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New Website for Activo: www.activo.com

November 23rd, 2010
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I have good news and bad news to tell you, well it is not really bad news, but just wanted to use that saying…

The bad news is that this website is has just become absolute. Meaning we will no longer publish anything new or introduce any new content on this website. The good news is that we already have a new website and the new website can be found at www.activo.com. Notice that we got the domain name that we always wanted to have for Activo – Yeah!

Activo

For those of you who are interested, the new website was launched in late August of 2010. The domain was purchased back in November of 2009. The site currently already have twice the amount of traffic that this website has. The site also reflects a few changes in Activo:

  1. We moved our offices from Santa Clara to Los Angeles – and we love it down here. In fact LA is a great hub for techies and entrepreneurs, believe it or not.
  2. We now have a virtual team of developers, designers, and project managers. Yes – it was a decision we had to make back in the days before we moved and it turned out to work great. Our customers love it.
  3. We have decided to focus on Magento Development and Magento Extensions. I got to say, what a great decision that was!

So, check out the new website and our new blog. I (Ron Peled) will continue to post regularly about our daily grind and share with you as much as possible from what I am doing at any given time. Drop me a line if you have any suggestions or recommendations.

.NET Framework, AJAX, Content Management Systems, eCommerce, Ektron, Joomla, LAMP: Linux Apache MySQL PHP, Magento, Performance Optimization, PHP/MySQL, Project Management, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Application Hosting, Web Design, Web Development, Web-based User Interfaces, ZenCart

Quick Way to Update Fail2ban jail.conf file

September 3rd, 2009
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There are plenty of settings in that file, especially if you are running CentOS 5.3 with latest patches and fail2ban from atomic repository. Here is a short list of steps that I follow when setting up new servers:

1. Setup sendmail to start on boot. Make sure it can send emails correctly (Reverse DNS records, hostname config, etc).

2. Make sure that fail2ban starts on boot (I use ntsysv for that).

3. Edit the jail.conf file, type vi /etc/fail2ban/jail.conf

4. Change the time for increased security:

bantime = 86400
findtime = 3600

5. After you save and exit, change all the destination emails to go to root which will then be forwarded to you:

sed -i 's/you@mail.com/root/g' /etc/fail2ban/jail.conf

6. Add a forward for all emails to root to your email:

echo "myemailaddress@mydomain.com" > ~/.forward

7. Restart fail2ban:

service fail2ban restart

Web Application Hosting ,

Performance Optimized httpd.conf for Magento eCommerce

August 31st, 2009
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If you ever run Magento eCommerce on your servers you know that it requires some serious horse power. It is just the nature of the beast, with XML configuration, the usage of the Zend Framework, and MVC design – every page load is not trivial. I realize that there are many lighter and various other forms of web servers, however I always stick to the safest and most reliable which usually happens to be the most popular option out there: httpd. Here is an optimized httpd.conf targeting a dedicated server box for running only httpd (no mysql) and Magento:

A couple of assumptions first:

  • You are running CentOS (I did not test any other distros)
  • You have httpd installed
  • You have lots of RAM (this server has 16GB of RAM)
  • This is a dedicated box
  • You know what you are doing…

Download the file, copy over your httpd.conf, restart httpd:

wget http://www.activoinc.com/downloads/httpd.conf-magento
cp /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf ./httpd.conf.old
cat httpd.conf-magento > /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf

Once done, you will also need to update the vhosts area of the file near the bottom of it. In case you wanted, here is a direct link to the file: http://www.activoinc.com/downloads/httpd.conf-magento

Web Application Hosting ,

Setting noatime and nodiratime for improved disk performance

August 25th, 2009

This is great if you have a server that performs plenty of disk access operations and you are interested in speeding things up a bit. Here is how to do this in three steps. First some assumptions:

  • You have root access
  • You are the only one that will ever need to mount or unmount this file system
  • Running CentOS (this may work, but was not tested on any other linux server)

This is what we are doing:

  1. Editing /etc/fstab to set the noatime and nodiratime flags for the file system
  2. Remounting the drives/file systems (without rebooting)
  3. Checking our work

Step 1: Edit the /etc/fstab, type:

vi /etc/fstab

Add the noatime, nodiratime flags right after the defaults flag in the “/” root mount partition. Repeat to all the partitions that you wish to speed up. Here is how my fstab file looks like after the change (click to enlarge):

etc-fstab-in-vi_with_noatime_nodiratimeStep 2: Remount the file system:

mount -oremount /

Step 3: Check our work:

cat /proc/mounts

Tip: the following command will perform a tiny benchmark test, in case you want to see how fast your hard drives perform. If you want to compare, you should perform a before and after tests.

hdparm -tT /dev/sda

Web Application Hosting, Web Development ,

Howto setup iptables for www and db(mysql) on linux

August 24th, 2009
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Since I provide fully managed hosting services to my selective clients, I’ve been setting up iptables more than I can count. After a while I have the tendency to automate common tasks. In the case of setting iptables it can easily be done by downloading and running a shell script. So I created these two shell scripts each one targets a specific server usage: one for WWW servers and the other is for dedicated DB servers.

