Backups Done Right

One of the crucial elements to owning your own space online is the ability to tinker and play without fear that you will break something and be unable to fix it. Inevitably things go wrong on occasion and keeping regular backups of your content is highly advised (but that’s easier said than done). Up until now we’ve supported a few different ways for our community to backup their stuff in Reclaim Hosting:

  • Generate on-demand backups – Directly in cPanel you have the option of generation either a Full backup of your entire cPanel account (great for migrating to another service) or optionally just your Home directory or databases. While this is a great option for getting a copy of your stuff as an export, it is a manually solution and more than likely by the time something goes wrong your copy you remembered to grab will either be too old to be of use or non-existent.
  • Installatron backups – A large majority of our users make use of our automated installer in cPanel powered by Installatron to install WordPress, Omeka, and a host of other software. It’s fast, simple, and we often provide custom software packages through this plugin that aren’t typically easy to install on your own. One of the great things about Installatron is that it has automated backup solutions built directly in. At the time of install or any time afterwards you can choose whether to have the software backup every time an upgrade is completed as well as commit regular backups on a scheduled basis. You don’t even have to store these backups in your hosting account eating into your storage quota, you have the option to choose an FTP location or even Dropbox as an alternative place to store backups of your installs. Restoring from a backup couldn’t be simpler with the option to restore either to the same location or choose a different site to restore to, and the backup includes all files and folders as well as the database for the install to get you back up and running quickly.

These are great options to offer some security for the content you publish at Reclaim Hosting. However there are a few ways in which we think we could do better. Up until now there has been no way to quickly restore a single file or folder that might have accidentally been deleted or overwritten, you’d have to grab a full backup, unpack it, and find what you needed. These backup solutions also default to storing the backups directly on the server which both eats up your server space but more importantly is an insecure method of backing up content. Ideally you’d have a replicated copy of your stuff in an external location in case of larger issues with our datacenter or hardware that render the existing content inaccessible. Today we’re proud to announce a solution to all of these issues. Continue reading “Backups Done Right”

Where Reclaim’s Going

More than a year ago the idea of “reclaiming the web” started to congeal for me as a result of the MIT Hackathon I attended. It’s there where Audrey Watters and Kin Lane plugged me into the future of the web. During that two day stint we imagined a project called Reclaim Your Domain that we’ve been working on in those rare few available moments since. Professionally, reclaiming is all about trying to educate people about how the web works and empower then to take control of their small piece of it. Politically it’s about consciously resisting the increasing centralization of everything to a few online corporate conglomerates. I believe the one makes the other possible.

Reclaim has been the intellectual basis of much of the work I’ve been part of since, and even prior, it just didn’t have that title yet. UMW went live with Domain of One’s Own this past Fall, and that’s a project that has empowering students, staff, and faculty to interrogate how the web works built into its DNA. A year ago Tim Owens and I started Reclaim Hosting, and that has been a means of providing an infrastructure for folks to experiment with managing their space on the open web for a pittance with unparalled support. As Audrey so brilliantly frames it, “The Future of Ed-Tech is a Reclamation Project.” Her willed optimimism is the hallmark of generous and generative humanity and reinforces for me that this is my future as well.

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But the cool part of all this that I am starting to realize is that we’re not alone in the push to reclaim. Just the other day Doug Belshaw started drawing the contours of this broader movement in his post on the DML Hub titled “Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation.” He connects the recent global realizations that  a) we’re all being surveilled online by at least the NSA, but probably many, mnay more agencies; b) our personal data is the currency for the predominant “free” online business models, and privacy is the cost; and c) we can’t solve this alone, we need to start re-thinking our relationship to the web as a connected culture. This post really starts to frame why reclaiming one’s sense of their own domain (to verbally mashup the work I’m part of) has far broader implications than an initaitive at UMW or a few hippies trying to explain web hosting.

In fact, on the same day I saw Belshaw’s post, I also read Jon Udell’s “Mapping the Decentralization Movement”, which is another articulation of the mobilization, as Udell notes, to “re-decentralize” the web. The project Udell is currently work on, Thali, is an experiment to see what a truly peer-to-peer web might look like. But he notes it is just one of many projects like this. He links to a long list of people and projects that are trying to make this alternative web a reality, and it’s a great palce to start getting sense of what may prove to be a broader cultural movement away from the centralization of the web.

In fact, UMW’s DTLT recently talked with Ben Werdmuller and Erin Jo Richey who are leading up Known—one of the projects on that list—about how their software might enable our community to publish to a variety of different services without ever having to login to them. A personal hub for pushing content to these other services, while at the same time claiming the work you are creating locally and decided where you want to share and how. Tim Owens has been experimenting with this software, and I think he may already have it as one-click install for the folks on both UMW’s Domain of One’s Own and Reclaim Hosting.

