A number of virtual machines on one server

I have been recently invited by high level officials of one institution to help them to publish several journals on line.  Indeed, I recommended them to use Open Journal Systems which they gladly accepted.

They showed me their server, but one of high officials said: “You know, we do not have anyone who knows Linux.  We heard that you know it. we have on our server several installations for different web platforms, but we do not have idea how to fix several small issues and how to make everything work smoothly.”  I looked at each of those GNU/Linux installations and realized that many of them are installed as desktop machines with some additional applications such as web server, PHP, MySQL etc. But, many of those installations were lacking several dependencies resulting that some modules in web applications did not work. People who installed them were elsewhere and they did not have any documentation on settings, active services, software package versions and other important information related to virtual machines with operating systems and web applications installed on them.

I suggested to them that is necessary somehow to standardize those installations and choose GNU/Linux distribution that is efficient and easy to administer and migrate web applications to newly installed virtual machines and create documentation with precise information on operating system version, versions of important applications and infrastructure requirements. Those specifications will help administrator to manage backups, upgrades, maintenance, testing instead of guessing where is which application  and with what other application is or is not compatible.  They were scared since they were not sure how to do that and how many work hours is needed for that. Well, that will save a number of work hours of saving damaged or corrupted data, misbehaving applications or consequences of compromised virtual machines due to software packages that were not upgraded when needed.

Thanking to experience and knowledge of free software developers and users of GNU/Linux and many other free software applications it is possible to plan, project and implement whole infrastructure and web applications in a way that can assure users and administrators that everything will work smooth.

It is needed to take care on:

  • scalability
  • security
  • easy of use
  • ease of quality administration
  • price
  • maintenance
  • documentation
  • backups

We can add more criteria and discuss all of them which is beyond scope of this post. But, I want to stress importance that free software, open access are not just sandbox for benevolence and good will.  It is rather, very serious activity and require a lot of work in order to make sure that users of information and knowledge we publish on web applications designed for open access publishing  will have positive experience that will help them to learn.

 

 

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Backup-Simple to do?

I prepared myself to do training for the members editorial boards of two journals issued by one institute of economic sciences.

I came to the premises where I was supposed to do training, but I noticed that people who entered data in the system dedicated to on line publishing were shocked and confused. “Everything is gone!”, said one of them.  “What has gone?”, I asked.  “The data we entered in the last two months!”, she replied sadly.  I started to examine what has happened and discovered that some bad backup was restored over our virtual machine hosted on their server.  “Hmm, did anyone restored some wrong backup?”, I asked.  ” I do not know how to do that and even our administrator is away. He left a couple of weeks ago.”, she sad hopelessly.  Well, another person was invited  to examine what has happened and we determined by checking logs and possible scenarios and we have found that former system administrator assumed that so-called bare-metal backup was sufficient. In addition, he did not check whether back was complete or not and what software vendor suggests to perform backup of guests on Hyper-V. Well, too much mistakes resulted in complete loss of data that two persons entered in the period of two months.

So, when you plan hosting and backup of your data please check carefully documentation, test your methods of backup and after checking of various possible disaster scenarios implement it on production (virtual) machine with open access application and samples of data entered.

Web Site Certificates

If you work a lot with web applications that you use to publish your journal, repository of scholarly publications you probably heard about web security, certificates, eavesdropping.

If you are scholar or member of the board being much more involved in social sciences, arts, culture all those technical terms and theories may be quite confusing for you.

I have got recently message from one faculty member that study political sciences that their site is not accessible due to security certificate issue.  “I use Firefox”, he said and I have got warning message about certificates and it does not allow me to see my site.

Well, in majority of cases such warning message is not necessarily bad nor it does prevent you from seeing your site.  Indeed, it is good to learn more about web site certificates.  A good resource of information is here.

The Firefox team published their own article about web site certificates and relations with Firefox browser.

In additional article about technical error and message “Your connection is not secure”  Firefox team explained possible reasons.

In the case of journal published in the Open Journal Systems there was not issue with the Open Journal Systems web application.  Actually, their certificate expired as on image below:

certificate expired

 

Since they are sure that they trust their site they added exception to their browser.  They contacted their hosting company, checked certificates and solved issue. That is not hard.  Your administrator can keep notes on certificates and remind you on renewals and keep communication with hosting company and/or other certification authority and renew certificates in a timely manner.

 

Oh, no! Error 500 ruined my server!

I have had many times situation that servers were not properly configured since neither administrators nor journal editorial boards were fully ready and aware what is required to set up in order to meet the needs for some specific journal.  It is always good to learn more about such error although they can happen but without tragic consequences for your work.  Error 500 is one of so-called  HTTP status codes.  The error messages/status codes that begin with “5” indicate cases in which the server is not capable to perform some task. That task should be possible to be performed by the server if some settings could be adjusted.  So, that is it. Nothing is ruined!

Constructive and open communication with hosting company or your administrator will help to identify possible cause of error which will disappear when some setting will be changed.  The most often you will see so called Error 500 Internal Server Error which is generic error indicating that unexpected condition was encountered. No, big deal although does not look nice. Heh!

Appearance of that message can be expected but prior to entering any deal about web hosting plan detailed conversation with experienced administrator who will help you to precisely articulate your technical requirements that should be met by your IT department or hosting company.  That is it! Some experimentation will not ruin anything on your server!

My server exploded. Everything is gone! Aaaarghhh!

I guess many times administrators, people involved in technical support on forums have been faced with such outbursts of despair and anger.

Well, it is stress to everyone. But, server never exploded and it is very rare that everything is gone forever.  Appearance of blank screen, error message or that program is stuck does not mean that your server exploded or that you lost your work.

When you experience that kind of difficulty it is important to stay calm and to have handy information that will help your administrator, hosting company/IT department people, community support participants on support forum to look for solution.  Well, often solution is correction of code, adjusting settings on server, but in any case your work is the most probably neither damaged nor gone.

You should always have handy information on your infrastructure, browser, operating system of your server and context within which issue happened.  People who want to help you often free of charge need to reproduce the problem in order to identify the point at which problem occur.

Support people at ATutor set up their forum in  a way that the user is by default provided with hints that will help to write post in a way that will be helpful.  We have to be oriented towards solution! So, do not panic! Be calm, concentrated and focused on providing sufficient information in order to find solution. It is not shame to describe sincerely and completely what you have done. That will help you and many others. Asking for help is support to yourself and to many others.

I found helpful hints on support pages of several OA software packages.

The rule is: Do backup often, be calm, sincere and helpful to yourself, people who want to help you and others who might be in trouble as you are now.

Here it is how people from ATutor made it:

  • Beginning of message:

If you are asking for help, provide lots of detail so problems can be reproduced.

Things to describe:
Operating system ATutor is installed on –
ATutor version –
Patch #s applied –
ATutor theme name –
PHP version –
MySQL version –
Webserver & version –
Copies of error messages –
Changes to default settings –
Web browser being used –
…and anything else relevant –

  • End of message.