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Self Hosting in the FIOS Era

© February 2008 Anthony Lawrence

I'm seriously thinking about bringing my web hosting in-house. The reason is that Verizon FIOS makes this not only possible, but very attractive: I can get a static IP with 20/20MB service for less than $150.00 a month. That's dirt cheap, and 20MBs is far more outbound bandwidth than I need; I might even be able to get away with 20/5 at $99.00 per month.

I don't really like external hosting. A co-located server would be better, but that's fairly expensive. In-house does have some downsides, but it has some good points too. The biggest downside to bringing it in-house is the possibility of being down due to a power failure. Verizon does provide battery backup for its equipment, but that's only good for a few hours - if there was a major power outage here, my site could be dead, dead, dead.

The big advantage of in-house is that the equipment is right here in front of me. Modern hosting offers pretty darn close to that through web controlled KVM's, but still: an in-house server really is right here. I can see it, touch it, kick it. I can build a new server right beside it, test, and switch over in literally seconds when I want to. I can run it inside a VM and migrate it to another machine almost efforlessly. I can have all the disk space I need and of course back it up locally very quickly.

On the security side I'd definitely be better off: I don't need any inbound ssh from the big bad world at all.. and can put whatever hardware and software I want ahead of it for the services I do need. This is very, very tempting..

I have to think this over very carefully. If I do this, I need to decide what OS to use: Mac OS X, BSD, Linux.. and if it is Linux, which one? Decisions, decisions.. your thoughts and comments will be appreciated!

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Fri Feb 8 16:48:21 2008: 3612   KenGregg

I did this when we got fiber (in a little bitty town of 3,000) with only a 7mb connection. I worked out a mutual backup arrangement with another company. They keep a backup server here, I keep mine there. I rsync between servers daily. Although I don't have dynamic dns (yet) I can switch to my backup server by changing dns. Only problem so far was this winter when we had 70 mph winds and the entire town was without power. Next purchase is going to be a backup generator.

One thing I had to work out with my provider. In the original configuration, when the power goes out, the fiber box on the building shut down the internet to preserve power for phones. Not the preferred setup for hosting. A simple jumper fixed it.

Fri Feb 8 16:53:50 2008: 3615   TonyLawrence

Yeah, I'm thinking 5MB up should be plenty. Average request here is under 60K, so I'd need 100 requests per second to overwhelm that..

Fri Feb 8 17:15:15 2008: 3617   Ken

And I remember (not that long ago) dreaming of having a T1 but could not afford the $1,200 per month.

Fri Feb 8 17:22:07 2008: 3618   drag

I wish they were offering FIOS around here. I would jump on that in a second.

As for which OS...
Debian, of course!
Well... I use Debian for most everything anyways. So I am quite a bit biased.

But it's a very good webserver OS. Has every Apache module you'd ever want, both 1.3 and 2.x series. Perl is at home on Debian and is well supported. Most common modules are packaged already and avialable by default, but cspan stuff is always there, of course. If your used to Ubuntu then Debian is going to be familar.

The main cool thing is that unlike Ubuntu or other Linux distros Debian offers full support for all the packages you'll probably ever need. No 'universe' of avialable, yet non-supported, packages. Security fixes, bug tracks, for everything. Also they have higher standards for packaging and documentation then what you'll normally find in a Linux system. Command line tools are required to have man files, if they don't then it's a bug. All packages have documentation enabled in /usr/share/doc/<packagename> and they do a decent job of telling you in the documentation in what ways Debian deviates from the upstream defaults (like changes in the default location of configuration files). And usually for more complex configs they have sample configurations you can use. Online documentation is pretty decent also.. (link)

And third party documentation is pretty decent.
Of course there is a lot more besides that, but I don't want to make your anti-spam angy.

There are two flavors you would generally want to use for webserving. There is the 'Stable' version, which is currently 'Etch' and then the 'Testing' system currently 'Lenny'.

The stable branch is stable because of it's unchanging nature. No packages are ever updated except for severe bugs or security holes. For updates to stuff that needs periodic updates (such as virus scanners or timezone changes) you have to use the volatile repository. For backports you can use backports.org. The closest analogy for stable would be Redhat's official releases or CentOS.

The testing branch is roughly what you'd get with Fedora or Ubuntu. Lots of updates all the time and latest and greatest stuff. Usually it's stable enough and is what I'd use for most my server stuff.

The worst thing about Debian is that it's package management system rules your OS with a iron fist. Tools like Aptitude or apt-get are hard to use at first, but are more usefull and mature then anything else anywhere, period.

Fri Feb 8 17:27:07 2008: 3620   TonyLawrence

Thanks Drag:

I forgot about Debian. Definitely on my short list now..

Wed Feb 13 13:13:40 2008: 3637   anonymous

I went with self-hosting in late 2001 and never regretted it.

As far as power goes, I use a Ferrups UPS that's literally powerful enough to run the sump pump. <Grin> It is able to easily support two servers, several PCs and all the network gear, and keep everything up for several hours. I have an extra battery attached to it to increase run-time.

Fri Feb 15 13:26:14 2008: 3653   Lantrix

I self host, though the family get annoyed at my half height server rack in the corner of the lounge room. I run all low end old desktop PCs (i.e. PIII/256MB/30GB) and they are very quiet. I had to take the Compaq rack mount server out because the SCSI raid enclosure was as loud as a jet liner idling!

On the OS side, I dropped after about 5 years about the time Redhat dropped V9 of their free version.

I've been using OpenBSD ( (link) ) ever since, and all my servers run it. Its rock solid, effectively install and forget. They have a good lifecycle with a new release each 6 months, and old releases maintained for the next two (1.5 years).

I also use OpenBSD as the router/packetfilter, and one for DNS/Kerberos for my "intranet" :-) and of course my web and DB servers run OpenBSD as well. I have them running headless and the console redirected to the serial ports, so if something goes seriously wrong and I can get in over the local network, I take my laptop over to the cabinet and bring up ZTerm on the mac laptop and get console access to the chosen server. I've done that about 4 times in 5 years and usually thanks to after power failures.

All in all, self hosting is great as you have ultimate control over your servers.

Fri Feb 15 13:31:23 2008: 3654   Lantrix

I forgot to note: OpenBSD use a perl based utility as their binary packages manager. Makes for really quick installation of something without stuffing around with the source (although thats very easily done through the "ports").
For example a new postgreSQL server installation installed direct off a package mirror is done like:

pkg_add -v (link)

You dont like Postgres any more? You remove it as easy as:

pkg_delete postgresql-server-8.2.4p3

Fri Feb 15 13:55:58 2008: 3655   TonyLawrence

I'm prepping the hardware this morning but still haven't absolutely decided what to use.. I am leaning toward BSD though.. though whatever I do I think I'm going to do it in a VM so the base OS may be something else entirely..

Wed Jan 13 20:04:21 2010: 7905   Mike


Check out this article on ITLF: (link)

This guy is running more than 40 sites on fios, two servers and over 20K a day in traffic.

Sat Jul 7 13:13:05 2012: 11185   TonyLawrence


Verizon just announced a 300/65 Mbs service.. too pricy, but it would be more than enough for me.


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