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Tentative steps towards going with VPS - any advice welcome (and very much needed...)

whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

My background

I'm a Windows user, and a former head of IT in a secondary school, as well as a Cisco certified technician, so I'm generally computer savvy. I've had my Vanilla forum for around 4 years now.

I recently installed Lubuntu on an old laptop, so have a vague familiarity with things Linux.

I'm comfortable using SSH access on my server.

My situation

I've been hosting with Bluehost for about 10 years, but they've cheesed me off big time, so it's time for a change.

What I'm thinking of doing

I figure since I'm making the change anyway, it's time to move away from managed servers.

I'm pretty sure I'll go with Digital Ocean for now, and am looking at the 1gb RAM option.

According to AWstats, my site gets around 8,000 unique hits a month, around 25,000 visits, and 1.5 - 2m hits a month (with Cloudflare enabled; prior to that it was nearly double) using 6-8 Gb of bandwidth.

As far as I can tell the 1Gb spec would be up to dealing with that range.

Where I'd like advice

I guess I'll go with Ubuntu 14.

As a very inexperienced Linux hat, does anyone have a strong feeling about whether I should go Nginx or Apache for the webserver?

My main angst is managing my current email addresses. Some Googling suggests that mail-in-a-box would do what I need (for free, which is not an insignificant factor...)

Anyone know a reason not to, or an alternative they are happy with?

Digital Ocean look to have a screed of decent tutorials, and there is lots of stuff on the Interwebby as well, so I don't need a walk through, but if there are experienced users out there who would care to share any of the 'things I wish I'd known' I'd be very grateful.

Thanks.

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Comments

  • hgtonighthgtonight ∞ · New Moderator

    Digital Ocean has an excellent community and a veritable cornucopia of tutorials. They have tutorials for both LEMP and LAMP stacks on Ubuntu.

    I have a mail relay set up on my DO droplet. I hated doing this.

    Search first

    Check out the Documentation! We are always looking for new content and pull requests.

    Click on insightful, awesome, and funny reactions to thank community volunteers for their valuable posts.

    Linc
  • The most common mail server used on linux servers are postfix and exim. Are you just using it to send transactional mail or do you want webmail?

    One approach is to use something like postfix for sending the transactional mail (don't use send mail and emim configuration is complicated), then if you need domain specific webmail use goggle apps + gmail.

    grep is your friend.

  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

    Thanks for the responses.

    @x00, I currently have email addresses associated with one of my domains. I'd like to keep using them if possible.

    My understanding is that using google appps is paid for now.

  • I would strongly recommend against hosting your own mailserver. After you learn about reverse DNS, DKIM and SPF you will be able to send emails. The main problem is with spam protection.

    Spam protection is a form of art. It requires permanent attention, tuning, twisting etc. It is better to leave all this to a person who knows what he is doing.

    Google Apps is 50 bucks a year, if I am not mistaken. This is not outrageous.

    There are cheaper alternatives like fastmail/runbox/posteo etc. I've been with fastmail.com for a few years, and I am happy.

  • x00x00 MVP
    edited September 2015

    @sledov do you use vanilla? or are you just a fastmail.com person. ;)

    There is nothing wrong with having a send only mail server, many do successfully and you often save some money, with no risk of capping/throttling, etc.

    It cost more to use Google apps for transactional mail becuase you have caps on the lower price.

    Using google apps offers some convenience other options exists.

    grep is your friend.

  • @x00 said:
    sledov do you use vanilla? or are you just a fastmail.com person. ;)

    I am learning vanilla and considering moving my current IPB forum to vanilla. Trying to write my own modules to give me functionality I need.

    There is nothing wrong with having a send only mail server

    For "send only" mail server it is OK. If it is an important account for you and you want to "receive" email properly, it takes too much time and efforts because of spam issues.

    you often save some money, with no risk of capping/throttling, etc.

    When you send email yourself, capping/throttling comes from the receiving side. Gmail, hotmail etc have limits on how many emails they accept from a given IP address per minute/day. For a normal email activity from a moderately busy forum it should probably be OK though.