And that, for me, is where Reclaim Hosting is going. We want to support as many people as  possible explore as many of these applications that enable them to more easily manage and control their piece of the web. We’ll be working our way through the alterative web community’s applications and see if we can make them part of the Reclaim Hosting application universe. Even better, we hope to be contributing to at least one more as part of the Reclaim Your Domain project, but more on that anon.  And start addressing all those applications that can’t run in a LAMP environment, we’re currently working on helping people install and manage  applications that run on a particular set of dependencies in a virtualized environment. We’ll be making a push to explore machine images for a variety of applications and document how to get them working. But more importantly, we’re working on a rollout of the community-focused face of Reclaim Hosting that will provide a space to share the work happening by interersted parties from across the Reclaim universe.

Reclaim Hosting

To this end, as you might have surmised, Reclaim Hosting is not a pilot anymore. We’re bonafide! We plan on sticking around to support reclaimers for a long time. We just redesigned the siteintegrated CPanel into the client area, and updated our pricing model. Rolling out the next stage of Reclaim Hosting is exciting because it truly feels we are part of a broader movement to help people start thinking about the importance of re-decentralizing the web. And I remain convinced the best way at this is to start by taking control of your own little piece of it.

cPanel Access in the Client Area

If I had to pin down the single greatest feature request in the past year that we’ve heard from clients it comes back to password management. Before today you had one password to sign up, another to login to cPanel, and then more passwords when you installed applications. We hear you loud and clear and today I’m pleased to announce that alongside the full redesign of the client area we’ve found a way to make the cPanel interface for your site accessible directly from there, no password required! Users can simply log in and they’ll find a menu item for cPanel available to them in the navigation area. For users with more than one hosting account, the menu item will convert to a dropdown menu so you have access to every cPanel area you’re a user on from one screen.

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This change is certainly a welcome one but comes with a small caveat for existing users. The interface relies on our billing system keeping your cPanel password in sync. This means if you’ve changed your password directly in cPanel there’s one small step you need to take to get them back in sync. Go to the account listing page in the client area of Reclaim Hosting and click on View Details for your account. Then click the Change Password tab and update your cPanel password here. This will ensure the system stays in sync. We’ve disabled the ability to reset passwords directly in cPanel for this reason and password changes should happen right in the client area.

We hope this will make a huge difference for customers who want quick and easy access to dive into cPanel and start building out there space. If you have other ideas for features you’d like to see us build, leave them in the comments below or shoot us a message!

Updates to our Pricing Model

As many of you know, when we began Reclaim Hosting last summer we made the decision to run as a pilot for the first year offering domains at cost and charging nothing for hosting. We wanted to ensure this was both a service that people wanted to see as well as something that we were confident would serve a large community. The response was overwhelming with over 1,500 people joining us and calling Reclaim Hosting home. In the past year we’ve had a variety of challenges from building infrastructure to finding what the best way to build support and community could be. With the first year behind us, both Jim and I couldn’t be more pleased with where we are and we have a ton of ideas for the future.

Which brings us back to pricing. We know we can’t sustain this service long term for free, and the absolute last thing we’d ever want to do is sell out to a larger corporation to attempt to subsidize the cost in a way that doesn’t fit with our ideals. We firmly believe the best things on the web are worth paying for. But we wanted to continue to make it extremely affordable for folks who are just getting started and need a low-risk way of experimenting in these new spaces. So we’ve updated our pricing in a way that we believe is fair and affordable. Starting today, Reclaim Hosting accounts will be $25/year and continue to include a free domain registration as part of that package. For our users that are looking to upgrade to gain more space or add additional domains, we’re offering a $45 package that will support multiple domains and greater storage (existing users can upgrade their account in the client area). We also have a package for institutions that are serving large student bodies and spell some of those details out on our pricing page as well. If you’re interested in that get in touch!

We know raising prices sucks. We’ve tried to be as open about the pilot phase of Reclaim Hosting as we could and be assured this is a one-time adjustment that will ensure we’re around for years to come. Thanks for being a part of this great adventure and we look forward to continuing to serve you and build out some amazing opportunities for you and your schools in the next few months and years!

Brand New Design

Reclaim Hosting got a fresh coat of paint today with a full site redesign including the client area. When we began Reclaim Hosting last summer our priority was getting the infrastructure up and running. With over 1,500 users after 1 year I can confidently say it has been (and continues to be) a success in that regard. But the old site was always a quick and dirty thing, published practically overnight to frame the service. As we prepare to take Reclaim Hosting into the next phase of its infancy it was time for something more clean and professional. The new site design sports a fully responsive design that views well on mobile and tablets as well as desktops. As time goes on we’ll be working out ways to feature the community that has begun to build around the Reclaim movement as well.

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In addition to the site redesign we’ve also completely overhauled the client area interface. Accessible directly from the main site, you’ll find all of your information easily accessible with just a few clicks. We’ve even added the ability to access cPanel directly from your client area without having to know the password (probably our #1 feature request!), but more on that in another post. The client area is also responsive so if you need to login while you’re on your phone or tablet you’ll find the same familiar interface formatted for your screen here.

