I’m still mulling over a few ideas that will completely change the way this blog is used and many of these ideas will likely result in the end of the blog as you know it. I’ve been held up though due to accessibility related challenges. I just can’t seem to find the right kind of software.

There are quite a few things happening behind the scenes as well. Around this time last year, I changed from a VPS to actually hosting my own server. This year, I’ve purchased an even more powerful machine and the plan is to extensively update all of the software that is used for these sites, Microsoft Exchange, the VOIP server, the backup server and the file server. With any luck and probably a lot of money, I’ll be able to expand the technology I use to really take advantage of the high availability, clustering and fault tolerance that is available in many of these systems. This will mean that I should be able to sleep at night without worrying about a single patch bringing down the entire system!

I’m thinking of changing from internal SAS based storage to Network attached storage to reduce costs but increase the overall capacity of the file server. At the moment I’m running very low on space because for every file, Email, website or voice mail that is written to a disk, it’s also written to a backup server. This means when I buy one 300GB SAS disk, I need to buy a second just for backups. Even with compression backups take up a considerable amount of space on my network.

I’ve been connecting my VOIP PBX to Blueface, a VOIP phone provider in Ireland. They are incredibly reliable and their prices are very reasonable. I couldn’t be happier with their service but one of the reasons that I do all of this stuff is to be able to learn in an environment that isn’t pressured. It might be time to look at alternatives just to have the experience of connecting to different services. To that end, I’m looking into connecting a Skype account to the VOIP server. This may or may not have any benefits. I think it will be cheaper to buy other international numbers and it might allow for connectivity with Skype computer to computer calls but at the moment the idea is in its very early stages.

The other thing I need to think of is ongoing costs, cooling and noise. I’d love to run two servers in parallel but this is a costly hobby. The price of electricity is not something I need to be too concerned with at the moment but if I add another server into the mix it will increase by about forty or fifty Euro a month. That’s not something that I can really justify. I’m thinking of a few alternatives to get around this while still having reasonably high availability. The first possible solution is to get one server fully set up. Buy a NAS box with about 10TB of storage and set a backup job to copy a snapshot of each virtual machine to this. The file server will also be based on this NAS so if the main server goes down it should be possible to bring another server into the mix very quickly. The other server will be set up with the same virtual host software. It’s most likely going to be HyperV. I’ve based the virtualization on ESX over the past year or two but I’d like to get more exposure to HyperV so it’s worth a shot for a while. I’ll segregate this server off onto a private network with only one connection for restores from the Network attached Storage (NAS). Every week or two, I’ll power on this server and restore the virtual snapshots onto this second server. With a bit of testing I’ll be able to ensure that the restores have worked. Because they’ll be on a private network they won’t have any impact on the live network. The result is that if the main server goes down, I’ll be able to bring up a second server instantly or if it’s crucial that it has the most up to date data then it will be up after a few minutes when the snapshot has been restored. Assuming wake up on LAN works on these network interfaces I should even be able to start this second server remotely and restore the snapshots easily.

It would of course be much nicer if I could cluster both HyperV boxes with Microsoft’s version of VMotion so that if the first server went down the system would automatically fail over to the secondary server. That’s probably not going to be possible though.

The second consideration is heat. Servers generate heat and in turn use more energy trying to cool down. Of course, in a perfect server environment an array of air conditioning, dehumidifiers and fresh air vents would be used to keep the environment at a perfect level for servers to run effectively but that’s just not an option in my kind of environment. For god sake, I’m running them in my house! At the moment, I have a specific location where all the CAT5 cable is patched back to. This works quite well with a single server but there are still occasional problems with heat and air flow. I have a plan that will greatly improve the situation but it has taken a long time for it to happen. Again, it’s all money. Basically, I’ll be moving the servers out to a shed that’s attached to the house. This is easy to reach via cable and with some work, should be reasonably easy to ensure a consistent temperature and reasonably good air flow and humidity. The worry is that it will get too cold during the winter so some insulation is required before I proceed.

By moving the servers out here it will also help with the noise issue. After years of listening to computers all day I have almost filtered out the noise however I’m aware that it’s not a comfortable situation for some people to be in when a server is quietly humming away in a house.

So, there you have it. For all of you who think I’m insane, you’re absolutely right however, even insane people often have perfectly logical reasons for their actions. For me, working on this kind of thing at home allows me to take full control of the set up, configuration and support of all of these systems. This gives me a great understanding of how it all works. With any luck, when I go for promotions in my current job or in years to come, when I look for a completely new job then I’m hoping it will stand to me. I’m also incredibly lucky but also very unfortunate with the environment I work with every day. It’s very diverse and complicated. Because so many people depend on it there are tools for managing and monitoring everything. This means that if functionality is needed, a hugely complex enterprise tool can be found and implemented. This slightly spoils me. It means that I don’t really have to think of ways of stitching things together or making work-arounds to make systems communicate with each other. If I knew I was always going to work in this kind of environment where anything is possible then I’d be perfectly happy with this. However, things might change. I might eventually work in a much smaller company where tools like SCCM, SCOM, Netbotz, What’s up gold and even backup exec or data protector simply cannot be afforded so scripts and free applications need to do the same job. I think it’s important to show that I’m just as comfortable with the small environments as I am with the enterprise level systems.

The other side of it is that by working independently on different systems I get to find accessibility problems in my own time. More importantly, I get to solve these accessibility problems in an environment that isn’t pressured. I can then bring these solutions with me into work and apply them when their needed. It’s very important to me that I do not let an accessibility related problem get in the way of me doing my job independently and efficiently.