Update on website performance and security

Long time no hear! My last blog post has been a while ago, I’m sorry for that. I may have mentioned possible reasons for that (or maybe excuses) in some other posts already. I’m busy in the office, and when you’re working as a customer, there is not the same level of troubleshooting (and thus the source for blog posts) as when you would work as a partner (vendor => partner => customer, from an IT tech perspective). I know, that might be only an excuse. We’ve got plenty of servers, stuff in the cloud, and therefore one may say there are plenty of problems. But no, there’s not much. Honestly. But anyway, I’m still keeping the troubleshooting stuff on my radar, and if there will be some good and beefy issues, I’ll document that and blog about it. Because in IT, you’ll be probably not alone with that problem. And any blog post can help.

What’s up then?

Today’s topic is not about virtualization, networking, storage, or anything else in that sphere. It’s about an update on my website’s performance and security.

Recently we had a discussion in our team on how to improve website performance in general, how complex it could be, what solutions could be applied, and who should be on board with such a project. After the “official” part we had a chat in our core team about our personal websites, website monitoring, performance, etc. and we stumbled across some speed test websites. I mean, we’re all somehow nerds, isn’t it? No offense!

I tested my website for performance (and I’m testing it on a regular basis with GTmetrix) to see if there is potential for optimization, or if I just screwed up somewhere. I also use several different tools to test the website performance, especially when I changed something big (like the theme, or did some upgrades). My main tools are GTmetrix, Pingdom Web Speed Test, and Google PageSpeed Insights. The general performance of my website is pretty good. The website itself is hosted in Switzerland, and the GTmetrix test is performed in Vancouver, Canada. The result is nice:

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New Year – New Hosting?

To make the long story short: this week I moved my blog to a new web host. And I was surprised and pleased with how well and smooth everything went. But I’ll don’t just let you alone here. I’d like to explain the how and why I moved.

When I started with WordPress as my blogging platform, it was all just fun and games. Nothing technical, no helpful blog posts, just tinkering around, having fun writing. But with my engagement in the IT community, with my career in IT, I have rethought. I stopped playing around, and I started writing actual helpful blog posts. I started to write in German because this is my native language. At some time I switched to English, not without a reason (or more actually more than one). I have often dealt with English-speaking customers, with hotlines from international companies. And today at my current employer, English is the de-facto standard when opening tickets internally, or talking to other people in different time zones. I switched to English because most of the IT people I know, personally and on various social media, are native English speaking or understand English. Maybe I also switched because of reaching more people with helpful blog posts. And when I check the blog statistics, most visitors are from the United States. So, not a wrong decision at all, switching to English.

But enough of the forewords.

The why

When I moved my blog from one host to the other back in the days, I was looking for more speed. If you know WordPress, then you know it’s all PHP and MySQL, which can be highly dynamic content. And from a webserver perspective, dynamic content can’t be delivered as fast as static content. But, in my humble opinion, that was back in the days when there wasn’t much SSD storage in the webservers, or it was expensive, or with old PHP versions, etc.

My previous web host had also WordPress, but not the traditional way. He offered static WordPress hosting, which made me curious, and I wanted to give it a try. You’ll get a WordPress instance which you can start whenever you want, write your blog posts, do the other stuff, and shut it down. After that, you’ll create a so-called artifact, which renders all the dynamic content from your blog into static files. All your text, CSS, and JS files, images, etc. will then be put onto Amazon CloudFront automatically. And that’s the static content you’ll get presented when visiting the website. The performance was good, good enough for me.

But it has also some downsides. Some native WordPress features, like comments, search, or some plugins, just don’t work like this. They can’t be static because they relate to the dynamic WordPress in the backend. I had to find solutions for many problems. And I’m still not sure, even if I was able to test it successfully if it really worked.

I decided to move back to my original web host, where I have my domain running since 2008. Not only because of that but also because of the aforementioned circumstances. I’m also born in Switzerland, and my blog has a Swiss TLD (.ch), but with that TLD it’s still (highly) visible also international. My new web host caught me with a good hosting package, which has 250GB of website storage and is backed by 100% NVMe SSD, with Nginx and Apache running in parallel, 50MB of Nginx cache, and many other things. And that for a reasonable price, at least by Swiss standards. Yes, it may be true that many things are more expensive in Switzerland than abroad. But not everything.

That’s the why.

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My homelab hardware gets its own rack

This project started a long time ago. When I planned the hardware needs for my homelab, I also thought of getting a rack. I had a real IT rack in mind, as you know it from your daily business, maybe back in the days when at least some stuff was on-premises and not everything in the cloud. I wanted to get a small rack with enough space to mount my whole homelab hardware into it, to have a proper cabling solution, and to have flexibility in case my homelab gets an extension.

But that wasn’t easy. There are various flavors of racks. The normal 42 unit IT rack, half-hight racks, and also various wall-mountable racks for patch panels, switches, and smaller devices. I was thinking and tinkering, looking for specs. But in the end, nothing satisfied me. Well, at least not from a price perspective, of being not able to transport it. And then, there was something going on on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/widmerkarl/status/1175392396974145542

Thanks to my colleague Michael Schroeder I’ve found something. He mentioned his IKEA rack, and that made me curious. Earlier in June, my colleague Fred Hofer announced that he moved his hardware into a bigger rack and that it was easier as when he moved from an IKEA Lack rack to the small rack:

https://twitter.com/Fred_vBrain/status/1267580223727550470

And that was the trigger! Why not building my own rack and tailor it to my needs? I don’t have to spend much money on a real IT rack, and I can do something handcrafted. The rack didn’t have to be anything special, there was not much in my personal specification book.

That’s the specifications planned:

  • Small (not full 42 rack units)
  • It should be lightweight
  • Enough space for at least three servers, some switches, and a NAS (or two)
  • Enough space for future homelab upgrades
  • Extensible, if needed
  • Should withstand some weight
  • Wheels!

The idea of building my own IKEA Lack Rack was born.

This whole homelab IKEA Lack Rack story will be covered in a small blog series. This blog post will start the series with some planning stuff, the first pictures, and the BOM, as far as I can provide it already. At least the BOM will be updated if there is a reason for it.

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Nerdzone – a new category on my blog

Just recently I stumbled across a tweet from VMware, showing some virtualized operating systems on a Red Hat system:

I didn’t know that VMware software was running on Red Hat. I know the earlier ESX Server which you could install on Windows Server (something like VMware Workstation, but for business workloads), and I know the early ESX bare-metal hypervisor. But I wasn’t aware of Red Hat running VMware software. But there’s always something new to learn, isn’t it?

That led me to the fact that I have to install some old operating systems as well, just to see if I’m still able to do so (with some of them, it’s not just Next, Next, Finish) and if they can run on modern virtualized hardware. And they do!

I’m not sure if I’ll install more old operating systems. Probably I do. But I decided to create a new blog category here, called the “Nerdzone”.

I’ll put everything into this category which has to do with tech, but it’s not directly related to other categories on my blog. For example, I’ll put a blog post here where I’m writing about the installation of old operating systems, like a guide or something.

Until this blog post, and some other will come, this is just an announcement for now 😉