Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Biting a mini-bullet

In Musings on Sep 28, 2010 at 00:01

After some agonizing over the infinite number of trade-offs available these days, I’ve finally made a couple of big decisions w.r.t. Internet and Jee Labs.

Until now, all the web sites for Jee Labs have been running on a rented dedicated web server located in Germany. That little setup has served me extremely well, running some 5 years with just a (precautionary) HD swap about halfway down the road. Downtime over these years has been less than 24 hours I think, in total – or as they say: “three 9’s” (99.9% uptime).

The current server machine is showing its age though, so some form of upgrade and transition is needed in the not too distant future. Preferably one which can again last 5 years or more. Content changes all the time – but a server really shouldn’t need to. It’s a commodity by now.

As it so happens, Fiber to the home (FTTH) is currently being rolled out around here at Jee Labs. Meaning: fast uploads, not just downloads. Which changes the landscape – it’s no longer necessary to rent something, a server at home will work just fine. Jee Labs is not a bank or some high-profile company setup. I don’t need a team of support personnel to get around-the-clock support. If it fails, I can fix it. And if I’m not there to fix it, then Jee Labs has a bigger problem than just its websites…

So the plan is now to move all of the Jee Labs internet “operations” to … Jee Labs in Houten, The Netherlands. Not hastily – there is no rush. But still.

Now I need a server. One which I won’t outgrow. One which won’t break – or at least if it ever does: one which is easily replaceable. I’ve traveled across the planet in my searches. I’ve seen it all. Amazingly small, amazingly cheap, amazingly powerful, amazingly robust, and amazingly simple. None of them is everything at the same time. But I did end up with a setup that fits me.

I’ve decided to base the system on the latest Mac Mini:

Server Hero 20100615

Server edition, i.e. no DVD but a second hard disk. High end stuff, more than I’ve ever plunked down for a server. Still under €0.50 a day, if it lasts and delivers over the planned 6-year lifetime. Modern in terms of capabilities, modern in terms of noise level, and modern in terms of energy consumption. I’m pleased with this decision.

Inside, it’s going to run a couple of virtual machines. That will give me a level of (manually managed) fail-over which I’ve never had before. Security is crucial, but there too, the VM’s should add some good security barriers. One of the VM’s will be used for home automation.

I’m already running parts of the setup at Jee Labs as virtual machines, so the task ahead is to continue that migration, and then bring it together on the new server.

I’ll do my best to minimize the hickups, for this weblog and for the rest of the public-facing activities at Jee Labs and Equi 4 Software. There will no doubt be some disruptions and even foul-ups. But the hard part for me is over – the direction and the goal are clear now. The rest is … just work :)

  1. I am also looking at a new server but, this one is way too expensive for what it offers, just my 2 cents:

    • Mac mini offers an old processor (core 2 duo)
    • Power consumption on load is quite high (idle is good though)
    • Old graphics chip

    I think you can built the same hardware for around 400 euro’s. That’s a total of 600 euro’s of Job’s tax.

    FWIW, this is what I am looking at:,2551.html but then with a Core i3. As drive I’m looking at an Intel SSD.

    • I don’t think graphics power is a major concern with a Mac, it’s not like there are any games for it! :o)

      Seriously though, if you want low power and price, I’d go with one of the dual core Atoms. If budget will stretch to it then an SSD drive is great performance booster.

      I’ve got one of the early Acer Revo R3600 (single core) and it works great, although I wish it didn’t have a CPU fan. I guess I could put the motherboard into a bigger box and passive cool it if it started showing signs of failure.

      So a pair of R3610 (dual core) kitted up with Linux and 4 gig of ram… Lovely! And still cheaper than a Mac Mini Server :-D

      25 watts at idle for the i3 based machine? Pah! Try 27 watts under load!

  2. Looks like a nice little box, just remember you have a load of single failure points compared to a professional hosting service. Internet connection, router, Mac PSU, CPU fan etc etc. Hope everything is on a UPS too.

    Personally I don’t trust two identical drives in the same box for any kind of protection. I’ve had too many identical drives fail within hours of each other. Some might call that tight manufacturing tolerances, I call it a complete pain in the backside! Plus of course a PSU failure, or virus will happily eat them both.

    So don’t forget to keep a physically separate backup too, a Mac Mini looks very easy to be knocked off a shelf should Mr Murphy trip over a wire!

    Yes, I know, I’m paranoid, but then I used to work for a IT service provision company where any downtime longer than 30 seconds would result in a boss with smoke coming out of his ears!

  3. If you really want to easy I would have gone for a linux image in the amazon cloud. Cheap, scalable and most likely more uptime than a single home server.

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