Reclaim Cloud Case Study: Containing TEI Publisher in the Cloud

It started out as an innocent enough ticket into Reclaim Hosting from Dr. Laura Morreale, whose work involves transcribing and translating texts from medieval manuscripts using online digital facsimiles, asked if we can run eXist-db on her cPanel account in shared hosting. In particular she needed to run TEI Publisher, an open source application that is described as follows in this documentation:

The motivation behind TEI Publisher was to provide a tool which enables scholars and editors to publish their materials without becoming programmers, but also does not force them into a one-size-fits-all framework. Experienced developers will benefit as well by writing less code, avoiding redundancy, improve maintenance and interoperability – to just name a few. TEI Publisher is all about standards, modularity, reusability and sustainability!

A quick look at the basic installation documentation for eXist-db told me it was a Java app which is a hard no for cPanel. But avoiding hard NOs when someone comes asking for help is one of the main reasons we started Reclaim Cloud. A cursory search for a Docker container for this application led me to a container that seemed out-dated. I responded suggesting we could try installing it on the Cloud if they had a current Docker instance, which I was not finding. Turns out I wasn’t looking hard enough, it was linked from the eXistDB homepage right in front of my eyes. I was wrong, and Dr. Morreale responded suggesting she was becoming increasingly frustrated trying to get this application running online saying, and I misquote for comic effect: “Dammit Jim, I am Medievalist, not a server admin!” She was right, and this was why we started the Cloud in the first place; I needed to try harder. What’s more, I appreciated the fact she was so determined to make this work. So much so that soon after after the last email I sent to try and get this working, she sent sent me a link to the right Docker container on the recommendation of the folks at eXist-db:

That was all we needed, I simply searched for this container in the Docker area when creating a new environment in Reclaim Cloud:

Click “Next” and add the subdomain of this test environment, in my example teipublisher.us.reclaim.cloud (now deleted), and then clicked “Create.”

And within moments I was able to access the site at at that subdomain:

The eXistdb splash page redirects to a suite of tools, including TEI Publisher!

A click on that icon brings us into that application:

While there are a still few things to work out in regards to user management for the application, it seems like we may have a winner with this Docker container. In fact, Dr. Morreale’s struggle highlights a pain point for many humanities PhDs that need to run an application that demands a bespoke server environment. This is when the value of containers is extremely evident. In this case, running a Java server environment that can provide an  application that provides a stable and citable publication venue for a Medievalist’s transcriptions and translations is a perfect case in point. In fact, Dr. Morreale was kind enough to furnish me with some insight of her work, process, and challenges for this post:

Like a growing number of humanities PhDs, I am an independent scholar who maintains relationships with several programs and institutions. I am currently affiliated in an official capacity with Fordham, Georgetown, and Harvard Universities, and am also engaged in ongoing projects with partners at Stanford and Princeton Universities.  My medievalist practice has always been characterized by a physical distance from both the repositories that hold sources which I study, and the institutions where my scholarly work finds its home. For this reason, digital methods have offered me a solution for my scholarly work when I had few others.

Some of the most rewarding efforts which have in turn informed much of my traditional analytical work, involve transcribing and translating texts found in medieval manuscripts using online digital facsimiles. Using a tool called FromThePage combined with IIIF image technology, I can now easily choose digitized manuscript images from any online repository, upload them, then immediately begin to transcribe the text from the medieval source. I can also translate my own transcription after it is complete, and I have undertaken both individual and collaborative translation projects using this method. Right now my projects include corpus of early 13th century aristocratic legal codes from Crusader Cyprus, a rarely-cited history of Florence that was buried in a late 14th-century letter from a father to his son, and a little known work by Renaissance Florentine Leon Battista Alberti, found in a larger manuscript that has broken up, with parts of it now housed at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

The one difficulty has been to find a stable and citable publication venue for these transcriptions and translations. I have tried several different programs over the years, but could never easily publish all the work I had done to bring more attention to these texts and manuscripts. Using Reclaim Hosting  and a program called TEI Publisher allows me to create the kind of edition I would like, and to allows me to integrate images, notes, and other explanatory materials into my online editions.

