosting solution. If the machines don’t have some tool I want (e.g. darcs or adnsresfilter), I have to ask someone instead of just running apt-get or portinstall. And while having IRC access to PlanetArgon’s staff during business hours is convenient, it’d also be nice if they had a support ticket system.
  • The boundaries between what the hosting staff will do as opposed to what I will do inside my hosting domain is not entirely clear to me. I haven’t asked yet but I don’t know if they will handle upgrading Typo (which appears to be from svn) especially if I customize the themes and other stuff. I don’t think I have bits to change the top-level of my site to be something other than Typo.
  • Does VHCS2 (PlanetArgon’s management system) offer a non-FTP method of getting a dump of my account’s files?

It’s all part of the learning process. We’ll see what happens.

Update: I ran some experiments overnight to learn a bit more about backups. The nightly backup runs at around 2am ET and appears to tar the contents of the virtual host directory (not the entire home directory), excluding the backups and logs directories. The script does not delete other files in the backups directory but only keeps a single nightly backup. The MySQL database does not appear to be backed up in a user accessible way. You don’t need to use FTP (though they do run ProFTPd); sftp works fine.

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