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Adventures in hosting

Recently I decided to go into the hosting business. Not in a big way mind you. Just to cover the costs of hosting primarily with perhaps enough left over for a night on the town once a month or to pay the phone bill.

As it happens I was lucky enough in that I had two clients ready to go with over 100 sites each. Starting up a business without having to look for clients is an absolute luxury especially in the middle of one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen. After making all the agreements with my future clients it was time to come up with a concrete migration plan.

Before a single site could be migrated several things needed to be taken into consideration:

  • Hardware
  • Software (Operating System and Control Panel)
  • Support/Knowlegebase/Helpdesk
  • Bandwidth requirements
  • Data import/migration/compatibility

The hardware was the easiest. I had a spare Dell poweredge 1850 hanging around here at home doing nothing with a not too inconsiderate 6GB of RAM.  The operating system was going to be a simple matter too. It was going to be Linux or nothing. However which Linux distribution to choose?

Choosing the Linux distrubution was going to be directly related to my choice of control panel software. I wrote here sometime back about Virtualmin and I decided that it would be absolutely perfect for my control panel requirements. Having decided on the control panel software it was now up to me to choose between CentOS or Ubutu 8.04LTS as the host OS. In the end out of familiarity I opted for Ubuntu.

One of the key reasons for choosing Virtualmin was its ability to import backups from cPanel. As I would be migrating almost 200 sites from a cPanel server in the U.S. the ability to seamlessly migrate would be an absolute bonus. Another important reason was that the control panel interface itself is very easy to use. Considering that my two future clients were coming from years of using cPanel I was confident that they would easily find their way around Virtualmin.

In February I installed the server into the datacentre and pulled across a couple of cPanel backups to test the import functionality. Of primary concern to me was the existing server was running CentOS and using Exim as its MTA. The new server was the already mentioned Ubuntu and I had decided on Postfix as the MTA. In addition the home folders of the existing server were split between two disks mounted as /home and /home2

So I pulled across two backups, one with /home as its location on the old server and the other with /home2, used the import function and in about 5 minutes both sites had been migrated flawlessly.

I couldn’t have been that lucky I thought to myself. Normally something goes awry especially when there are significant differences in software as well as software versions. I poked around all the config files and was astonished to see that everything looked as it should be.

Over the next week I made out a schedule for migration and before long all sites were up and running. My clients were happy as too were my clients clients. The only issues that cropped up were minor and were as a result of differences in the way Virtualmin handles user accounts compared to cPanel.

So that was over a month ago and with everyone happy I can reflect on what was accomplished. Most notably was there anything I could have done differently or more efficiently.

As it happens yes, there was something I could have done had I thought about it.

The hardware of the server is absolutely overkill for what it is doing. 6GB of RAM is way too much. Over the past month the most I have ever seen in use was just short of 800MB however having lots of free RAM is not a bad thing as Linux likes to use lots of it for cache.

The load on the old server was constantly around the 1.00 to 2.50 mark, the new server with it’s dual core Xeons is barely even breaking a sweat with load averages between 0.03 and 0.12.

What I should have done, and it’s obvious now, is that I should have installed a hypervisor like VMware ESX server and paritioned the physical machine in to three virtual machines. One for each of my two clients and the third for myself.

In any event I have another Poweredge 1850 and a pair of 1750′s that I intend on installing into the datacentre in the not too distant future so now it is time to start planning for that.

To finish off here’s a screenshot:

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