In the end, the fact that we could help Dr. Morreale get what she needed fairly seamlessly is a thrill, and it highlights everything we hoped Reclaim Cloud would be. I am planning on turning this Docker container into a one-click application for the Reclaim Cloud marketplace so that other folks can hopefully scratch a similar itch. And special thanks to Dr. Morreale for so generously sharing her process and work to complete this post. Avanti!

IndieWebCamp: Domain of One’s Own Meetup

This past Tuesday I attended the second Indie WebCamp generously hosted by Chris Aldrich focused on Domain of One’s Own. The format is a more focused 10-15 minute talk around a specific technology, in this meeting Tim gave folks a walk-though of Reclaim Cloud, and then opens up to the 21 attendees for anyone to share something they are working on. Tim shared the Cloud, and not only was I thrilled to see Jon Udell in attendance, but it’s always nice when one of your tech heroes tweets some love for your new project. Even better when you know they’re not one to offer empty interest and/or praise. Thanks Jon!

It was also very cool to read Will Monroe write-up of the session, and like him I found it a “very friendly group” and I realized while attending that this kind of low-key chatting and sharing is one of the things I have missed these days. Folks like Will who want to explore what’s possible in their classroom with Domains and beyond is a big part of what I miss about the day-to-day work of an edtech in an institution. And while I’m not necessarily chomping at the bit jump back into that game given the current circumstances, the ability to share and chat with folks who are interested in Domains is always a welcome opportunity.

During the sharing portion of the meetup Jean Macdonald, community manager at mico.blog, turned me on to the Sunlit project while I was bemoaning the dearth of open source alternatives to photo sharing apps like Instagram. Soon after I finally took the leap and signed up for a mico.blog to explore that platform. That platform has been a indieweb cornerstone for many folks I respect like John Johnston, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Dan Cohen to name just a few. So I wrote my first post:

What was even cooler was the fact that while writing this post I logged back into micro.blog and discovered a few folks had welcomed me to the micro.blog community, including Jean Macdonald and Dan Cohen—that makes all the difference.

I’m sold, so the IndieWeb meetup was a total win for me, and I look forward to the one next month. I am going to start getting serious about headless WordPress development for my new website at jimgroom.net, inspired by Tom Woodward’s talk for #HeyPresstoConf20

So, I’ll have something to share in my journey to learn WordPress headless, which will mean learning javascript, CSS, and some other insanity I am not entirely ready for. I have to give a special thanks to Chris Aldrich for putting this together and working to create a space to talk Domain of One’s Own within the IndieWeb community, and I know Greg McVerry has been pushing hard on this for a while now as well, so it is very much appreciated!

Reclaim Cloud Art, Bryan Mathers, and Gettin’ Air

It occurred to me yesterday after finally listening to Terry Greene‘s interview with Bryan Mathers for the Gettin Air podcast that I never blogged about our Reclaim Cloud artwork. That needs to be rectified, and I will share the awesome below, but before I do I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the interview between these two. Possibly the coolest part was when Bryan started interviewing Terry in order to see if he could “draw” out of him some ideas that he could refactor as a visual for the podcast, and voilà Gettin Air has a new logo!

I dig it, especially given I have returned to snowboarding these last few years, but even better was Bryan getting Terry to talk about his idea behind the name, his articulation of what he’s doing and why—it was all so effortless and real. It was a beautiful demonstration of how the interview can become the thing it wants to share. So genius, well worth a listen if you have some time.

Anyway, that whole process reminded me I have not yet shared the work Reclaim Hosting did with Bryan this summer to get started on the Reclaim Cloud aesthetic. Given Reclaim Cloud is premised on a container-based architecture, we initially explored if we wanted to go down the road of shipping containers, and we have some initial sketches from Bryan that I absolutely love.

