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Our newest sponsor: VMFarms

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It was at StartupDrinks or the StartupNorth Meetup when I was talking with Christopher and Hany at VMFarms about our hosting woes. had been offline for about 24 hours, and we were in the dark as our previous hosting provider was trying to recover from a disk failure. Now we don’t have particularly complex hosting requirements, but one of the requirements is uptime. We’d like our services to be available to entrepreneurs 24x7x365. Mind you we’re not willing to pay for 99.999% uptime (learn more about high availability). I would have been ecstatic with “three nines” aka 99.9% or 8.76 hours of downtime per year. But we had failed to meet that requirement at we were approaching 99.5% uptime and without a foreseeable solution we could hit “two nines” (99% uptime) if something wasn’t done by us or the hosting provider.

We have been very lucky. We had been able to host on a shared hosting solution that allows us to operate our WordPress installation,, a custom Django application,, and some custom development (stay tuned) built in PHP5 + MySQL + Apache2 for $20/month. Cheap if you compare it to what we could be paying. It worked for a long time but I was in the dark and I couldn’t see a light indicating there would be a path to salvation.

I had met Christopher and Hany a few months before. I personally love the business. In fact, I think I pitch Scott Pelton (@spelton) a similar idea back in the summer of 2010. With Christopher and Hany there is a core team of experienced developer operations and network operations professionals that have cut their chops deploying and supporting high availability leading edge web applications at Avid Life Media (PHP, Rails, Django, etc.). At StartupNorth, we are big proponents of supporting our local ecosystem. We use:

There was no reason other than cost that we should have our server applications hosted with a non-local provider.

I approached Christopher and Hany with a proposition. The should sponsor StartupNorth, the sponsorship is an in-kind sponsorship. They provide hosting and support on their infrastructure. We add their logo to StartupNorth web site and page footers, plus we give them the opportunity to write a few posts. The posts aren’t meant to be marketing fluff. I’ve ask the VM Farms team to talk about their real-world experiences including:

  • their experience using different cloud services;
  • network architecture and application hosting for advanced web & mobile applications (think application server, MongoDB or Hadoop clusters plus relational datastores);
  • when/how startups should evaluate the different performance vs cost trade-offs in advanced applications (there’s nothing wrong with choosing AWS but when should you look for alternatives)

We are incredibly picky about our sponsors. We are even more picky about the posts and authors we ask to join us. We take our reputation and the commentary we provide about the Canadian startup ecosystem very seriously. We’re hoping that we can help educate entrepreneurs about advanced network infrastructure decisions and the impact these decisions can have on costs, performance and growth. And with the team at VMFarms, we have some partners that are experienced and capable of providing a unique 3rd party view of AWS, Rackspace, GoGrid, Azure, Linode, etc. and traditional hosting environments.

We’ve been on VMFarms for about 30 days now. We have had 2 outages in those 30 days. Both outages have been my fault. Hany and Christopher have been on the ball and responsive to help me diagnose, identify and fix the issues.

  1. Upgrading WordPress 3.1 to 3.1.1 – the Unix user permissions and file access settings I configured on the web directory do not allow the FTP user to write to the web directory. WordPress automatic upgrade requires an FTP user (though we connect using FTP-SSL). I ssh’d to the server, wget the update and “tar -xvzf” to the wordpress directory. This overwrote the .htaccess file and broke the Apache rewrite rules. Resolution time: approximately 15 minutes (because I insisted on doing it myself).
  2. unavailable on April 19, 2011 – turns out we let our DNS registration expire due to an expired credit card. It was identified by 2 users (thank you William and Scott (@scotthom). Hany debugged in about 15 seconds and it required Jevon (@jevon) to renew the DNS registration.