    Original poster talks about "managing his current email address". My advice would be

    For receiving - any specialized commercial email service that handles spam protection.
    For sending (transactional email only and if you hit the caps) - self-hosting (exim or postfix).
    If you need to send out a newsletter it is quite different story.

  • x00x00 MVP
    edited September 2015

    @sledov said:
    I am learning vanilla and considering moving my current IPB forum to vanilla. Trying to write my own modules to give me functionality I need.

    Apologies, you post fits and low post count the profile of grey area of promotion/spam, but I'll take you as genuine.

    These thread are honey traps for these sort of post, especially those asking for hosting recommendation, etc.

    grep is your friend.

  • x00x00 MVP
    edited September 2015

    Another gotacha is some web hosts, particularly cloud host like aws have caps on outgoing mail, you may need to fill out a form to have this removed.

    grep is your friend.

  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

    Thanks for the email advice.

    It does look like self-hosting is a bit of a 'mare, so will probably avoid it.

    Does anyone have a view on whether I should go with Apache or Nginx for the webserver?

  • hgtonighthgtonight ∞ · New Moderator

    @whu606 said:

    Does anyone have a view on whether I should go with Apache or Nginx for the webserver?

    Nginx is the future, imo. Better scalability, easier to configure (imo), and a lighter footprint.

    But! If you are familiar with apache, go for it.

    Search first

    Check out the Documentation! We are always looking for new content and pull requests.

    Click on insightful, awesome, and funny reactions to thank community volunteers for their valuable posts.

  • Nginx is the future, imo. Better scalability, easier to configure (imo), and a lighter footprint.

    While what @hgtonight said is true,

    My general advice: When in doubts, go for the mainstream. Apache in this case. You will find more tutorials for novices. Are you running LAMP on your home machine?

    With 1GB of RAM "lighter footprint" is not really an issue. If at some point you will get a legitimate reason to use nginx, you can always switch. By that time you will get more general linux experience, so it will not be a problem.

  • R_JR_J Ex-Fanboy Munich Moderator

    I use nginx on my test server without problems, but only today I've decided to give Hiawatha a try!


  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

    Thanks again, folks.

    @sledov

    atm I run XAMPP as I am a Windows user, but tbh, apart from installing it, I don't think I've ever touched Apache, so it would probably be as easy for me to get to grips with Nginx, since I'm more or less starting from scratch.

  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

    @hgtonight

    I know you use the smaller, 512mb RAM droplet.

    Would that be under-powered for my forum's typical monthly usage, in your opinion?

    It's a hobby site where I foot all the bills, so less is more!

    That said, it's used very frequently by a core of users, so I'm happy to pay the higher fee if that is necessary.

  • hgtonighthgtonight ∞ · New Moderator

    I would start with the 512mb droplet.

    Set everything up.

    If you notice some sluggishness, perform a flexible resize to a bigger size. If that makes your problems go away, make it permanent.

    There is some down time when resizing droplets, but it is relatively short. ~1min per GB.

    Search first

    Check out the Documentation! We are always looking for new content and pull requests.

    Click on insightful, awesome, and funny reactions to thank community volunteers for their valuable posts.

  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

    @hgtonight

    Thanks for that!

  • A lot of the time a fraction of ram get used, unless specifically tuned. What matters often is CPU. RAM matters too but there is no point having 16RAM if you are not goign to use some of it.

    grep is your friend.

  • whu606whu606 I'm not a SuperHero; I just like wearing tights... Moderator

    Just to follow up.

    512mb Droplet set up, test Vanilla installation (mirroring the live one) firing on all cylinders.

    Since I have less than 10 domain email addresses, Zoho works for me as a free email server.

    Observations

    The effort required to get everything up and running is non-trivial, but not over-complicated.

    I had at least installed and run a Linux OS on one of my laptops, so had a vague familiarity with how things go.

    Each issue I faced was a Google search away from being resolved, most often via the Digital Ocean forum.

    I haven't seen what the site will be like under a 'full load', but it is clearly a lot faster, not least because I was able to utilise memcached.

    For me, it is well worth the effort involved to have full control of your site hosting.

    The only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.

    Thanks to all for suggestions.

    hgtonightR_J
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