The containers are actually VHS tapes! A point made clearer in the heavy lifting image that follows:

It really is brilliant, it captures the idea of Reclaim Cloud as both container-based and industrial-strength, which it is! But ultimately after talking with Bryan we realized the hard limits of the nautical/container metaphor. So we moved on to Cloud City, an idea Martha Burtis and I fleshed out for Domain of One’s Own back in the day.

I still love that poster, in fact I have a stamped copy of it framed and hanging on the wall behind me as I write this. So we got to talking a bit about it, although Tim was a bit reluctant given he is not a Star Wars fan, but through conversation the idea of a retro-futurism aesthetic began to emerge a la The Jetsons.

And Bryan’s rough sketches had us very intrigued:

The idea of scaling your domain was fun, and the way Bryan mapped that onto retro-futuristic housing and was brilliant. In the final image the beginnings of a logo/cloudlet begin to take shape already. This was our aesthetic, and we kind of knew it during the discussion, but the seeds of the sketches sealed it.

The final option was to stick with the music/video metaphor we already have and push it further with mixed tapes. But it just felt forced, and I think Tim and I both wanted the freedom to jump out of that metaphor and explore something new, and I am really glad we did.

The next conversation after deciding on Cloud City was to scout the internet for some ideas for our next conversations, and that is when Tim landed on industrial designer Arthur Radebough’s Closer than We Think comic strip from the late 1950s through 1963. The way in which the art incorporate an explanatory panel and then the actual art incorporates various explicit arrows illustrating the future gels nicely with our idea of introducing Reclaim Cloud as a way of highlighting for higher ed what’s possible in this new space. So, we got to talking, and the first round of art was amazing:

I really love the industrial logo for Reclaim Cloud which is itself an encapsulated container, a cloudlet if you will, and this idea of self-contained cities became a bit part of our aesthetic. And the fact that Bryan Ollendyke said it reminded him of Bioshock on Twitter just sealed it for me 🙂

We were sold after this image, a kind of brochure for Cloud City which enabled us to start exploring the idea of what it would mean to try and create a series of vignettes of the different options for anyone interested in moving to the Cloud. It was just too fun, so the follow-up discussion was to explore the Closer than You Think comic strips to highlight some of the one-click applications we have for courses, organizations, and digital scholarship:

Pure magic! The way in which the container has become an organic part of these images is just so awesome. I love the one outside the window of the home classroom. This idea that it is all connected yet separate is one way to understand the cloud, and Bryan really brought it home. And as amazing as all the art is, I think his breakdown of the various elements of a Reclaim Cloud container that could incur costs in a fullblown masterpiece:

This sphere is everything, literally. I just love the way the aesthetic has evolved and the final bit is thinking through how we’re going to highlight what is happening within each cloud. This led us to the idea of “What’s in your Cloud?” wherein we talk to folks to provide us a peak into their Cloud, what are they running, how, etc. The following image is a placeholder, but we are thinking through ways of trying to capture the individual nature of folks’ cloud for each episode, and Bryan mentioned some kind of comic-like avatar, like my Cotton Mather avatar in a spacesuit hold my Cloud sphere, which would be awesome!

Anyway, I think that brings us up to date, and to be clear this has only just begun. We are thinking of Reclaim Cloud as a long-game. We know it will not replace cPanel hosting; we have plenty of time to experiment with the possibilities; and we can slowly start moving our existing infrastructure over as we become increasingly comfortable with the environment. Not to mention it has forced us to dig in and learn a lot more as a company, and as much as I was kicking myself given I was just start to feel a bit liberated from the day-to-day, in the end I love it. We’ve been dreaming of this kind of infrastructure since we started Reclaim Hosting, and in 3 short months we went from nothing to a pretty full blown product that provides some concrete solutions for academics wanting to host something outside of the LAMP stack. And this retro-future aesthetic is our way to start experimenting in this space without pretending there aren’t also real problems baked into every solution—we’re here to explore right along side you.

