Tim Igoe's Web Design, Development and Hosting Blog
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So, I finally got an SSD

Posted on by Tim Igoe

Having had (another) drive failure recently, taking out my entire steam games library, I decided when it came to replace it, to use 2, one for OS and stuff, and another for Games and the like.

Perfect, sounds like an SSD combo with a normal disk drive!

In the end, I chose to go with an OCZ Agility 3 as a good mix of space, performance and cost (or lack of!). Installing it was a piece of cake, just like you’d expect from any drive install. First impressions after thinking “shut up DVD Drive” during the install, its quiet, I’m not used to drives that make NO noise!

Post Windows install, adding drivers and utils, its so much faster, click and things happen. Theres no more waiting for applications to start. They are just there. Power to ready to use is now sub 30 seconds, a far cry from last weeks 3-4 minutes.

I decided I was never going to get a drive big enough for all my games, so they still reside on a normal, spinning disk, Can’t have it all!

Overall, I can’t believe I’d not taken that step earlier, it makes using my computer usable again!

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Attach a SATA disk to a local XenServer instance.

Posted on by Tim Igoe

Recently, I have been using XenServer to run a small cloud instance, this has been great but there are a few things you can’t just do with the XenCenter GUI. One of these, was to control and manage an extra externally attached hard drive.

There are reasons why you might want to attach a locally attached drive to a XenServer installation, without putting it in as a Storage Repository. In my case I want to back up data to an external drive (attached via eSata). The idea here is to make the XenServer see this drive as as a removable storage device.

Most of my servers use an ISCSI based SAN, but for backups I don’t want to back up to the same device, plus I want to be able to remove and swap the backup around so adding an extra, external disk is the perfect answer.

To get XenServer to recognise the drive, we need to create some extra symlinks in the /dev tree, this is managed by udev when USB and SATA drives are attached.

In my case, my new drive shows up as sdb, so we add the following lines to /etc/udev/rules.d/50-udev.rules – note, you can do this multiple times if you want to attach multiple drives. Once this has been added, reboot your server and you are ready to roll.


ACTION=="add", KERNEL=="sdb", SYMLINK+="xapi/block/%k", RUN+="/bin/sh -c '/opt/xensource/libexec/local-device-change %k 2>&1 >/dev/null&'"
ACTION=="remove", KERNEL=="sdb", RUN+="/bin/sh -c '/opt/xensource/libexec/local-device-change %k 2>&1 >/dev/null&'"

Posted in Servers, XenServer | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Posted on by Tim Igoe


Microsoft Today have opened up Windows 8 for anyone who wants to test and try the latest version of Windows. This is the consumer preview program and it allows users to download and try a time limited verison of Windows for free.

Windows 8 has been built with touch based interfaces in mind, this is probably the biggest single change since Windows 95 arrived almost 17 yaers ago. The new interface, called the Metro will be standard on Windows 8. It is critical for Microsoft to do well with this, as this is an area they are competing with Apple and Google at, both of who already have established tablet platforms.

It is easy to see more, and even download the trial from Microsoft’s website, http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/consumer-preview

Are you looking forward to Windows 8, or dreading the change?

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Windows 8 Logo Revelead

Posted on by Tim Igoe

For the first time since very early versions of Windows, the new logo for Windows is actually closer to an actual Window! Gone is the wavey flag effect and instead we have a simple, blue Window.


Continue reading →

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Google Chrome’s New Features? Good or Bad

Posted on by Tim Igoe

Google ChromeThis week Google have pushed out the latest version of Chrome, bringing with it security updates and several new features.

One of these features introduced is “Preemptive Rendering”, which on the front of it sounds like it could be a useful thing to get your page visible quicker. However, it had me thinking, from a server /hosting point of view are these pre-loading systems a good idea or not?

Well for a start off, pre-loading content from a server can potentially add extra load for a user who was never actually going to visit your site. Now, Google have said for the time being it will only work on sites a user visits regularly but I’m still not convinced this is a good plan for those sites. Small sites should be ok, however the bigger the site, the more likely this change is going to hurt them.

For a second, they can start to skew your statistics, if the browser starts to load and pre-render more pages than the user actually visits. Advertisers often require accurate figures if you are to include their banners within your site, having incorrect figures could effect your revenue. My guess would be Chrome and Analytics working together, but if you don’t use that combination then you may be out of luck.

Another change added, is relating to security, Google will compare downloads against a known safe white list. If the URL is not in the list or Google can’t work out what the file is, then the URL will be transmitted to Google for analysis. Now this is another featre that sounds good on the outside, but there are some files that Google should NOT know about (direct / private downloads when transfering files between users for example) – Does this new feature mean Google will start to index / read files that it shouldn’t be able to see?

As this feature is enabled by default, and has to be disabled by the user – I can see most Chrome users won’t touch it.

I already know personally that Google Chrome works with Google, I cannot explain how else files on an *INTERNAL* development server (that is locked access to the internet) can actually appear in Google’s Search index – They are still there now too!

