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Interview with the devops windows-noob.com web-admin

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hi guys,

some of you may have noticed that we had a few issues with the site a couple of weeks ago, but it was all resolved expertly but our web-server admin who works tirelessly to help keep this site running, I decided it would be nice to let you lot know a bit more about him, so here goes:

Hi, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you come from and what you work at... (all optional)
My name is Peter Upfold. I'm from the South of England and work in a small IT team in education at the moment. I also do a lot of work with New York-based website design and development agency Van Patten Media, with a particular focus on running their servers and “devops” (buzzword #1).

1. What age did you get into computers ?
My family got our first computer when I was five years old, and I was instantly hooked! Later on, I got a computer of my own. I then started playing with Linux when I was 13 years old, and eventually the Mac, when the budget allowed.

2. what was your first computer ?
The first computer that was my own was an AMD Athlon XP system with 256 MB of RAM.

3. what os did that computer run ?
That first computer of mine was running Windows XP (without any service packs), way back when it was brand new and shiny and exciting!

4. what is your favorite computer today and why ?
I still like to run many different operating systems, so I keep a “diverse enough” set of hardware to run all that I like. Right now I have a beautiful 27” iMac with the 5K screen as my primary machine, and I also have a custom built Sandy Bridge-based i5 desktop PC that runs Debian 8 (Jessie) and Windows 10 Pro in a dual boot configuration.

5. How did you get into Linux and what do you like about it ?
I first got into Linux after buying a boxed copy of SuSE 9.0 Personal in a bricks-and-mortar store! I was always curious about other operating systems, so finding this was really exciting to me. It was very scary doing the partitioning step to set up a dual boot configuration on that first computer of mine — resizing filesystems was a lot more of a delicate operation back then!

6. Would you consider yourself a programmer ?
I do quite a bit of programming, and like to keep myself learning whenever I can. I’ve worked extensively with PHP, but I have also spent quite a lot of time with Visual Basic.NET, C#, bash scripting and I have also worked quite a bit with Python, Objective-C and more languages I am probably forgetting. Most recently I have been really getting into doing a lot more with PowerShell in my day job too — it really is wonderful to have some of the automation power previously only found on Unix-like systems on Windows.

7. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a web-server admin ?
Spin up some virtual machines and start playing! I think that one of the best ways to learn is to give yourself a project — “I want to be able to set up an Nginx web server” — and then do the research, try things out, make mistakes and then fix them. It’s important obviously not to blindly accept that some random person’s configuration on the internet is The Right Way to do it, so keep an open mind and keep learning once it is working.

8. Have you heard about Azure and would you consider it ? if not, why not ?
I haven’t been living under a rock. :)
I played with Azure on the free trial that everyone gets, but frankly probably didn’t do as much with it as I could in that time. I really love that Linux is a first-class citizen along with Windows Server on Microsoft’s cloud platform. We work a lot with cloud-based Virtual Private Servers at Van Patten Media, but the biggest issue for us there would be the cost of Azure VMs being much higher than the providers we use. Azure seems best if you can make use of the services that aren’t just full-fat virtual machines, like their Azure Table Storage, and so on.

9. what do you think of all this talk about 'the cloud' ?
Cloud computing makes a lot of sense for a lot of things. At the same time, though, I think there are important issues to consider around control and security. Once something is in the cloud, it is not inherently less secure (in fact it might be more so), but we all need to consider carefully how moving things physically off-premises impacts users’ rights to maintain control over their own computers. I don’t, for example, use cloud backup services for all my data unless there’s another layer of encryption protecting the data that only I control.

10. What do you use for load balancing and database clustering? What how-tos do you recommend using?
At the moment, the workloads I have been working with have tended not to need heavy-duty solutions of this type — and if you can get away without clustering, you save a lot of headaches! Projects in the past though over on the Linux side of things have used the Varnish HTTP caching server to load balance between several application servers. We use Varnish extensively at Van Patten Media to cache as much as possible in RAM and avoid needing beefier servers wherever we can.
11. How do you manage the updates and configuration for your servers (Chef, Webmin, Puppet)? Would you consider using the PowerShell DSC that integrates into Chef and Puppet for managing Linux boxes? Why or why not?
I’ll pretend you didn’t mention Webmin… ;)
I have spent a significant amount of time over the last few years working with Puppet to describe the configuration for our Van Patten Media servers, my personal server, servers at my day job and, most recently, the Windows-Noob server itself. I’ve used it exclusively in standalone mode so far, but looking into a proper Puppet master setup is something perhaps to look at soon.
The time investment initially is significant: you have to sit down and describe everything about a whole server’s configuration. Not being able to unilaterally make a quick config change without causing yourself future issues can also be annoying.
The payoff is enormous, though. No longer are you worried about losing some obscure configuration file that is super important that you forgot about. In a web server world, as long as you have your Puppet manifest, your database backups and your code repository, you can blast away a whole server and absolutely know you can get back to a perfectly accurate known good configuration very quickly. When we need a new VM, we can be up and running and deploying our code within 15 minutes.
I’m now able to spin up a new server with any of the configurations I listed above and everything “just works” — including automated backups to remote sources.
In my day job, I have used Puppet for our Linux servers as mentioned, but PowerShell DSC looks very exciting if it allows us to do the same for our Windows workloads as well. Another thing to look at, when there is time!

Peter Upfold
Well that's it, thanks Peter ! We (me especially) all really appreciate the time and effort you spend on this site in the background keeping things running, especially when things go wrong.
windows-noob.com says > THANK YOU !!!!
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