— Digital Mines Blog

The focus of our efforts this month is cost reduction and cost management. Whilst cloud computing in general can save you money, it really only comes into its own with proper utility billing and the management/reporting/alerting tools to ensure you do not exceed your budgets.

In this webinar we will cover both general cloud savings and also the advantages of managing your existing cloud with Digital Mines. We will have some sneak peaks of upcoming features in this area which will blow you away too!

The Webinar is on next Tuesday June 14th at 4.30pm BST. You can register for it here. Totally free of course.

Our intention is to do at least one Webinar a month about Cloud Computing. As always, feel free to suggest topics or walkthroughs that you would like to see covered.

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This is the first in a series of posts we’ll be doing on solutions to practical nuts and bolts issues around using Cloud services like AWS directly. Obviously, if you are a Digital Mines Customer, we take care of all this pain for you.

One issue that has arisen over using the ELB (Elastic Load Balancer) service in front of your application servers is that you had to accept connections on those servers from any IP address. This could lead to badly-intentioned people bypassing your ELBs and potentially creating a security issue for you.

On May 24th, Amazon announced support for Security Groups between ELB and EC2 instances so they would accept traffic only from ELB and hence solve this issue. Our tech guys got it working as follows using the ELB API Tools:

  1. First need to find out what’s the security group name for ELB:
    elb-describe-lbs myLB --show-long --headers
    
  2. The response will be something like this:
    LOAD_BALANCER,NAME,DNS_NAME,CANONICAL_HOSTED_ZONE_NAME, CANONICAL_HOSTED_ZONE_NAME_ID,HEALTH_CHECK,AVAILABILITY_ZONES, INSTANCE_ID,LISTENER_DESCRIPTIONS,SOURCE_SECURITY_GROUP, CREATED_TIMELOAD_BALANCER, myLB,myLB-160000000.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com,(nil),(nil),"{interval=30,target=HTTP:80/,timeout=5,healthy-threshold=10,unhealthy-threshold=2}", "us-east-1b, us-east-1d","i-f111111, i-cbbbbbb","{protocol=HTTP,lb-port=80,instance-port=80,policies=}",example-elb/example-elb-sg,2011-02-13T20:43:23.220Z
    
  3. Next you authorize limit ingress traffic for all back-end instances that belong to a security group using:
    ec2-authorize backend-default-sg --source-group example-elb-sg --source-group-user example-elb
    

    Obviously replacing the various “examples” with the real security groups that you have.

And that’s it. Your back-end instances can now only be accessed by your ELBs. A similar process also works for accessing sites over SSL. If you are a Digital Mines customer and need either feature enabled, just let us know.

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I had one of my proudest moments recently when my 11 y/o son came up to me and said “Dad, I need an IP address”. A few minutes of to-ing and fro-ing ensued before I finally understood that he wanted to play Minecraft Multi-Player and he needed a server setup to do it.

As an old geek who stopped playing games circa the Quake era, the whole Minecraft thing has passed me by but there appears to be a huge number of people playing it. The stats on the front page are pretty shocking: 8,217,028 people have registered and 2,275,989 people bought the game. That’s at €20 a pop!

I spent 10 minutes reading up on the basics of multi-player and spent another 10 minutes deploying a free server on Digital Mines and installing the required software. There are now several people happily playing away every day on the server.

If you want to do the same, it really is very easy.

  1. Sign-Up for an Account on Digital Mines (you can start with a Free one)
  2. Once you get your login, go there and click “Add New Server”
  3. Accept all the defaults and just give it a name like “MyMinecraftServer”
  4. Click Deploy
  5. Wait a few minutes until the control panel tells you the server is ready
  6. Yes you now have your own server :-)
  7. Connect to the server using the instructions here. It looks fiddly but once you do it for the first time, it’s just a double-click after that in the future.
  8. Once you are connected, you are going to type some Unix commands in that window. Don’t worry, just copy and paste them one by one and you’ll be fine:
  • sudo add-apt-repository “deb http://archive.canonical.com/ maverick partner”
  • sudo apt-get update
  • sudo apt-get install -y sun-java6-jre
  • mkdir minecraft
  • cd minecraft
  • wget http://minecraft.net/download/minecraft_server.jar
  • nohup java -jar minecraft_server.jar nogui &

That’s it, you now have a live Minecraft server!

Now give the Public IP Address of the server to your friends and you can all play in Multi-Player mode.

Note that the free servers should work fine for a few friends but don’t have the welly to host a large number of people. If you find it is too slow for your needs, you can sign up for one of the paid accounts and split the costs between your friends.

In the next post about Minecraft we’ll tell you how to make sure it is backed up so you don’t lose all your hard work.

If you have any questions on the steps above, just leave a comment.

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Many column inches were written about the recent Amazon AWS outage in the US when emotions were high and tempers were frayed. Now that a few weeks have passed, we thought it was timely to look at it again and discuss what lessons have been learned by cloud computing customers and by businesses like Digital Mines.

Amazon provided a very detailed explanation of what went wrong and why. A combination of user error, process deficiencies and implementation errors meant that a simple mistake caused a catastrophic snowball effect on storage volumes know as EBS. This problem took out many web sites and services based in their US-East region. Those who were relying on the independence of Availability Zones in a region to protect them were dismayed to discover that it didn’t work as planned.

The outage highlights a critical lesson about any form of  web hosting – it takes expertise to deploy and configure a resilient robust setup. Unfortunately many businesses have made the mistake of thinking that once they have moved to the cloud, all their problems will be automatically taken care of. That is not the case at all.