When do features become a problem? When does security get thrown away? I’m all for advancements in browsers but I’m not sure I like some of the recent changes.

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Reliance on 3rd Party Services – Good or Bad?

Posted on by Tim Igoe

More and more, developers are becoming reliant on 3rd party services to provide data, provide code or enhance the site that they offer. This can be as simple as somewhere else hosting some of your resources, be it simple Javascript libraries, or actual file hosting (via a Content Delivery Network, or CDN).

Now, I can see the benefits on resources to offload heavy items to other services and while those services are up and operational, its brilliant. Saves you money and means you can serve more users from the same hardware.

However, what happens when they do go down? In most cases, your site should still work just missing functionality. Now, in most cases you will be pre-notified if there is likely to be any prolonged downtime to allow you to do something about it.

The thing that prompted this article was the shutdown of MegaUpload by the US Federal prosecutors. They have had MegaUpload shutdown instantly for violating piracy laws, however, sites like this are used for genuine reasons too – the users have had no time to download any files they may have uploaded there and host them anywhere else. The service was just taken straight offline. This has meant that many sites with hundreds of thousands of legitimate files hosted on this service now point to dead links with potentially no way to get the files back.

What would happy to you if Dropbox suddenly went offline? Or another cloud based file storage solution that is out of your control?

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New Servers – Costing them Out.

Posted on by Tim Igoe

When planning server upgrades and features, cost is always high on my personal consideration list. This isn’t just an upfront cost or a monthly cost but what gets called the total cost of ownership. What you pay over the life of the box.

If you look at buying servers the prospect of up to a few thousand pounds upfront can seem a lot. However think about how long the hardware may run for. It may not be as bad then, rented servers are nice when you need something quick or plan to upgrade often but as soon as you start to look at keeping them for longer periods of time then you can pay way over the odds for them.

In this case, recently I have just bought myself a cheap HP server to host my personal websites on (this blog, www.ontvnow.co.uk and a couple of other sites), for £500 I can get a Quad Xeon server, 8GB RAM and Dual 1TB (RAID 1) hard drives. This gives a nice light weight server to handle simple web serving and doesn’t cost the world.

I will probably keep this machine running for 3 years, so add in colocation costs for a single U of about £70 / month for 36 months that equates to about £3000 over the ‘life’.

As soon as you look at servers elsewhere of a similar spec, you are talking at rents of £250+ a month for a similar spec machine, giving over the same 3 years a cost of £9000. Potentially three times the cost for the same hardware, but at the end of that, you don’t own anything.

If you have the ability to run it, suddenly it becomes quite cost effective to colocate a server. Maybe more so than quite a few realise.

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Even Microsoft Wants to rid the world of IE6 now

Posted on by Tim Igoe

10 years ago now, Microsoft unleashed Internet Explorer 6 on the world… even now it is still a heavily used browser, even after 2 upgrades have been released and a 3rd is on the way this year.

IE6 Usage Map

Microsoft themselves have now created a site to countdown to the final death of the browser http://www.ie6countdown.com/ This site is intended to encourage users to finally upgrade from Internet Explorer 6 to a more recent browser.

There are major benefits to doing so, like a much better and more secure internet experience however a lot of large corporations are still stuck on Windows 2000 which can’t have any newer version than IE6.

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Is it good to work without a framework now?

Posted on by Tim Igoe

My initial thought would be “god no”, however there are some benefits to working without one.

The biggest advantage to what I’ll call stray code, without any form of framework is its easy to add to, anyone can jump in and work on it without needing too much experience of how the code works. Pages can run separately from each other without any issues however this does itself lead to some issues. Is all the code constant? Answer… probably not.

One thing I notice, the more time I spend working with frameworks, is framework lock-in. What I mean by this, is once you’ve written the code for one specific framework, it isn’t re-usable in another due to specific modules and objects that have been used within that code.

Having a framework and suitable documentation does make it easy for any competent programmer to jump in and work, more so if a large known framework is used, for example Zend Framework, Symphony etc. These also can be requirements for knowledge when employing new staff.

As someone who spends all day using a custom made framework, when the requirement comes to write none framework code, I really have to think about it. Database calls, yep… I’ve got an object for that, I now have to think about mysql_* calls for example.

What becomes a better solution, rather than a framework, is a collection of libraries. These are code blocks / objects that can easily be swapped out without interfering with the running of the code.

While I can see the problems frameworks generate, it doesn’t at all mean I’m going to drop using them – they do save a lot of time for development, however I can see issues that do arise from their use.

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Facebook Visualising Friendships

Posted on by Tim Igoe

You can do interesting things with data, in this case a Facebook engineer has taken all the Facebook friend relationships and mapped them out producing the following image.

Facebook Netgraph
Click here to view a high rest image of this

Every relationship was rendered as a line between the 2 points that those users were registered as being located at. The above image is only this data but you can quite clearly see an outline of the world.

To find about the process used to create this graph, http://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-engineering/visualizing-friendships/469716398919

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