Here is a couple of assumptions:

  • Using a linux server
  • Has iptables installed and running
  • You have root access to the server (or enough privileges to run these commands)
  • Not a must, but I only tested these scripts on a CentOS server (and many of them…)
  • You know what you are doing!

The scripts simply clears the current settings of your iptables, adds open ports as necessary and restarts the iptables service. In the case of WWW it opens the ports 22, 80, and 443 (SSL). In the case of MYSQL it opens the ports 22, and 3306 and if you wish you can uncomment a line in there to restrict access only to a specific set of IPs. In the case of a dedicated server you may only want the corresponding WWW server to be able to access the MYSQL server. Here are the steps, I will divide them by the type of the server:

Setting iptables on a WWW server:

wget http://www.activoinc.com/downloads/iptables-www
chmod +x iptables-www
./iptables-www

Setting iptables on a MySQL server:

wget http://www.activoinc.com/downloads/iptables-mysql
chmod +x iptables-mysql
./iptables-mysql

Note: there is absolutely no warranty that this will work, it is provided with the sole hope that it may save you a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Web Application Hosting ,

CentOS 5.3 Install Essentials

August 23rd, 2009
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When I setup a new server, I typically install it with nothing checked in the packages list of the installation process. I like using yum update first and then running yum install on the packages that I absolutely need. Clean and mean is my favorite way to run a Linux server. Two main reason are behind this: one is performance, this is a bit obvious: the less you got on the HD and processes running in the background the faster the server. Two is security: the less software you have installed your vulnerability “surface area” is smaller.

While installing it clean is great, I do have a minimum set of tools that I usually need in any server. Most of these tools are small and do not require background services so I install them almost by default. You should check if they suite your needs and use it at your discretion. Hint: the goal here is to copy and paste once a new server is installed.

(correction) Before I can use the next command I need to install wget:

yum install wget

Add the Atomic repository (newer versions of LAMP, some security packages):

wget -q -O - http://www.atomicorp.com/installers/atomic.sh | sh

Install basic packages:

yum install unzip sendmail ntsysv fail2ban logrotate pdns

LAMP: Linux Apache MySQL PHP, Web Application Hosting ,

Block access to your dedicated server automatically if more than 3 failed logins

August 3rd, 2009
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Lately I have been noticing high activity of cyberattacks. In fact, a few of our servers got hit and had to be rebuilt. Of course some of these servers were never built with security in mind. We did manage to save all the data and the redo took less than one day total so the end result is great overall with fully patched servers, firewall, email alerts in place, and finally a way to automatically block failed logins. I’ll show you how to setup the last part, it is actually quite easy.

So, I assume you have a CentOS server. I am using CentOS 5.3 fully updated (yum update) and i have the atomicorp repository setup. The atomicorp is not necessary (it seems) but will allow you to use newer versions of PHP and other packages. The package that will do the work is called fail2ban. A simple install seems to take care of it for us:

yum install fail2ban

Lets install the service, in case that we restart the server – the service will automatically start running, I use ntsysv for this:

ntsysv (hit enter, select the service, make sure it has a start inside the brackets, and click 'ok')

Lets start the service:

service fail2ban start

Here is recommend to setup a auto forward on the root emails to you:

echo 'youremail@yourdomain.com' > ~/.forward

You should be all set. Try to check the log files once a week after the install, see if the service actually blocked potential hackers. Let me know if this worked for you or if you are using a better package?

Web Application Hosting ,

Speed Optimized Websites Rank Higher with Search Engines

July 16th, 2009
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Website performance should not be taken lightly. Now, when I say website performance optimization in general I mean the time that it takes a webpage to fully render in the browser. Many different factors can influence that including the number of files that make your page, the size of the files, whether it renders in standard XHTML or quirks mode, etc. But, for search engines all that matters is the raw HTML output of your site. One of the ways that search engines measure a site’s validity is by measuring the speed it takes it to serve the HTML portion. Yes, raw web server power. Why?