Timmy Explores the Wondrous World of Windows 3.1

You begin the game as Timmy, a young boy visiting a crumbling amusement park known as Midway. But Timmy doesn’t see a pathetic locale where everything is falling apart, but rather a world of wonder, with his thoughts appearing in written form at the bottom of the screen.

The above quote is taken from a now gone review on Hardcore Gaming 101 describing The Residents 1995 CD-ROM game Bad Day at the Midway. I know this because I copied that description for a post I wrote on this blog in 2014 talking about this game, which made an indelible impression on my memory when I first played it on Windows 3.1 at in the AVS offices at UCLA. In fact, the description of little Timmy above is perfect to describe another Timmy I know who found himself in the wondrously retro world of archival emulation thanks to the EaaSI project, or emulation as a service infrastructure. What is EaaSI? Well, Tim covers that nicely:

The Eaasi platform allows you to start with basic images of operating systems, and then layer on software as well as “objects”. So, for example, you might have an object that is a Word Document a professor wrote in 1998. Instead of rendering it in a PDF, here we can actually take a Windows 98 computer, add Office 97 to it, and then have the document load at boot. A true native environment that is destroyed and rebuilt each time you go to view it in a matter of seconds and renders the object exactly as it was intended to be viewed.

What’s beautiful for us is that EaaSI is a container-based environment for emulation-based archiving that Tim got running on Reclaim Cloud, so now he can playing Solitaire as it was meant to be played on Windows 3.1:

All of which led us to jump on a video call and see if we could get the iso of the Bad Day at the Midway CD-ROM to run in the Cloud, and turns out it is very possible, even if you have to fix a few issues like mount your virtual CD-drive and fixing the monitor colors:

“Wow!” indeed. Running a 1995 CD-ROM game on Windows 3.1 via the web on Reclaim Cloud is a new level of hosting inception I can dig on. It seems similar in spirit to the remarkable work the folks at the Internet Archive have been doing for years to emulate various games in the browser. It’s exciting stuff, and the fact we could host something like this is mind blowing.

DomainMOD: Getting my domains house in order

I have been having fun watching Tim blog through his recent application experiments on the Reclaim Cloud. What I love is his experiments is they are honest, when he tries out an app he is really not sure if it will run. In fact, I am on the edge of my seat to see if it worked when reading posts like this and this. 🙂 So, inspired by Tim as I often am, I looked through the list of awesome self-hosted apps he linked to in his penultimate post to continue my experimentation in the Cloud. The application I landed on was DomainMOD, which is a tool for managing domains you have registered across different registrars, hosting companies etc. It’s a custom tool for folks like me who have a domain hoarding problem, and it comes at a perfect time given I am continuing to try and get my digital house in order, and with 31 domains registered all over the place, this would be an app I can actually use.

So, the first step was installing, and while it is a pretty straight-forward PHP/MySQL app, I noticed there was a Docker container, so I tried that out and it was dead simple. I spun up a Docker Engine instance in Reclaim Cloud.

After that I created a domainmod directory in the /home directory via command line:

mkdir /home/domainmod

And then from the /home/domainmod directory I ran the following two commands

git clone https://github.com/domainmod/docker.git
docker-compose up -d

And that was it, DomainMOD was up and running and after that I spent the morning adding my domains to the interface so that I could track them more accurately. The app has the option to integrate with the APIs from the various registrars I currently use, i.e. eNom, Logicboxes, and OpenSRS, which is nice. I did a manual import to begin, but I was quickly able to get an overview of all my domains, annual cost, what’s private, where DNS lives, associated registrar, as well as a category (right now I have 3: personal, ds106, and Reclaim).