The team at VMFarms have been fantastic. They are helping StartupNorth immensely. I’m really looking forward to some additional discussion about developer operations in startups (should be interesting given my network infrastructure does not yet include VMFarms – we’re github, Heroku and AWS EC2 + S3).  I’m wondering what John Philip Green (@johnphilipgreen) uses at CommunityLend, Pete Forde (@peteforde) at BuzzData, Daniel Debow (@ddebow) at Rypple, David Ossip (@dossip) at Dayforce, Chris Sukornyk (@sukornyk) uses at Chango, and Mike McDerment (@MikeMcDerment) at FreshBooks use to host their different application layers.


  1. VMFarms looks good! I like the marketing… would love to meet the team and get a demo.

    As for sys ops at CommunityLend, we deal with sensitive consumer financial data, including detailed credit reports and so on, so our requirements are closer to that of a bank than a typical startup.

    Here, for instance, is some discussion on compliance with PIPEDA in the age of cloud computing, one issue we contend with:

    Previously, at LearnHub and elsewhere, I’ve been an enthusiastic Amazon Web Services customer. I especially like Amazon’s new “Relational Database Service” (easy backups! one click for read replication & multi-availability zones!) which I haven’t had the chance to use in a production system yet. AWS is this tech entrepreneur’s dream come true.

  2. Hey John,

    It would be my pleasure to give you a demo of our product and services. Your comments on the PIPEDA and the Patriot Act are quite valid and in fact many of our customers have chosen us because our datacenter is in Toronto.

    Shoot me an email when you have some time!

  3. Hany @ VMFarms has been fantastic. We’re not using their hosting services – rather they manage and maintain our own servers with SoftLayer. We deal with traffic volumes that would look like a denial of service attack to most….50-60 thousand requests a second. We tried about 3 other hosting companies before SoftLayer and they are incredible. A shared environment like EC2 wouldn’t cut it because with real time bidding (ad serving) you have to respond within 40-50ms.

  4. I was interested to hear about from this post.

    What’s the difference between Wave Accounting, Indinero & LessAccounting?

  5. Agreed, I’d love to hear what the WaveAccounting guys are using for their infrastructure. We use WaveAccounting for StartupNorth. We use Xero at Influitive. Haven’t looked at Indinero or LessAccounting.

  6. We are about to migrate to instances+RDS in 3 different regions on Amazon EC2 mostly due to latency and speed for our global customers as well as up-time. Our current cloud solution provider is running at 99.8% uptime, but the last down-time was a full day which was incredibly painful and costly with the loss of ad sales.

    I would be interested in supporting our local VMware. Give me call. We are running PHP, MySQL (and uh, Java). Node.JS and MongoDB are coming in soon.

  7. VMFarm looks cool. Tech ops is damn hard to do well and find good people.

    Peek is on EC2, Softlayer and a cabinet in a beautiful brand-spanking new Coresite facility in New York. Gotta diversify, outages at Amazon today were key example of that.

    Big “new” thing in our ops stack is Chef. Awesome for setting up servers for us. We’ve got about 70 servers with 10 profiles, and Amazon instances disappear willy nilly sometimes.

    I am loving pagerduty – Toronto company – for waking me up in the middle of the night.

    Also big on automating deploy & rollback process to one click/command.

  8. John – I used RDS two days ago for the first time. I thought the same thing as you “oh man backups + read repl… huzzzaaaaaaahhh”. But it had a crucial flaw, no ssh into the mysql server! I want to be able to do stuff like get slow query logs and optimize my.cnf. And I want to put my own monitoring/snmp agent on the server. But db as a service is a rad idea… I hate paying $15,000/hr for a dba.

  9. Hi Brad

    Thanks for asking about WaveAccounting.

    Wave is the only free, double-entry accounting package on the market that connects easily to your financial institution to avoid manual entry of receipts. The goal is to give business owners a tool that removes the pain of bookkeeping while giving them insight into what’s happening with their business.

    Hopefully we can prove our worth and add you as a customer.

    Kirk from Wave.

  10. Hey David.

    We’re currently using Amazon but have been actively talking to Hany about their compelling value prop.


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