Search engines try to guess which websites out there should gain more respect than others, one characteristics is speed. If you think of it, the speed it takes to serve a page reflects how much the owner invested in it and hence reflects on the ranking that it should get in a backwards way. In other words, a site that is served on a dedicated server with serious horse power should get higher rankings than a site that is served on the cheapest shared hosting plan. Another fact is that major search engines researched user return rate and have found that the return is higher for faster sites and even microseconds count. That is why the best search engines focus on speedier results and favor results from faster websites. Really?

google_webmaster_tools_crawl_stats2

Look at the graph above, you will see a direct correlation between the website’s speed and the number of indexed pages. There might be a delay and it is not 100% accurate because the speed is not the only factor here, but over time it seems to have an effect. These graphs are from Google Webmaster Tools, under the crawler stats. Ok, how should I increase the performance of my site?

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Invest in a good hosting package. If you are serious, get at least a VPS with your own IP address (dedicated IP is also a measure). A VPS or a dedicated server will always trump the performance of shared hosting over time. Notice that some shared hosting environments reach 500+ websites on the same piece of hardware.
  • If you use PHP make sure to use APC: Alternative PHP Caching.
  • Always turn on caching at all levels: Apache, PHP, and your application. All levels usually have some sort of a caching mechanism – use it!
  • Research your biggest bottleneck and tackle it, always repeat over time. Just like you do with SEO – it is always work in progress.
  • Look in the logs: every time that your server experiences an error or a warning it has to trigger the error handling mechanism which in most environments require additional resources. Especially unhandled exceptions in ASP.NET/IIS7 environments.

The list is really long and can get very technical but in general you always want to keep website performance optimization in the back of your head. It is well worth it!

What is your experience with speed optimized websites? how did it affect your SEO results?

Performance Optimization, Web Application Hosting, Web Development ,

Take a Look at Dell’s Fortuna Server

July 9th, 2009
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As web traffic grows constantly and will continue to grow, I am always on the lookout for better ways to host a robust websites. Our clients always demand the best hosting solution but with an eye on the price. Currently the biggest price tags when it comes to hosting data centers is the power consumption and second is the actual space. Note that a side benefit to lower power consumption is reduction in the need of cooling, since logically increased power consumption means more generated heat.

In other words, to remain competitive hosting providers will strive to provide servers with lower power consumption and smaller form factors while assuming a certain level of processing power. This is exactly what DELL’s R&D is working on these days. Here is a video of what is in the works:

What is interesting is that the fortuna will supposedly place 12 of these mini servers in a single enclosure that fits in 2U space. This makes it a 1/6U server. 6 Servers per 1U of space. Here is a photo of a prototype:

dell_fortuna_server

Now, can you imagine each mini server hosting 2-4 VPS with CentOS serving the LAMP stack and either a Joomla, WordPress, or ZenCart on it? Nice!

Web Application Hosting, Web Development ,

Manage Application Pool Recycling in IIS7

May 21st, 2009
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If you manage a website that is hosted with the latest Windows Server 2008 and IIS7 you probably want to be aware of the Application Pool settings in general, and in particular the Application Pool Recycle settings. As it turns out, by default, Windows Server 2008 sets the Application Pool to recycle every 1740 minutes. Which is exactly 29 hours or one full day and 5 hours or the number of lattes I had in the winter. All kidding aside, this number is a bit random, especially because it determines when the website’s application pool will recycle and the website will need to recompile, recache, etc. Here is a screenshot:

edit_app_pool_recycling_settings_default

Instead, what I recommend is that you uncheck the regular time intervals checkbox and use the Specific time one. I chose here 2:00 AM because it is when the site sees the lowest numbers of hits and it is the best time to handle a recycle. You should setup your webserver to recycle when your site is experiencing the lowest traffic levels. So, you’ll probably need to dig into the analytics a bit. Here is a screenshot of how I setup my server:

edit_app_pool_recycling_settings_recommended

Pros:
- Recycles during off peak hours
- You actually control when it recycles
- Typically a performance boost on average

Cons:
The application will now recycle every 24 hours, instead of 29 hours. In fact, if you are certain that your website has no major problems and no memory leaks you can potentially set the application pool to not recycle automatically at all. This state needs to be monitored but may result in a longer smooth ride. Enjoy!

.NET Framework, Performance Optimization, Web Application Hosting