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Hosting at Home, Where Else?

"Hosting at home? Am I mad?"

 

Look, of course that's mad, there are server farms and hosting companies everywhere... wait, it's 2003 who do you think I am Rockefeller?

With the green light from the PTO, I needed to set up the website so that people could access the site and order. The reality in 2003 around hosting was, well, limited. There were some expensive options for large corporates but most solutions involved expensive servers, dedicated server rooms with battery-backup power and generators and high-speed internet service.

OK, so then, home-brew PC in basement with a dead rack mount battery backup unit discarded from my work and, