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Well, that'll be fun to watch

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With Google shutting down Google Reader, how about 87% of my subscribers read my blog, it's going to be fun to watch how the reader percentages shift over the next four months. Back when I started tracking what's consuming the feed Google Reader wasn't around, Bloglines was the over-50% leader. That's since changed.

As of right now, the #2 reader is 'unknown' at 3.4%. Mozilla's built-in reader is in the #3 spot at 1.9%.

In four months time, when Google shuts off Google Reader I'm sure those numbers will be radically different. I'll probably lose a very large number of subscribers from simple inertia. Hey, that happens. I'm interested to see how the feed-reading market solidifies in a post-GReader world.

Interestingly, they're not shutting down Feed Burner. Considering that the vast majority of the readers hitting Feed Burner are, well, Google Reader, I wouldn't be surprised if that also goes in the next round of Spring Cleaning.

Surviving a freak wave

Author and fellow Movable Type user Charles Stross recently survived a massive surge of load on his server. He describes the experience here.He gets regularly Slashdotted and listed on Redit, so surges of load are nothing new. However, what happened to him was an order of magnitude stronger then that. And he has some helpful tips on surviving that kind of freak wave.

The first lesson of which is, Static HTML.

My choice of Movable Type was clinched by the fact that it can use static HTML for its pages and doesn't require a DB hit for every page load the way WordPress does. Such pages can scale f-a-r longer than their dynamic brethren.

The second lesson, no or minimal graphics.

Bandwidth and connection-duration will both be better handled by serving small files. I have one image, and it is 1.18KB in size.

The third lesson, even basic machines can handle a Slashdotting these days.

Less important for me since I'm currently using shared hosting rather than dedicated hosting, but the point is taken.

The fourth lesson, design your site for a single order of magnitude wave, and plan for a 2nd order of magnitude.

This is why I've minimized dynamic content as much as I can. I don't even live-publish comments, that's done every couple of minutes just to save load in the case of a major wave. Since I'm on shared hosting I'll hit maximums well before a dedicated site like Stross' would, so I need to load-shed a lot sooner. As it happens, a slashdotting WOULD be a 2nd order wave for me. If it started happening regularly, I'd have to change hosting.

That said, if I was blogging from the cloud (i.e. Blogger, I wouldn't have to worry about any of this. But then, this is a sysadmin blog.

Migrating from blogger, a guide

Migrating from Blogger took a few steps. The steps any new Movable Type installation has to go through aren't important, and you really don't need to know about what all I went through to get the theming right (learning CSS along the way) or a strange publishing fault fixed. Not relevant, and really well covered out there on the Internet.

No, what isn't well covered is how to move an FTP-hosted blogger-blog to MT. There are a few resources out there, but nothing automatic. Two sites started me on the path to what ultimately worked. However, none of them covered how to import existing comments. It isn't easy to do that as I found out, but it can be done.

The steps are in abstract:
  1. Change your Blogger settings so you're not publishing post-pages.
  2. Save your Blogger template.
  3. Change your Blogger template radically.
  4. Change your archive publish location (or change the name of the archive file, either can work)
  5. Run a full-publish, which gets the committed files updated.
  6. On your blogger host run the handy perl script I'll be posting below the fold.
  7. Copy the resulting files to your Movable Type import directory.
  8. In the Movable Type interface for your blog, do an Import.
  9. Review entries to make sure things look right.
  10. Publish entries in batches to post to the site.
The perl script takes the files published by blogger and massages them into a Movable Type export file.This is the step the other instructions don't have. Unfortunately for the masses, the FTP channel dies on March 26th May 1st, so these instructions have a timeout value.

The other thing I learned along the way is that you really don't want your comment templates to be server-side-include files. Really, keep 'em static.

The script:

Fixing links and history

I just went through the 1072 past posts to this blog looking for links in posts to earlier posts. I do that a lot, it seems. It took a LONG time. I do wonder how many words I've committed to this blog in the five and a half years I've been doing it. There are some long essays back there! Also, I started back when Blogger didn't have:
  • Post-pages, the per-post link for direct linking to posts
  • Tags, or labels as they call it
  • Subjects, though it may have been there and I didn't elect to use it.
I seem to have covered, "the future of [netware|novell]" a lot (5/31/05, 11/9/05, 4/12/06 and that's just the posts with that as the title). There are a few other recurring themes as well. It's always interesting to look back like that.

Changes are coming

Due to technical reasons I'll be getting to in a moment, this blog will be moving off of WWU's servers in the next few weeks. I have high confidence that the redirects I'll be putting in place will work and keep any existing links to the existing content still ultimately pointing at their formal home. In fact, those of you reading by way of the RSS or Atom feeds won't even notice. Images I link in will probably load a bit slower(+), and that's about it.

And now for the technical reasons. I've been keeping it under my hat since it has politics written all over it and I so don't go there on this blog. But WWU has decided (as of last September actually) that they're dropping the Novell contract and going full Microsoft to save money. And really, I've seen the financials. Much as it pains this red heart, the dollars speak volumes. It really is cheaper to go Microsoft, to the tune of around $83,000. In this era of budget deficits, that's most of an FTE. Speaking as the FTE most likely to get cut in this department, that makes it kind of personal.

Microsoft? The cheap option?

Yes, go fig. But that's how the pricing is laid out. We were deep enough into the blue beast already (Exchange, MS-SQL, SharePoint is embryonic but present and going to grow, there is Office on every Windows desktop) that going deeper wasn't much of an extra cost per year. To put it even more bluntly, "Novell did not provide enough value for the cost."

The question of what's happening to our SLES servers is still up for debate. We could get those support certificates from Microsoft directly. Or buy them retail from Novell. I don't know what we're doing there.

Which means that we're doing a migration project to replace the WUF 6-node NetWare cluster with something on Windows that does the same things. NetStorage is the hardest thing to replace (I know I'm going to miss it), but the file-serving and printing are challenging but certainly manageable. The "myweb" service will continue, and be served by a LAMP server with the home directories Samba-mounted to it, so it will continue as Apache. It could have been done with IIS, but it was an ugly hack.

As soon as we get hardware (7/1 is when the money becomes available) we'll be hitting the fast phase of the project. We hope to have it all in place by fall quarter. We'll still maintain the eDirectory replica servers for the rest of the Novell stuff on campus that is not supported (directly) by me. But for all intents and purposes, Technical Services will be out of the NetWare/OES business by October.


No, no. That's not the reason I'm moving this blog. Unfortunately for this blog, there was exactly one regular user of the SFTP service we provided(*). Me. So that's one service we're not migrating. It could be done with cygwin's SSH server and some cunning scripting to synchronize the password database in cygwin with AD, if I really wanted to. But... it's just me. Therefore, I need to find an alternate method for Blogger to push data at the blog.

Couple that with some discrete hints from some fellow employees that just maybe, perhaps, a blog like mine really shouldn't be run from Western's servers, and you have another reason. Freedom of information and publish-or-perish academia not withstanding, I am staff not tenured faculty. Even with that disclaimer at the top of the blog page (that you RSS readers haven't seen since you subscribed) that says I don't speak for Western, what I say unavoidably reflects on the management of this University. I've kept this in mind from the start, which is why I don't talk about contentious issues the University is facing on any term other than how they directly affect me. And also why this is the first time I've mentioned the dropping of the Novell contract until it is effectively written in stone.

So. It's time to move off of Western's servers. The migration will probably happen close to the time we cut-over MyWeb to the new servers. Which is fitting, really, as this was the first web-page on MyWeb. This'll also mean that this blog will no longer be served to you by a NetWare 6.5 server. Yep, for those that didn't know this blog's web-server is Apache2 running on NetWare 6.5.

