Some Conference Thoughts from Digital Ocean’s Deploy

Back in November Tim, Lauren and I presented alongside Kaysi Holman and Inés Vañó García from the CUNY Graduate Center about work we’re doing in higher education using Digital Ocean. The presentation was under 30 minutes long, pre-recorded in Streamyard, and aired two months later as part of the Digital Ocean Deploy conference. it can be easily found online via their Deploy Conference page on YouTube as well. The moderator, Erin Glass, was kind enough to bring us all together to make it happen, and her introduction is in many ways a short preamble of her brilliant article on Ethical EdTech published recently I really enjoyed presenting alongside the folks from the CUNY GC (my alma mater of sorts), but I agree with Tim that when planning what we would talk about I missed the mark a bit. Rather than talking about Reclaim Cloud and the Emulation as a Service idea, we should have talked about our work with the CUNY Commons folks to make a one-click installer for CUNY’s C-Box. That’s on me, and I will try and avoid letting my excitement with the latest cool thing happening at Reclaim Hosting “cloud” my judgement.

I appreciate Erin inviting us, and I also really benefited from seeing how they organized Deploy as a participant given Reclaim Hosting will be joining forces with the OER21 folks to put on a OER21/Domains online conference in late April, and we’re still very much imagining the possibilities for making this as compelling and accessible as possible. One of the elements of Deploy I really appreciated was that the session was pre-recorded almost two months in advance and allowed, which allowed for us to attend the online conference and actually participate in the Discord discussion not only during our session, but for almost a month before that.  This made getting subtitles done seamless, to ensure everything was accessible out the gate.

What’s more, the way the conference was presented there were multiple channels going at once via a Video player hosted on a single page, that also had the schedule. It could not have been easier to access what’s happening across the conference at any given time in one, fell swoop. I also loved the way the kept all sessions to less than 30 minutes, and had awesome preface art, TV-like bumpers, and highlights between sessions, not unlike the transitions between TV shows. And this kept me watching, which I think testifies to something quite powerful. My pre-recording and cleaning up transitions and announcements you have a much better chance of making sure everything is accessible and that folks will stay tuned-in.

And getting back to my lament about not talking about CUNY’s C-Box installer, I believe that having to groups (CUNY GC educators and Reclaim Hosting folks) in conversation makes that 30 minute time-frame that much more compelling. Everyone spent a few minutes sharing their ideas (which made it move well), but I think have a conversation between groups around topics like ethical edtech would be absolutely brilliant, I think this worked really well during the Against Surveillance session with Maha Bali, Chris Gilliard, sava saheli singh, and Benjamin Doxtdator. It was a compelling discussion that balanced both rehearsed points, sharing media, and extemporaneous discussion that was a near perfect combination. They were even braver in that it was live, but I think managing live across several channels for two days is a lot of work, so I would like to see if there is a balance there between pre-recorded and live.

As a start thinking about the Domains sessions in the conference I am wondering how we can connect folks running various projects across different schools with one another to chat, while balancing structured “formal presentation” (i.e. rehearsed talking points) with new ideas that emerge as part of conversations in the moment. That will be a key for me because I think that’s what makes these sessions compelling and memorable.

Digital Ocean Deploy Conference swag

On a slightly different note, their swag game was pretty tight. Not only did they send a nice sweatshirt that arrived the day before the conference, but they also sent a cable bag, microphone port blocker, and webcam cover. Pretty interesting how those final two suggest a kind of ant-surveillance mentality for their participants and presenters, which was cool.

Anyway, these are all post facto notes about Digital Ocean’s Deploy as we begin to dig in for preparing for a fully online OOERxDomains 2021. It’s a fun challenge to work through, and the first step is stealing from other conferences that things that worked and learning from your own mistakes to make the next time around better.

