Over the past few months I’ve been working on a number of small projects. First I’ve been working to set up an academic blog service for the campus. The service will be used for class projects and faculty projects. Another system I’ve been working on is something called WebWork. The system allows faculty to pick math problems from a variety of different sets and then assign them to their students. All the problem sets are done online including grading. Apparently it integrates with Moodle, but that’s something that will have to wait for now. The last thing I’ve been working on is a Drupal based website for a grant project that I’ve been involved in.
So what do these three things have in common? Each one is being hosted with Slicehost.
Slicehost is virtual private hosting and a subsidiary of cloud computing provider Rackspace. Essentially all of their servers are in Rackspace’s cloud. Slicehost allows you to provision servers, schedule backups, create snapshots, clone servers, etc. But rather than being charged per hour, you’re charged a flat monthly fee (which can go up if you go over your bandwidth allowance).
So just like any best friend there are things about it that I like and thinks about it I don’t like. I like how easy it is to clone a server or create a back up. So if I want to upgrade WordPress for example, rather than dumping the MySQL database, backing up the files and then upgrading, I can take a snapshot of the server and then upgrade knowing that I have an exact replica of the system. I also like how easy it is to do development work. If there is a bug fix or something that I want to try out, I can clone the server, work on the changes, and know that it’ll work on my production instance (because essentially I’m using my production instance).
I speak so glowingly of it, what criticisms could I have? Well what would be great is if I could have the best of both worlds. I wish that in addition to paying a flat monthly fee, I could have the option to provision for just a few hours. Maybe I could log into Rackspace’s cloud, see my Slicehost servers and clone them there. This would help me with handling data loss and working on smaller more urgent bug fixes. Maybe I’ll get lucky, they’ll read this, and figure out how to make all my dreams come true.