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Using sshfs to Access Remote Directories in Windows March 5, 2007

Posted by Carthik in guides, Readers' Tips, servers, ubuntu.

I had a tough time deciding on a title for this post/article (“in” Windows or “on” Windows? I give up!).

J Wynia writes in to share a method to how to access remote directories, such as those on your web server through sshfs on Windows. Actually that’s not the full story.

The full story is:
1) Install Ubuntu in a virtual machine in Windows
2) Setup sshfs and use that mount your remote directory
3) Setup the sshfs-mount as a Samba share
4) Access said Samba share from Windows

Tin foil hat people keep away! 🙂 Also, the author mentions troubles with his Ensim server administration software (which he worked around). Folks who use cPanel or some other server control panel might have some trouble too.

So head over to the article already!

My old article on mounting remote directories using sshfs is what prompted J Wynia to write it.

Trying Dreamhost for Backup January 22, 2007

Posted by Carthik in about, servers.

So finally I gave in and decided to give Dreamhost a shot. I need cheap backup space, and since Dreamhost promises 200GB or so of space with 2 TeraBytes of bandwidth, I thought it is worth a look. They promise to refund my money if I cancel within 2-3 months. Frankly I am still suspicious of the offer – so much space can’t be so cheap ($10 per month approximately). I guess, in the worst case, as I use up the maximum storage, or even, say, about 100 GB, I might get a warning or something. I can just up and leave then. I don’t really care about website performance, PHP, MySQL or anything else, since all I need is the storage space. I will get my rsync-based backup scripts going at work and school, and we’ll see.

In the best case scenario, they will let me use the space they promise, and I will recover the cost of the hosting from the referrals from this blog. If you, or anyone else signs up using my referral link, I will get $97. That is a lot of money, yes, so if you want to support a poor Ph.D. student, you have one more method to do that. If I were you, I wouldn’t sign up just yet – let me be the sacrificial lamb, so to speak.

$10 a month is still gnawing at my conscience – that is a lot of money for just backing up data, but if you look at it another way, it is less than what I think my data is worth. I know, I could just buy a huge harddrive and backup to that (which I do on and off), but there are a lot of advantages to backing up to a server somewhere – you can automate the process(don’t have to connect the USB HDD), and the physical seperation provides some extra peace of mind.

I also looked at other online backup service providers, most of which are listed and reviewed here, but none of them seem to be too eager to support Linux. Also, all I really need is a way to log in via SSH, and the permissions to run some rsync scripts. JungleDisk offers some utility to access Amazon’s S3 storage system for Linux, but at $0.15 per GB, and $0.20 per GB transferred, it will still cost me way more than $10 per month. The only thing is, with Amazon, I can trust and rely on my backups, with Dreamhost I can’t. Dreamhost has had data loss disasters in the past, and I must remember that I get what I pay for, always. I have also had friends who have been kicked off in the past because their blog used up too much of the shared resources. The only resource I will be using is the generous disk space. They use Debian, so there’s that little bit of feel-good factor in it for me, too. For starters, I am holding on tight to my local USB HDD backups while trying to store my data on this server. Anyone with any cautionary tales please caution me now, before it is too late! Does anyone else pay for data backup or is it just me?

Ubuntu Dedicated Servers and Server Administrators December 25, 2006

Posted by Carthik in servers, ubuntu, Ubuntu Sites.

Oh behalf of a client, I have been looking for Ubuntu Dedicated Servers, as well people in the know who can administer the server. Starting with WebHostingTalk my search so far has been more or less futile. How hard can it be to find a good dedicated server, or for that matter an administrator for a server you ask? Real hard.

Let me define a “good” service provider:
With servers more than anything else, the added benefits are the biggest variable, and the one that will have the most long-term impact on the person who buys the server. There are several hosts (not Ubuntu hosts) that provide, for example, Cisco’s hardened external firewall, and some provide a serial console, some provide DDoS protection. These are often overlooked by someone who jumps in for a server. The other big differentiator between the good and the not-so-good is the quality of the hardware and the extent to which the offered services are backed by the provider and this is something that you learn over a period of months, if not years.

Now, to define a “good” administrator:
There are those that setup and adminster servers for a living, those who know the ins and out of managing servers. Such individuals(not corporations) are the best source for reliable information regarding servers, their security and their upkeep. If you have tried getting your hands on some of these individuals you know how hard they are to find. People for whom such service is a pleasure, and who are not in it only for the money – for whom such services are not the be-all and end-all, but a natural extension of their acquired skills.