Reclaim’s Dedicated to Virtual Infrastructure

Tim and I did a Reclaim Today show to celebrate the fact our infrastructure is now entirely hosted on virtual servers, and predominantly Digital Ocean at this point. We talked a bit about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in terms of infrastructure, and I love the idea of capturing some of this more formally as it happens. The final to dedicated server migrations this weekend (Joy Division and Beat Happening) turned out to be more cumbersome than we imagined, but that’s behind us and we are now closer than ever to the Lawnmower Man infrastructure we’ve been dreaming of! I guess the next step is serverless, to quote an awesome post by Tony Hirst—want to get him on an episode of Reclaim Today this week to talk about BinderHub and more. So, it feels to me that Reclaim Today is kinda finding it stride, and like anything it’s all about laying the bricks and doing the work.

Swimming in a Digital Ocean of Love

Yesterday Digital Ocean published a customer story featuring Reclaim Hosting. It was nice. A month ago Tim and I talked with Lisa Tagliaferri (a CUNY Grad Center alum-I love CUNY!) who is keenly interested in framing the power and possibility of Digital Ocean for the education community—a vision I can definitely get behind. She though Reclaim Hosting’s move to Digital Ocean might provide a solid case study, and we were happy to oblige because we have nothing but love for Digital Ocean. Not only have they made the process of spinning up and managing infrastructure simple, they allow us to geolocate servers, they have amazing guides and tutorials, and they even dropped their prices this year. Hard not to love all that.

So we had a discussion with Lisa to articulate why we’ve been so happy with Digital Ocean, and while the reasons are myriad (as mentioned above), probably the single most important element for us has been the introduction of block storage a couple of years ago. Mounting additional storage to droplets has meant we could move all of our shared hosting and Domain of One’s Own instances to DO, and over the last year that is exactly what we have done. We have just a few more servers to migrate over the coming months, and by the end of 2018 we will have completed what has been an almost two year-long migration schedule.

That feels good, but it’s by no means the only advantage. Beyond scaling CPU and storage instantaneously—which you come to expect of cloud solutions—the ability to geo-locate servers around the world has become increasingly important for us with increased interest in Domains from schools in Canada and Europe. But the thing that remains special to me about Digital Ocean is their work epitomizes the challenge of making something that has heretofore been extremely complex (not only with dedicated servers, but through other cloud providers like AWS) quite simple and intuitive. Digital Ocean provides a peek at a future where managing your own personal cyber-infrastructure will not be that much more difficult that setting up your own WordPress site.  I do like the schematics they provide (even if Reclaim Hosting’s is dead simple), and they do a great job in the article of breaking down how and why we use Digital Ocean. I personally could not be more happy with our choice to move there, and cannot recommend them highly enough to other ed-tech folks who are in a position of managing their infrastructure externally, I can’t imagine a more painless alternative.

 

Digital Ocean’s One-Click Apps vs. Cloudron

Digital Ocean has been en fuego as of late. They announced a whole bunch of new droplet plans, and the price-point for all of them has gone down. This is very good news for Reclaim Hosting because it gives us some breathing room with our infrastructure costs allowing us to continue to keep costs low.  We have been slowly moving most of our infrastructure from Linode and ReliableSite to Digital Ocean, and we could not be happier. They are constantly improving their offerings, and being in a virtual environment where we can increase storage or scale CPU instantaneously makes our life (and our clients’) a lot easier.
One-click Apps at Digital Ocean

One-click Apps at Digital Ocean

In addition to new plans and pricing, I noticed they were featuring one-click apps as well (though not sure how new this is), and I took a peak to see what they offered. It was interesting to see that some of the application they featured, namely Discourse (the forum software) and Ghost (the blogging app), were apps Reclaim was offering beyond our shared hosting cPanel-based LAMP stack. Given we’ve been exploring a one-click option with Cloudron (I recently blogged about setting up Ghost using Cloudron) I wanted to compare Digital Ocean’s idea of one-click to Cloudron’s. Long story short, there is no comparison. Here is Digital Ocean’s command line interface for setting up Ghost:

Command line interface during Ghost setup on Digital Ocean’s one-click apps

Here is Cloudron’s:

One-click install of Ghost on Cloudron

Digital Ocean is amazing at what they do, but their idea of one-click installs still assumes a sysadmin level of knowledge, which, to be fair, make sense given they are a service designed for sysadmins. When I tried the Ghost app it was, indeed, installed on a droplet in seconds, but the actual configuration to setup required full-blown tutorial for command line editing the setup. In addition to the domain pointing, this was setting up SSL and Nginx, granted that simply meant typing “yes” or “no” and clicking enter, but even when you did the setup was not guaranteed. After following the tutorial to the letter I still got the Nginx 502 bad gateway error, which means I was stuck.