I am clocking just about $600 a year on domains, which is $50 a month. The custom domains really killed me 🙂 I may have to do some pruning, having all the jimgroom TLDs may not be all that necessary, although the bava.blog, bava.tv and bava.rocks are absolutely essential 🙂 I’ll have to continue to play a bit with DomainMOD given I have a fairly involved blog post where I want to track the registration of each of the domains over the years as a kind of personal history of my personal web since 2003 or so. But until then I am winning on the Cloud!

Azuracast: One-click Web Radio in the Reclaim Cloud

Yesterday was a win because I finally focused for long enough to work through creating a one-click installer for the open source web radio application Azuracast. I’ve had a couple of conversations with folks around web radio this week, and I have to say it was cool to hear them suggest web radio is one area they want to explore. I love the whole idea, and I figured Reclaim Hosting could do its small part to make installing and hosting Azuracast that much easier. I have played with the software a bit in Reclaim Cloud to create Reclaim Radio, stand-up Strawboss Radio for the inimitable @scottlo, and finally to migrate #ds106radio to Azuracast. So I had installed the software using their Docker container a few times now.

The trick was to take the installation commands and create a one-click installer for Reclaim Cloud. Tim has already created quite a few, and he wrote-up a bit about the approach for creating packages on the Reclaim Community forums that was a very useful starting point:

Jelastic has documentation at https://docs.cloudscripting.com/ on how to develop these packages which take the form of a yaml or json file. You can also browse all of the packages currently available via Jelastic’s Github organization at Jelastic JPS Collection as well as recent additions I’ve built and added to the Marketplace at Reclaim Hosting’s Github. The repos contain a manifest.yaml file which has all of the necessary code. In more complex scripts that file may call other scripts within the repo to do various things.

One method I’ve had a lot of success with is creating a generic Docker container and then running a build script to automate pulling down and running the particular software project.

Tim points to the example of the manifest file for RStudio he created as a model, which is where I started. I created my first Github repo in the Reclaim Hosting account (which is a proud moment for me 🙂 ) and I got started. And, in fact, it was pretty simple, I had to update the application name and other details, but the only real significant change to the RStudio manifest he shared was to the actions section:

actions:
  setup:
    cmd[cp]: |-
      mkdir -p /var/azuracast
      cd /var/azuracast
      curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/AzuraCast/AzuraCast/master/docker.sh > docker.sh
      chmod a+x docker.sh
      yes no |./docker.sh install
      #Checking of container is up and running
      until [ "`/usr/bin/docker inspect -f {{.State.Running}} azuracast_web`"=="true" ]; do
        sleep 1
        print '.'
      done;
      echo OK
ssl: true
skipNodeEmails: true
success: |
  **Azuracast URL**: [https://${env.domain}/](https://${env.domain}/)

This is the finished product, but to be clear it took some finessing of my attempt by Tim to get it to work. The big thing was that the Docker container asks questions about the custom domain and SSL certification to creating and environment file, so that had to be forced in the script with the line yes no |./docker.sh install. The other thing is the test to make sure the container is running until [ "`/usr/bin/docker inspect -f {{.State.Running}} azuracast_web`"=="true" ]; do needs the name of the application for that Docker instance, which is azuracast_web, so that was another thing Tim helped me figure out.

That said, I can see how creating these one-click installer can be pretty do-able with the right container, which is pretty awesome. Even better, it is not necessarily limited to us creating these manifests, as Tony Hirst demonstrated with his Jupyter Notebook work, anyone can do it and share appropriating for others to use, where or not it is in our marketplace. So, all that said, I finally have my first attempt at an installer for Reclaim Cloud under my belt.

A Follow-up on Costs in the Cloud

Some new Reclaim Cloud art from Bryan Mathers, isn’t it beautiful?

Yesterday marks the first full month of my being a paying customer in Reclaim Cloud. I wanted to take the occasion to follow-up on my post in July where I started projecting what the costs of hosting on Reclaim Cloud might look like given you only pay for what you use, and that will be variable over time. The uncertainty of variable pricing can be scary, but at the same time once you have a sense of what to expect it starts making a lot more sense. So, below is a look at my total monthly cost for August hosting this blog, ds106.us, my own Jitsi instance (which I turn on and off as needed), Etherpad, a YouTube Downloader app, as well as a number of parked applications I’m experimenting with.