(+) Moving from a server with an effective load-average of 0.25 to one closer to 3.00 (multi-core, though) does make a difference. Also, our pipes are pretty clean relatively speaking.

(*) Largely because when we introduced this service, NetWare's openssh server relied on a function in libc that liked to get stuck and render the service unusable until a reboot. MyWeb was also affected by that. That was back in 2004-06. The service instability drove users away, I'm sure. NetStorage is more web-like anyway, which users like better.

999 posts

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According to blogger, this is post number 999 of this blog. Neat. That represents five years and one month of blogging activity here. The very first post here was not even, "Tap tap tap is this thing on?" which I'm very proud of. It was an outage report.

This blog was started as a way to test out the Myweb service. I was tasked with creating the 'web pages from home directory' project, and myweb was the result of that. Faculty have proven very fond of the service, as I see evidence of web design classes being taught every quarter. I also see signs of certain faculty publishing syllabus that way, rather than through Blackboard. It's also a pretty good way to send really large files to people.

Since then, I've done a lot. Four BrainShares, several major migration projects, a lot of Novell stuff, more opinion stuff, blogger migrations, the introduction of actual tags in blogger, the move from Apache 1.3 to Apache 2.0 for this service, and lots of other stuff as well. I don't post as often as I did back then, so I expect it'll take longer to get to 2000. Who knows where it'll be by then.

I'm keeping it up, of course!


Looking at usage stats, the amount of data transferred by Myweb for Students has gone down somewhat from its heyday in 2006. I blame Web 2.0. Myweb is a static HTML service. We don't allow any server-side processing of any kind other than server-side includes. This is not how web-development is done anymore. This very blog is database backed, but Blogger publishes static HTML pages to represent that database, which is why I'm able to host this blog on Myweb for FacStaff.

If we were to provide a full-out hosting service for our students (and staff), I'm sure there would be a heck of a lot more uptake. A few years ago there was a push in certain Higher Ed circles to provide a, "portfolio service", which would host a student's work for a certain time after graduation so they could point employers at it as a reference. We never did that for a variety of reasons (cost being a big one), but the sentiment is still there.

If we were to provide not only full-out hosting, but actual domain-hosting for students, it could fill this need quite well. Online brand is important, and if a student can build a body of work on "$studentname.[com|org|net|biz]" it can be quite useful in hunting down employment. Several of the ResTek technicians I know have their own domains hosting their own blogs, so the demand is there.

I've never worked for a company that did web-hosting as a business item, so I've only heard horror stories of how bad it can get. First of all, we'll need a full LAMP stack server-farm to run the thing. That's money. Second, we'll need the organizational experience with the technology to prevent badly configured Wordpress or PhpBB installs from DoSing other cohosted sites from resource-exhaustion by hackers. This is a worker-hours thing.

Then we'd have to figure out the graduated problem. Once a student graduates, do we keep hosting for them? Do we charge them? Do we force them off the system after a specific time? Questions that need answers, and these are the kinds of questions that contributed to the killing of the portfolio-server idea.

Personally, I think this is something we could provide. However, someone needs to kick the money tree hard enough to shake loose the funds to make it happen. Perhaps Student Tech Fee could do it. Perhaps it could be a 'discounted' added-cost service we provide. Who knows. But we could probably do it.

Changing pains

Well! In my attempt to re-tag old posts, it turns out blogger is also updating the RSS/Atom files as I publish them. That's why you have a boat load of new/old posts. Sorry about that, didn't know they were doing that. Bit of a pain, really.

Changing templates

Right. I've migrated to the new blogger system, and hope that everything works out. It looks like they didn't make significant template changes, but we'll see about that.

Update: It took bloody forever for the blog to convert. I guess my 679 posts took a while to chew over. Also, it looks like they're ALSO republishing each post in its own label area. If you click on a label, you get a page with ALL THE POSTS that have that label. If I reindexed everything and you clicked on the 'novell' link you'd probably download an unusably large file. Not sure what I think of that yet.