Ubuntu’s Market Presence

Now when it comes to gaining a strong foothold in the server market, Ubuntu needs to work on visibility, and needs to make sure that those who want to try it have access to resources that point out the options available. Here’s where Ubuntu falls short currently. For Debian, there is a list of dedicated server providers. Though there is no guarantee as to the level of service provided by these hosts, there is a list, which is the least there should be. I wish there would a similar initiative from Ubuntu’s part. Also, for Debian, there is a huge list of Consultants from which you can pick and choose an administrator or manager for your server. Again, though there is a list of Ubuntu Partners, not many of these are individuals of the kind I mentioned before. I wish it was easier to find an Ubuntu developer(not necessarily someone with “main” commit privileges), who will do maintenance work for me. But this post is not just about me – it is about Ubuntu gaining a foothold in the server market, and for that Canonical needs to seriously think about constructing easily managed lists of both server-providers and service-providers, if I may call them that. Such information has to be available for various levels of prospective clients – the huge 1000+ employee corporate clients as well as small-business entities and enterprising novice individuals.

You might state the case for a community wiki-based effort to build a catalog of information. This would be a good first step, but what is essential is for the company that promotes Ubuntu (Canonical) to put the word out. This can inspire a lot of confidence in someone who is as yet undecided about going the Ubuntu way. Though there is evidence of Canonical’s interest in providing such info, the support page seems inapplicable for a person like me – I’d rather work in association with a good individual. A not-so-obvious reason for this is the fact that if I pay an individual for working on my Ubuntu server, then I am providing an incentive for the person to keep working on Ubuntu, without his/her having to “officially” work for a company that supports Ubuntu. I would think that a page at the Ubuntu wiki with a list of dedicated providers, and another page of Ubuntu developers with the services they are willing to offer would be an awesome way to start things off.

Finding a good Redhat, or Fedora dedicated server is easy, at various price-points. You can easily find servers for $100, and a reputed admin for $30 per month. I’ll be happy the day it is just as easy to find resources for Ubuntu servers. It is not that no one offers Ubuntu servers, search and you shall find some, but the important question is which of these are lemons?

I am sorry for the rant, if this looks like one. A day of flailing about on the internet looking for a good solution to a temporary problem gave rise to these thoughts. Please take this with a pinch of salt, for I might be over-reacting 🙂

SSH Tunnel + SOCKS Proxy Forwarding = Secure Browsing December 8, 2006

Posted by Carthik in applications, commands, guides, servers, ubuntu.

When you are at the coffee shop, or at a conference, and you are not sure that you want to send all your data over the wi-fi network in plaintext, you want a secure tunnel to browse. This happened to me recently and I stumbled across a neat feature of openssh (the ssh client on everyone’s computer). The wonders of ssh never cease to amaze me!

You can use the “-D” flag of openssh to create a SOCKS proxy.

The command first:
$ssh -D 9999 username@ip-address-of-ssh-server

This of course connects you to the server specified by “ip-address-of-ssh-server”. Needless to say, you (username) must have an ssh account on the server. In addition, this will create a SOCKS proxy on port “9999” of your computer. This is a tunnel to the server. Now all you have to do is set the preference in Firefox to use a SOCKS proxy. The proxy is, of course, “localhost”, with the port 9999.

Now when you browse, all the connections you make to websites will seem to originate from the server to which you SSH-ed. In addition, all outgoing and incoming data for the browsing session will be encrypted since it passes through the SSH connection.

Other applications (like email clients) may also support SOCKS proxies. If any of them, you can look into using proxychains(there’s an Ubuntu package).

You can misuse this technology to circumvent paranoid browsing firewalls, even to pretend you are wherever your ssh server is located – so you can work around country-based blocks etc. I use it for the very unromantic reason that I don’t want some aspiring cracker to sneak up on me when I am in public.


How to Setup a Server for Hosting Accounts September 25, 2005

Posted by Carthik in guides, servers, ubuntu.

The ISP-Server tutorial at Howto Forge explains how to set up a server to offer hosting and services using Ubuntu Linux.

SSL-enabled Apapche2 server, Postfix (for mail), Bind9 as the nameserver, MySQL, php etc are all covered in this awesome tutorial. So go check it out!

Via feelfree.

Setting up iFolder to Share Files September 10, 2005

Posted by Carthik in guides, servers, ubuntu.

iFolder is a neat little innovation from the folks at Novell which helps you to share files easily. The blurb from their website explains it best:

iFolder is a file sharing application for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

Using iFolder workgroup sharing features, you can easily:
* Share files across multiple computers
* Share files with other users within your local area network

Used with an iFolder Enterprise Server, you can:
* Maintain a backup of your files on a server
* Share files with other users and computers
* Restore deleted files from backup

I can see you itching to try it out already 🙂 So Seb Payne has written up detailed instructions to get an iFolder Server, and the iFolder Clients going.