And the verdict is in, I spent $87.42 in August, and that breaks down as follows:

  • bavatuesdays (WordPress): $35.73
  • ds106.us (WordPress): $26.70
  • ds106club (Ubuntu VPS): $5.93
  • bavanotes (Etherpad): $5.77
  • bavameet (Jitsi): $4.23
  • Youtube Downloader: $2.89

These are the apps I regularly used, and that works out to $81.25, the other $6.17 was spent on the Ghost ($3.04) and Discourse instance ($3.04) the former of which I eventually shutdown and archived to a static site. The remaining .09 cents I spent on testing various environments with a few different apps.

The nice thing about the Cloud billing is it gives you insight into exactly how many resources you used and what they cost at the container level and beyond. Above I exploded the view for this blog and you can see the costs are split up given I moved the environment mid-month. The costs are predominantly for the LEMP application server ($31.37) and the rest is for the dedicated IP address ($3) and the CDN I installed ($1.36) brings the total to $35.73. This is about half what I would be paying with Kinsta, which is nice to know, and about $5 more than Digital Ocean, although that did not include a CDN.

The big win for me once Tim added the Edgeport CDN service that Reclaim Cloud is utilizing is that I really had no more reason to pay Cloudflare for their CDN and caching service, effectively saving me $20 per month (actually $40 if you include I also had a pro plan for ds106). So, I am effectively $90 monthly for my web services through Reclaim Cloud, with a fair bit of room to experiment. I could probably shave off $8 or $9 if I started and stopped Etherpad and the Youtube Downloader application. I think this kind of monitoring of usage makes me consider not only what I am spending, but what resources I am using. And this is a bit different then just minding money—I could probably skip the bill and no one would say anything 🙂 —it’s the fact it makes me more mindful of what I can shutdown to save resources—such as Discourse and Ghost—it goes back to the idea of turning off the lights when you are not in the room. Same thing here, and it is what is unique about the Cloud, in shared hosting I spend far less, but at the same time I hog resources with the 15-20 applications I have installed (maybe two of which I am actively using) and never think twice about it.* I’m not sure sustainability is the right word given its environmental connotations, although it might be, but it does make sense in terms of ensuring our shared hosting infrastructure is not overburdened with accounts that demand more resources, such as mine.

Anyway, I guess I am still blogging about this because I’m so used to paying $30-$100 a year to host any and everything I want on a shared hosting server and I am trying to come to terms with a digital life outside the “free” third party trap services is something I have to start accounting for, and as a result budgeting accordingly.

___________________________________

*At least until Tim gently reminds me other folks are paying for those resources you are burning.

Playing in the Cloud: Integrating Etherpad with Jitsi

One of the first things Tim showed me when we starting using Jitsi internally was the ability to integrate Etherpad Lite. I wanted to give it a try given I am working on demoing fully open source replacement for Zoom/Google Docs/Slack with Jitsi/Etherpad/Mattermost. I am now officially 2/3 of the way there 🙂

So, I already have both an Etherpad and Jitsi app running in Reclaim Cloud thanks to our handy-dandy one-click apps in the Cloud marketplace. After that Tim shared this guide in the Reclaim Hosting Community forums for integrating my Etherpad with Jitsi, and it worked a treat. When you click on the “Open shared document”…

… and voilà, now you have a blank Etherpad page that anyone on the call can edit directly from the Jitsi browser tab.

So, I added the KaraOERke instructions to the document which folks on the call can edit (though read-only is an option), it also has a link or an embed code.


You also have the option to import/export text and HTML files right from Jitsi. So, effectively full Etherpad functionality within Jitsi.

