Initial steps moving server to linode

Last night I started to work on getting this site moved over to linode, and have some comments to make regarding:

  • pricing structure
  • responsiveness of admin site
  • responsiveness of updating server images
  • server locations
  • image availability
  • process with regards to gentoo on linode

So let’s go and look at those topics at least at some level.

Pricing Structure

With our current host (GANDI) we love the granularity of the pricing structure.  If I have something which is very processor heavy, but doesn’t use much hard drive space, or memory, I can easily build a machine with that focus in mind.  That really is a great way to get systems which are really ideal for specific purposes.

The problem there is in order to provide that kind of granularity of pricing, you end up with a situation where it can become difficult to actually handle all the complexities of setting that up.  On GANDI, we are currently spending about $125-200/month on the hosting for 3 different sites (on 3 different servers).

So, while I initially saw the linode pricing structure of machines based on set bundles as being a bit of a problem, looking a little closer I think that even for the same server sizes, there is about a 20% reduction in price, and I think that their current smallest servers will do well enough (right now) for current needs for each server.

Responsiveness of the admin site

Repeatedly when working on the GANDI site, I have wondered if my click had gone through, and I simply was waiting for a response from the site, or if I failed to get the click to it.  With linode, I have had no such issue.  The server is so responsive that I actually wonder sometimes if I did actually do anything because rather than my usually expected “clear change” something minor just pops up, and is responding to what I asked it to do.

Responsiveness of updating server images

Here is something which I felt was really bothersome with GANDI.  When I updated images, I ended up frequently feeling like I might as well go off and do something entirely different for twenty or more minutes.  I knew I couldn’t really do anything with the machine for that long.

On linode, I am finding that even though I manually shut down the server, manually make the changes, and manually reboot the server, I can usually do so with a minute or less for the entire process.  It also is very clear about where in the process that is.  So I would say even that will make it at least feel snappier rather than “operations in process” which doesn’t really tell me anything.

Server Locations

One of the issues with GANDI which has lead to me feel I really have wanted to move away from them, is that the servers which I was running in Baltimore are getting shut down at the end of November, and that was where I had them located.

I might have been not overly bothered by this and less inclined to move the servers if they provided an option for a more or less “one click” migration, or better yet given the heads up, allowed people to migrate as they wished (one click migration if they wanted to just move the existing image etcetera, but manual migration if they wanted to modify the server), but their migration is entirely manual, and one issue I repeatedly ran into was when creating a new server, or new disk or whatever, it defaulted (for me at least) to the Baltimore data centre, and that setting was not really noticeable enough that I made sure I was doing the right thing.

Linode has servers in North America, Europe, and Asia.  Further, on creating all of my server instances, I have pretty much noticed where they are.  Once my instance was in the wrong US city, but not a big deal, in part because when I notice it, I can recreate it in another datacentre in about 2 minutes (probably less).

While I’d really like to have my servers in Canada, I can’t say I’ve been able to find any host which isn’t really expensive to handle what I am wanting with this in Canada.  Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Image Availability

The server images which are available on linode are pretty diverse.  There are 9 of the top Linux distributions including my favourite gentoo which really surprised me.  I saw that the gentoo image was on the old side, but I went with it, and that may have been a mistake, but after having the server up and running for more than a day, mostly working on getting it to “current gentoo” (most of it the issue that gentoo always takes a long time to setup) and having already figured out about 3 different issues where the install is not working correctly, and why, I have decided to continue to plow ahead.

I do not recommend gentoo unless a person really wants to get into the depths of Linux, or if they have some issue with the politics of certain big names along how certain things are done (systemd comes to mind) as gentoo tends to be for power users.  While it does end up compiling pretty much everything that can be (certain packages are split into a -bin and the usual with no -bin as they are such large packages) and this is claimed to potentially improve performance, I am not entirely convinced that is indeed the case beyond minor improvements for most users.  Though if you are using certain older hardware or whatever, gentoo can allow you to do things you may not be able to on other systems (not tried it on any of the iMacs we have as they have all either been “in use” or “dying”).

Gentoo Server Creation

The gentoo server image which is available on linode is almost 2 years old from what I can tell.  Gentoo does not really do “releases” in the sense that a given release is using a given repository, there is a common repository for every release.

This works great when gentoo is maintained relatively frequently, and you usually end up with hardly any issues most of the time.  When working with gentoo on a system which hasn’t been maintained, you will often have to manually handle a number of issues, in order to get everything up and running in a reasonable manner.

In doing the updates on this, I have run into a number of issues, each one required me to look at why things were not updating the way that I wanted.  First off the first couple of updates were not even attempting to do anything as one package ended up blocking another package.  This can be a difficult situation to figure out, if any of the packages are in the “packages being updated list” (command line options, which can include either explicate packages or one of two (or maybe more) “sets” of package lists) it can be tricky if you try to uninstall a package listed there, especially when using the @world or @system keywords as if the package is listed in either, bad things can happen which are hard (very hard) to back out of once you’ve gone and changed certain things.

Then once I managed to get the system so that it is at least attempting to update @world, I quickly run into problems that certain packages can’t be updated as they are blocked because the package management system doesn’t support them (the system is called portage) so in order to update those packages I’m going to have to see about updating that first (no problem).

Now I am getting a list of all the packages that need to be updated on the system.  This isn’t looking too bad at all.  So I go ahead.  I notice some aren’t updating, but decide that for now I can just skip them.  It actually gets most of the system updated.

Now let’s try again.  Sometimes the issue is as simple as the fact that packages got updated in the wrong order, and just restarting after ending at the “nothing to do” will just fix it.

Sadly, no…  So I see what I need to update (and the failing package is a key package (glibc)).  Oh nice clean error message saying that the version of gcc (also a key package on gentoo) doesn’t reliably compile glibc.  Simple.  Just update that…

Once done, try to update what’s still there…  And right now, it looks like we’re good to go.  At least in terms of having the system up to date.  Loads of configuration I’ll need to work on.

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