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. StartupNorth.ca 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 StartupNorth.ca on a shared hosting solution that allows us to operate our WordPress installation, StartupNorth.ca, a custom Django application, StartupIndex.ca, 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. StartupNorth.ca 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.