I really like the way this works, and through Jitsi you can also livestream to Youtube, I have not found other options yet, but given it is open source software I am sure they are not far off. I would love to be able to stream the Jitsi instance directly to ds106.tv.

The last piece of this open source remote teaching trifecta is Mattermost, I am going to dig in some more on that and see would integrating Etherpad and Jitsi into Mattermost looks like. But until then, you can always try this out for yourself using the 14-day free trial at Reclaim Cloud.

Finding my footing in the Cloud

With the steady introduction and roll out of Reclaim Cloud, I’ve really just scraped the surface of the technical components and have spent more of my time focusing on how these new cloud offerings fit in with our existing suite of Reclaim Hosting products. There are quite a few differences between Reclaim Cloud and cPanel, but there are also some similarities, too. So while it may be helpful for some to ‘forget everything you thought you knew about hosting’ in order to get into this new Dockerized mindset, I find myself falling back on compare/contrast visuals and old gold hosting metaphors to make sense of it all. So for those of you who may be struggling to understand where Reclaim Cloud fits in, keep on reading!

Here’s a running list of the differences between cPanel and Jelastic PaaS (i.e. Reclaim Cloud) that have stuck out to me so far:

The other day the Sales team (i.e. Katie, Jim, and myself) had a brainstorming meeting discuss how we can talk about Reclaim Cloud has it relates to our other products. Aside from the obvious reasons it will be important to know the Cloud Hosting model inside and out, it will also be crucial to understand it in relation to what we currently offer and support. The fact that I can signup for a Shared Hosting cPanel account at Reclaim and install WordPress and Omeka, and then simultaneously head over to Reclaim Cloud and install the exact same applications will raise the question, “when would I use one over the other?” And by extension, “who is Reclaim Cloud for?”

I’m copying a piece of the Reclaim Cloud about page that has stuck with me:

The term “cloud” can get bandied about when it comes to the internet, but at its core Cloud Computing was inline with the vision that resources could scale seamlessly based on usage rather than some perceived notion of a high-water mark of usage. Like other utilities such as water, electricity, and gas, computing power would be a resource that you would pay for based on actual usage rather than projects. 

https://reclaim.cloud/about/

This got me thinking about the well-loved (or not-so-loved, lol) House metaphor. If we think of our web presence or website as our house, in which all rooms are a different page of your site, and your street address and directions to your house are essentially DNS records, the world of web hosting very quickly starts to take shape. For me, Reclaim Cloud now fits into this particular metaphor as a lightbulb, or more broadly, as my utilities. When I go to the store and buy a pack of lightbulbs, I do my research beforehand. I figure out which lightbulb is going to last the longest, which lightbulb is going to be the most energy-efficient, and which lightbulb is going to put out the best type of light based on my needs. I may even be willing to spend a little more money up front to make sure I check these boxes. Then when I come home, I don’t plan to install my lightbulbs, turn on all the lights, and then leave the house. I will turn these lights on and off as I walk into each room to conserve energy.

That is the main mindset shift between Reclaim Cloud and Shared cPanel Hosting. My current cPanel account has quite a few WP installs, some of which I use frequently and others I just spun up one day to test and then left there. In cPanel, there’s no additional cost to me to turn on all my lights and then leave the house. cPanel Shared Hosting is a fixed cost of 30 – 100 bucks a year, and I know that no matter what, that’s all I’ll owe at the end of the day. But if I’ve got a lot of big projects that require a lot of energy (i.e. resources), or if I want to play around with apps that aren’t compatible with cPanel’s infrastructure, I’ll begin to hit limits.

At Reclaim Cloud, I’m no longer confined to a single software stack. (In my last post I wrote in depth about creating new environments.) I can play around with almost any application out there, and I can temporarily turn them on and off as I see fit. Reclaim Cloud isn’t a fixed cost, but I’ll only pay for the exact resources that I use. This will keep me engaged with my web presence, constantly grooming it and evaluating what I’m using and what is a priority to me. And for big WordPress Multisite that’s sitting on a 32GB server simply due to the infrequent moments they have busy traffic day, Reclaim Cloud could be a cost saver since resources will automatically scale up and down with the traffic. This also means those pesky ‘Resource Limit Reached‘ errors in cPanel are no more!

