May 31, 2005

More Hosting Advice

I am totally flustered by the multiplicity of hosting services, and since I am more concerted with avoiding a bad decision than making the best possible decision, I threw up my hands and went over to take a look at Server Matrix. Is there any reason why I can't just take their low end offer? Now, I go to the options, and am thrown back into confusion:

1. Is there a reason to prefer an 80GB Hard drive or 2 40GB hard drives?

2. I need Windows (for now, unfortunately) - is there any reason why I shouldn't choose 2003?

3. Do I need control panel software?

4. I use mySQL - I thought that I would just install it myself, but they offer it - for a charge. What does that mean, that I can't just install it myself?

5. Do I need a hardware firewall?

6. What does "Managed Service Plan" mean?

More generally, I don't understand how I work on a remote server. I am presuming that I work on it just like I work on my desktop, except that the connection between the screen and the computer goes through the Internet. Is that right? Does the server package include some kind of software that will let me see "the screen" - or do I have to install that myself? Or do I want to work some other way? I need to debug my software, and I was imagining that I could just install my debugger on the server, and work just the way I do now. But do I have to do something else?

Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at May 31, 2005 10:12 AM

Ok, to answer in order of asking:

1)No reason at all. They don't seem to offer them raided so there is no benefit

2)No reason not to and a great many reasons to insist on 2003. Better application pooling and security, inherent .NET support and it being generally better at serving pages than IIS 5

3)It certainly helps. Makes it dead easy to setup new sites, emails, ftp accounts etc. Personally I use C-Panel but I'm on a nix server.

4) you use MySQL which is open source (free-ish) what they are offering is MS-SQL which is the very expensive database from Microsoft. If you have MySQL stuff at the moment then there is no real reason to migrate it all to MS and they should install MySQL for you if you smile nicely

5) YES!!!!

6) see for more info

Hope that helps.

By the way - what kind of prices are you getting from these guys?

Posted by Rob at May 31, 2005 11:16 AM

Thanks a lot, Rob, that's a big help. Sorry about question (4) - I misread it (what's one little letter?). The hardware firewall is a big deal though, it costs almost as much as the whole computer ($69 vs. $119)! Isn't there a software solution?

Am I right about how one interacts with the server, and my ability to install a debugger and any other "normal" software? If not, I need to figure out a lot of things...

Posted by David Boxenhorn at May 31, 2005 11:57 AM

This may not be in line with what you're looking for, but do you need that much control? I mean, if you're just looking for someone to host web pages for you, all you really need is a way to get your pages to the site, right? At most, perhaps a way to install things for the web?

If so, most of the questions you've asked don't really matter. I've had web sites hosted since about 1990, and there's some computers I don't even know what software they use to host it (just because it doesn't really matter to me in some cases). I don't know what size hard drives they have, and I don't care.

On the other hand, if you're making custom internet applications or something, just ignore me and move along. :)

Posted by Ogre at May 31, 2005 05:36 PM

It's a web-based development environment written in Java, running under Apache Tomcat, and using mySQL on the back end. I've been developing it on my PC, and I want to make the move to the Internet. It is meant to be the "PC of the Internet". What's that? As soon as I get it working I'll let you all in on it.

My problem is that I've never actually developed an Internet application before...

Posted by David Boxenhorn at May 31, 2005 05:59 PM

If that's the case, I'd just look for a host that supports mqSql that runs Apache. I don't think any other details would matter at this point. If you're developing the java code, all you'd need to do is ftp the java code to the server.

You wouldn't need any other fancy add-ons, unless you want to do fancy stuff with mySql, I'd think. My personal favorite for do-it-yourself web sites is Hurricane Electric ( I've had accounts with them for 10 years now (holy crap, has it been that long?) and I think their servers have been down twice in that time -- both times for less than an hour.

Oh, and if you sign up for an account, list bdrag as a VAR -- gets me a couple dollars kickback. :)

Posted by Ogre at May 31, 2005 06:28 PM

Ogre: No problem on the kickback!

But please explain to me more about how it works. How do I get their Apache to call my code, and how do I interface with their mySQL? How do I debug my code, and how do I keep from crashing things for everyone else, or manage mySQL? It's certainly true that I don't need much bandwidth at this point, though, since it's just me using it.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at May 31, 2005 06:47 PM

"Their Apache call my code?"

That's an interesting statement. It sounds like you're integrating an application into Apache? If you're writing a java application, is it running in a java intepreter, or is it actually integrated with Apache? Most java I've seen is client-server and the java portion runs on the client machine, just making calls to a server.

You'd interface with their sql the same way you do now -- only with a remote database call instead of a local one. I'm not sure I have a complete picture of what you're doing with this quite yet.

As for debugging, you'd just write your code, then upload it, then run the program that would call the code remotely. If it's client-server, it could really only crash the client machine and not everyone.

