Robin's Blog

Review: Rackspace Cloud (+ free open-source project hosting)

Summary: Rackspace are great: easy-to-use control panel, helpful support, fast servers and I got it all for free to host my open-source projects! Upgrading servers isn’t as easy as it could be, but that’s a very minor problem overall.

After thinking about it for a while, I took advantage of Jesse Noller’s offer that I found on Twitter

and emailed requesting a free Rackspace account to host Py6S, PyProSAIL and RTWTools (along with my other Open-Source projects). To be honest, I wasn’t sure that my projects would quality – they are relatively niche (although useful within my field) – but Jesse replied quickly and said he’d get things setup for me. I was amazed when they offered $2000 per month in expenses for servers, storage and so on – seems like an amazing amount of money for me!

Setup was nice and easy – I created an account and then got a phonecall from a lovely chap to confirm I was who I said I was. Even though I forgot to put the proper country code on my phone number when registering, they obviously realised I was from the UK and got through to me – and called at a sensible time of the day for me (middle of the night for them!). Anyway, as soon as I’d had the phonecall and confirmed with Jesse, I could start getting things set up.

I hadn’t really used cloud servers before, so wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but there were helpful guides on their website. I created a Linux server, followed their guide to set it up securely (turning off root access via SSH, changing SSH port, setting up a firewall etc) and got apache working. It was great to have root access on a webserver (previously I’d had shared hosting through Dreamhost, and had been frustrated at being unable to do some things) – I could configure anything to my heart’s content – although I was aware that all of the security would also be down to me!

Anyway, I then created a Windows server to allow me to easily test my software on a Windows machine that doesn’t matter (my work machine is too important for me to possibly screw-up by testing weird configurations of my code on it). This machine was costing a fair amount per hour to host, so I assumed I could start it up and shut it down at will, like I’d heard that you could do on Amazon’s cloud, but I then found out that didn’t seem to be the case. If you want to shutdown a server so you’re not paying for it, you have to image the server, delete the server, and then recreate it using the image – possible, but a bit of a pain. That’s not a major problem for me, as I’m getting it all for free, but might be a bit of a frustration for people who are paying for it!

After playing around with my Linux server a bit, I got my software installed and tried to run it. The underlying model (6S, which I didn’t write), kept crashing and I had no idea why. I contacted Rackspace Support, who were very helpful – even though the software I was trying to run was nothing to do with them – and suggested that I tried upgrading to a better spec server. This was a bit of a pain (I had to image the server, delete it, and then create a new one from the image), but I’ve now upgraded to a nice fancy server which is able to run my code in parallel (makes running the tests far faster!).

So, what am I running on the server now? Well:

  • Static websites for Py6S and RTWTools
  • A Jenkins Continuous Integration server to run all of the Py6S tests whenever I commit new code
  • A RStudio web-interface (for playing around with possible Py6S/R integration)
  • An IPython Notebook server (whenever needed, with authentication of course) for doing manual testing of Py6S on the server remotely without needing to SSH
  • Private Git repositories for various pieces of code that will be open-sourced, but aren’t quite ready to reveal to the world yet
  • Backups of previous binary versions of RTWTools
  • And more… (I’m sure I’ve forgotten things)

I also have another server running at the moment with a heavily-secured IPython Notebook interface running on it, for use in some Py6S teaching that I will be doing shortly.

So, overall the experience has been great, and once I got the server setup I’ve barely had to touch the Rackspace Control Panel, the server has Just Worked ™, with no downtime or problems at all. So – thanks Rackspace!

Categorised as: Reviews, Technology

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