I recently sat down with Tim and Jim to get their thoughts on all of this, and we ended up chatting for over an hour for Reclaim Today’s latest episode, 018: Cloud Q&A. Worth a listen if this conversation is of interest to you!

Turn Off the Cloud Lights!

One of the things I have been doing over the last couple of months is tracking how many resources (known in Reclaim Cloud as cloudlets) each application environment requires. This is important because the more cloudlets you use the more you pay, so trying to be as efficient as possible is quite important.

A cloudlet = 128 MiB + 400 MHz. Or, the equivalent of a ridiculously fast personal computer circa 1996 or 1997.

Crazy to think, but true. For each cloudlet you pay a dedicated amount of, for arguments sake, let’s say $3 per month. So, an app that requires 4 cloudlets will cost $12 per month if used constantly and the resource demands do not spike. Pretty easy maths, no? But what about a video conferencing applications like Jitsi that you only need at certain times?

I have been playing with this since July 1, and I have averaged about 10 hours on Jitsi Meet over the last two weeks. I have gotten in the habit of turning off Jitsi after every use, and turning it back on 10 minutes before my next meeting. Turns out the average cloudlet usage for an always on Jitsi instance is around 8 cloudlets per month, or $24. But when I turn it on and off regular it has only cost me cost under $1 so far this month, so literally a fraction of the cost.

And that should be easy for us to understand as we begin to think of applications on the web more and more like utilities. We turn off our lights when we leave the room because we waste less electricity and save money, I think for certain applications this approach means being more resource conscious.

I had a similar revelation this morning as I was tracking resource usage, my blog average 13 cloudlets per month, or $39. This means for most folks hosting your WordPress blog on Reclaim Cloud would not be more cost effective, probably true for most other PHP applications like Omeka, Grav, Scalar, etc. Shared hosting via cPanel will still be kind because it is far less expensive and a $30-$100 per year gets you pretty much all the applications you can run within limits. The Cloud makes you pay for your usage per applications, so you can see how quickly that would add up. Even a low-trafficked WordPress site in Reclaim Cloud would require 4-5 cloudlets, or $12-$15 per month, and that is just one site and it is not including the domain—what a deal we give you with shared hosting! 🙂

On the other hand, high trafficked sites that a require a virtual private server or a managed hosting instance might find the Cloud a lot cheaper given they’ll only pay for those resources used, rather than paying for enough CPU and memory to manage the “what if…?” scenario. In this regard the $300 a month you spend for the worst case scenario could be significantly less if most of the time that server is using just a fraction of allotted resources, and that is when the Cloud rules—when it can allow you to seamlessly scale as you need  but only pay for what you use—just like our water, heat, and electric bills. Stephen Fry’s 5 minutes video comparing cloud computing to utilities usage from 2013 is still one of my favorite takes on the changing nature of resources usage with the cloud.

So, one think I did this morning is go through my sites on Reclaim Cloud and look at which ones I could turn off to save some energy. Turns out the test instance of Ghost I am running takes up 7 cloudlets per month, or $21, so that was a fine candidate given a CMS site like Ghost always needs to me on. So, I sitesucked the ghost.murderinc.biz and copied the HTML archived files onto my cPanel account and re-pointed DNS. After that I stopped the environment. I can still keep the Ghost instance on my account, but like Jitsi, it can remain turned stopped (or turned off) and I won’t need to pay for anything but storage until I decide to actually use Ghost. In the event I don’t use it I can simply delete the app and keep my archived HTML version. 
So, to push the house of the future metaphor even further, I spent the morning turning off lights in the rooms of my digital house that I was not using, and my energy bill will thank me at the end of the month 🙂