Ghost 502 Bad Gateway Nginx Error

I could have tried to troubleshoot the 502 error, but at this point it was just a test and from my experience it was far from one-click.

Discourse example

I then tried the Discourse, and this was definitely easier than Ghost. It still required a tutorial, but that was primarily focused on setting up an SMTP account through Mailgun so the application could send email. After that, the setup was simple, but again the one-click setup process on Digital Ocean assumes an understanding of API-driven transactional email services like Mailgun or Sparkpost. Cloudron does not have a Discourse installer, so no real comparison there, but if it could manage the SMTP email setup in the background, I imagine it would be just as simple as their Ghost installer. I’m glad I explored Digital Ocean’s one-click application offerings because it confirms for me the potential power of tools like Cloudron that truly make it simple to install applications. Our community by and large will not be folks with sysadmin level knowledge, so integrating a solution that is truly one-click, avoiding DNS and command line editing,  would be essential.

We’re Just a Minor Threat

The semester is well under way now, and the deluge of support over the last two days has been ample evidence of that. But we added a bit to our plates this months when we decided to decommission two shared hosting servers, namely Ramones (which has been going strong for over 3 years!) and Saints. We’ve been slowly migrating our infrastructure from Reliable Site over to Digital Ocean, and this month saw our first two shared hosting servers on Digital Ocean.* Once they were up and running smoothly, we decided to migrate all remaining accounts on Ramones and Saints over. That’s now done, and while these moves always require some clean-up post facto, everything’s over cleanly and all of our servers are now less than 3 years old.

The two new shared hosting servers we’re running on Digital Ocean have been named in honor of two ground breaking punk bands from the 80s: Minor Threat and L7. We were a bit hesitant to name a web server “minorthreat” given it might be immediately flagged as….well, a threat, so we opted to name it after their groundbreaking 1983 Straight Edge hardcore album Out of Step. This server is also dedicated to Peter Rowan who has been regularly hounding Reclaim about out glaring oversight of memorializing Minor Threat’s contributions to hardcore punk in the form of a shared hosting server. I couldn’t agree with him more. In fact, Ian MacKaye’s career between Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Dischord Records may be the most impressive of just about any punk rock figure. And all the while he embodied a vocal insistence on DIY, affordable shows, all ages access, experimentation, and a socially responsible ethos. He has walked the walk his entire career, and this short-lived band galvanized an entire sub-genre of punk that I grew up with in NYC. Straight Edge hardcore bands like Youth of Today, Judge, Uniform Choice, Gorilla Biscuits, Slapshot and many more all owe some debt to Minor Threat. And while MacKaye has always been ambivalent about the idea of straight edge as a doctrine or a movement, there is no question Minor Threat articulated the vision quite early with songs like “Out of Step,” “Straight Edge,” and “Bottled Violence.”  So, if you find yourself on the Outofstep server, draw a big black X on your hand and refrain from all sex, drugs, and rock and roll ?

Image Credit: Click link for Sober Revolution article where this image was found

The second new shared hosting server is another ground breaking 80s punk band L7. Their in-your-face punk rock coupled with an aggressive attack on patriarchy made them a pre-cursor and influence for riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Huggy Bear to name a few. L7 songs like Shitlist, Shove, Wargasm, and Andres epitomize their hard, grinding style that helped define grunge rock in the early 90s. At the same time their songs were irreverent and their shows often filled with controversial surprises. The band formed Rock for Choice in 1991 to help support the Pro-Choice movement. Their songs are as fun and raucous as they are serious and political, a hard balance to master. That said, L7 is not for squares…get it? L7, squares….

So, that’s our two latest servers, and they are filling up fast, so we have a third in the works. It’s good to be a Reclaimer, just don’t make our shit list!


*We have finally been able to setup shared hosting on Digital Ocean thanks to the relatively recent addition of block storage.