We’re excited to enter this new phase of development for Reclaim Hosting. Many have asked what the future of the service was when we began last year with our pilot and the response from the community reinforces that there’s nothing we’d rather be doing than continuing to build out a company that supports you at every step. Whether you’re a student getting their first blog up and running or a seasoned faculty member looking to build a digital project, we believe you’ll find no better place to do it than right here. If there’s anything we can do to help you, don’t hesitate to let us know!

A Long Day: Status Update on Yesterday’s Server Issues

Yesterday was admittedly a long day for me. Jim, Martha, and I were all traveling down to Atlanta to prepare for the Domain Incubator conference that Emory University is putting on Friday and Saturday. It’s an exciting opportunity to brainstorm how schools can use services like this (or DIY) to build a Domain of One’s Own type of program and I particularly like that Atlanta is thinking of it as a regional hub rather than simply attempting to shoehorn their institution into buying into it wholesale. But I found myself yesterday scrambling to fix issues on our servers that I had never seen before and since the issues persisted for much of the day I wanted to provide a little redux post of what happened here.

Wednesday night I received a report from someone that their site was running really slow and sometimes unavailable. I checked on it and I could load her website but I did notice occasionally it wouldn’t connect. I would refresh and it would come right back. I checked the server she was on to see if there were any load issues or high-traffic sites causing issues. I didn’t see anything abnormal but I did a few various tweaks to some settings and asked her to let me know if it continued and I went to bed. In the morning I woke up to a few messages not just from the one customer anymore, but a few others reporting spotty availability. What immediately struck me was that the customers were across multiple servers. Either there was a coordinated attack on all our servers at the same time, or there was a larger issue perhaps with our data center. As I mentioned yesterday we were getting ready to head out of town so I had to get my daughter to daycare and get packed up but as soon as I got in the office I put in a support request to our server provider asking if there were any network issues we should know about and explaining the issues we were having. They replied that they were unaware of any issues at that time.

So I spent the better part of the morning trying every trick in the book I could think of to resolve the issue. Rebuild Apache, check MySQL, suspend a few accounts with high traffic temporarily, reboot, reboot again, check the firewall, disable the firewall. Nothing was working and the issue persisted on both servers we own. I asked the company if we could pay them to look at this issue as I had no other ideas left to try and I had never seen a spotty connection like this before (many websites were actually fully functional, but most could not access their dashboard, edit pages, do any administrative tasks without lots of refreshing and frustration). By this point I had to get on a plane to Atlanta and figured I’d have to continue working on this once I got to the hotel.

Luckily our airplane had wifi so I was able to keep working on things. I finally received an email during the flight (this was about 5:30pm) from the company that said “We have narrowed down the cause of the issue and We will be performing emergency maintenance tonight at 10pm.” Hallelujah! It turned out to be a bad network switch that routes the network to and from both of our servers (along with many others I’m sure). I updated everyone on Twitter and sure enough, when the switch was replaced at 10pm the problem resolved itself.

Obviously no time is a good time for downtime but I’m especially aware of the fact that many final projects are due around this time period as schools begin to finish up their Spring semester. Ironically I was using my own domain for a final project in a graduate program I’m in and I host it here (eating my own dogfood) so I too was feeling that pain. This was an especially difficult issue because it’s one of the first times that we’ve had to look above our own servers to our network provider as the cause of the issue (and the company initially did not indicate there was an issue at all). In the future as Reclaim Hosting grows we will likely be able to find ways to mitigate this by diversifying the companies we use for servers, the location of those servers, etc. I’ve never compared us to enterprise hosting like GoDaddy, Bluehost, Dreamhost, MediaTemple, etc because I believe what we’re doing here is and can be fundamentally different. With that comes some growing pains of course, but I’m glad to have you all be a part of what we’re doing here and I look forward to continue to build Reclaim right alongside you all.

Thanks for your support,

Tim Owens

We’re Live!

Over the past few weeks we've seen an outpouring of support and interest in Reclaim Hosting. We're excited to finally launch and announce that signups are open. If you are running a course that would benefit from having your students get a domain of their own and web hosting, point them to https://reclaimhosting.com to sign up. If you wish to cover the fee for students you register for an account here and submit a support ticket to us with the number of domains you will need and we'll be happy to generate an invoice for you. 

In addition to launching Reclaim Hosting we want to focus the next few months not only on building a great system to provide educators and students with web hosting, but also on building a community of people in the field who are doing this. We can all learn from each other and support each other in this exciting adventure. To that end we have build the Reclaim Hosting community, a forum where you can get advice and help, offer tips and tricks, and post about pretty much anything you're doing with Reclaim Hosting. Be sure to also follow the hashtag #reclaim on Twitter, and we'll be publishing weekly videos and screencasts to help the community further. We're also continually building out the Knowledgebase and if you're written a tutorial for your class feel free to share it with the community and we'll add it there! 

This is by far the most exciting thing we've ever done and we're stoked you want to be a part of it. Let's make the myths together.

Jim Groom and Tim Owens