Posted by Ogre at May 31, 2005 07:02 PM

My Java code runs on the server. Right now I have Apache Tomcat running on my PC, when I start it up it loads an XML file that tells it which Java class corresponds to which URL. That's the entrypoint to my system, which is all written in Java. I also have mySQL running on my PC, the Java calls mySQL through JDBC. I am using Borland's JBuilder for debugging. When I debug, I actually run Tomcat in the debugger (it is written in Java) and put a break in my own code. I'm willing to consider any other way of working as long as it doesn't cost too much, or take to much time for me to figure out.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at May 31, 2005 07:13 PM

Ah, I see now. Yes, since you're having Apache respond differently to different URLs, I imagine you're going to need a server to yourself, not a shared web server.

Have you considered just hosting it on your own machine right where it is? Presuming you have a decent ISP connection, you can get a static IP that routes to your machine and then anyone can access your computer through the internet (presuming you have all sorts of fun security in place).

Posted by Ogre at May 31, 2005 08:04 PM

I have considered hosting it myself, but my ISP connection is not that good (I could probably get a better one if I pay for it), and my only computer is a laptop, that I sometimes need to take places (like to do demos) so I think it is actually cost effective to host it remotely. Also, I need to learn this stuff sometime...

Posted by David Boxenhorn at May 31, 2005 08:18 PM


I'd love to help, but I don't have much experience using Windows as a server, and none at all with managing it remotely.

That said, Servermatrix is a pretty good company.

Posted by Pixy Misa at June 2, 2005 01:46 AM

Thanks, Pixy.

The only reason why I don't want to port to Linux is that I have no experience with it. Should I? I'm sure I can do it fairly easily - the Java should port "as is" and mySQL and Tomcat are more native in Linux. The only question is the debugger - do you know if there are any good free Java debuggers for Linux? The effort would be worth it if more people could help me.

My really basic question, though, is: Can I do anything with a remote computer that I can do with my desktop - i.e. is there some software that lets me see the display over the internet? If so, then presumably I can just do "what I'm doing now".

The other question that I have left is whether I can get out of having to use the (really expensive) hardware firewall.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 2, 2005 07:01 AM


The 'view your server desktop over the web' software is called Remote Desktop and it's built into Windows XP and Server 2003 (in Windows 2000 Advanced Server, it was called Terminal Services in Remote Administration Mode). You do have to turn it on, and forward the ports it uses(TCP port 3389) through whatever software and/or hardware firewall you use. You need to know the IP address of the server machine to connect.

If you're not using XP on your end, you can download the RDP client for Windows from Microsoft, or install UltraVNC (an open-source alternative which I've found fastest), or any of several other versions of VNC (Virtual Network Computing). If using VNC, you'll need to install it on both ends, as it won't interface with Windows Remote desktop.

If the data you are sending back & forth across the remote connection is extremely sensitive, you may need to go to some additional lengths to encrypt it, but for your purposes, it doesn't sound like that'll be necessary, as there's fairly robust encryption out-of-the-box.

Here's a chapter from Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Insider Solutions that covers the essentials pretty well.


Posted by Light & Dark at June 3, 2005 07:15 AM

Thanks a lot, Paul. That was a big help.

Now, if anyone can tell me if I can get out of the hardware firewall (or not)....

Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 3, 2005 09:19 AM

Well you can...but I'm not sure you'd want to.

There are a large number of automated processes running all the time on the internet, just probing for insecure sites to take over. If you have no protection, you will be compromised, usually in less than 15 minutes.

You could probably make do with a software firewall, but I'm not sure a hosting company would let you -- their equipment is what would be at risk.

Posted by Ogre at June 3, 2005 12:30 PM

but I'm not sure a hosting company would let you -- their equipment is what would be at risk

In fact, the hardware firewall is a $69/month option. This is quite a lot considering that that the server itself is only $119/month. Doesn't Windows have a built-in firewall?

The fact that it's an (expensive) option leads me to believe that not choosing it is viable. Or is it just a marketing ploy to make things look less expensive that they are?

Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 3, 2005 12:53 PM


If you do decide to work with a software firewall, I really don't think you want to rely on the one built into Windows.

It's basically a 'better than nothing' solution for home users, but not adequate for a server. I'm guessing the hardware firewall their referring to is an actual second server running an ISA firewall, or something equivalent.

If you're going to use software, you'll probably want an actual server firewall, like the ones made by Tiny or Kerio (not cheap!)

Given that it doesn't sound like you're going to have mission critical or highly sensitive data on your server (or are you?) you might want to just talk to the hosts, explain the use you'll making of the server, and ask them the parameters for when they recommend the hardware device.

Obviously, if it's an optional component, there must be other users who are operating without it? Maybe they could give you some referrals so you could talk to other users of their service?

Just a few thoughts, anyway. Note that I'm not currently running any webservers, so Rob and Ogre's opinions should carry a lot more weight!

Wonder what Pixy does about a firewall for MuNu's server at Server Matrix?


Posted by Light & Dark at June 5, 2005 09:13 PM

Thanks for the advice, Paul.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 5, 2005 10:14 PM
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