Amazon provides an incredibly rich and deep set of services in AWS. But they leave it up to you to configure it correctly. EBS volumes are generally extremely reliable, EC2 instances generally behave well, S3 is rock-solid for object storage in most cases. But is that enough for your business? If your EBS storage volume that holds your database is accidentally deleted, do you have snapshots of it? Do you have database backups on S3 for dealing with catastrophic failure? And if an entire Amazon region goes down, how are you going to get back up and running? Do you just wait for Amazon to sort it out?

These are the types of questions anyone with a web-site on any type of hosting should be asking. If you are using the cloud then you need to be sure that you have a robust system and you need to know what the escalation path is when problems occur.

That’s why fundamentally, you need companies like Digital Mines. We provide the Amazon infrastructure, we make it easy to manage and maintain, but most importantly of all, we have the expertise to put in place a configuration that matches your budget and your needs.

Simply ask yourself this “what would I do if my Amazon server disappeared tomorrow?”. If you can’t answer that, then you need to be talking to a cloud services provider.

 

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We’ve just created our first screencast showing how easy it is to deploy a Cloud Server using Digital Mines. The video itself is less than 90 seconds long and the whole process took less than 5 minutes in real time.

We’ll have lots more hands-on videos coming soon.

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This month sees us kicking off our regular Webinar sessions and we’re starting with the basics.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the cloud recently but it remains an acronym-riddled black-box for many people. This webinar will talk about Cloud Computing with a business focus. The idea is to show you how to get started without spending weeks of study. We’ll deploy a live server, including an application, in just a few minutes. There’ll also be a chance to do a Q&A with the Digital Mines team.

The webinar is at 4.30pm BST on Wednesday May 18th.

You can register here.

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The big problem with cloud computing to-date is that it is all targeted at technical people like me. The amount of time and commitment it takes to feel comfortable enough to deploy a server and some apps is substantial. One of the reasons Digital Mines was founded was to lower this barrier to entry. We want businesses to focus on their business whilst we take care of the infrastructure.

That idea starts with the Cloud Servers themselves. You can deploy a server using our system by just accepting a set of defaults and waiting a few moments. No complex multi-stage procedures involving a dictionary full of acronyms, just pick your server and deploy.

Once it is deployed you can be confident of the following:

  • Ongoing simple configuration
  • Easy to understand pricing. No surprises!
  • One-Click Scalability. Move from a Micro server to Big Iron in one go
  • Pay only for what you use. Again, no surprises
  • Built-in Monitoring, Backup and Restore
  • Cloud Tools and Clouds Apps ready to use
  • Manage all your servers in one place. A single view of what you have installed and where

We also give you a choice. If you are just starting out in cloud computing, you may not know exactly what spec you need, so we provide a set of pre-defined servers:

  • Lite - Perfect for blogs and personal sites
  • Standard - Ideal for SMEs selling online
  • Plus - Best for busy site or heavy-duty application
  • Premium- Big iron for big projects.

Then, once your expertise and experience grows, you can specify exactly what you need for compute power, memory and storage.

Or you can always just pick up the phone and talk to a real person not a public discussion board. We’ll help you figure out exactly what you need.

In the next blogpost, we’ll show you a screencast of slightly more than one minute duration where we deploy a server. That’s how easy it is.

 

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Before we dig into the details of our new features as separate blogposts, we thought you’d like to see a summary first.

Cloud Apps
You now have one-click install of all your favourite applications. Even more impressive, it’ll automatically deploy a new server for your app if you wish! Some of the apps include:

  • WordPress
  • Magento
  • Joomla
  • Drupal
  • Lamp Stack
  • Ruby on Rails

Software
You can manage and configure your main server apps including:

  • MySql DB server
  • Apache web server
  • PHP
  • Ruby
  • Ftp

Cloud Tools

Don’t worry about installing complex monitoring software, we do it for you. Then you can:

  • Get alerts on for all your instances about CPU, RAM and Disk
  • Set warning levels and critical levels
  • Set timeframe and hits

That’s just a taste. The next few posts will dig into all of the above and all the existing functionality too. In the meantime, sign-up for a free server and try it all out yourself.

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We have a flurry of announcements coming this week about the fantastic new functionality which is now live on Digital Mines but first we thought you should know that we have a gorgeous new web-site.  Mariusz and the team have done a top-notch job with the site. Head on over and check it out.

In a nutshell, “Digital Mines provide businesses with set of really simple solutions for managing cloud infrastructure including public, private and hybrid clouds.

It does that by providing you with:

  • Cloud Servers
  • Cloud Apps and
  • Cloud Tools

Cloud Servers

Cloud Servers give you all the benefits of the cloud without any of the hassle. It is so easy to deploy, manage and upgrade as many servers as you need, entirely from our control panel. All of the traditional nitty gritty tasks are taken care of for you.

Cloud Apps

Host your site or application in the cloud, in seconds. You can deploy your chosen application for content management, e-commerce or whatever you wish – and never worry about servers, backups, or firewall settings again.

Cloud Tools

This is server management for businesses who need it done now. We provide an elegant, powerful control panel that lets you manage your Cloud without the complexity of other consoles.

Over the next few days, we’ll dig into each of these on the blog so you can get a good understanding of what makes Digital Mines special. If you can’t wait that long, sign-up now and start using all the new functionality immediately!

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As promised, here is our first sneak peak at the new dead-simple Application installation system in Digital Mines. Pick your app and click to install. More sneak peaks coming soon!

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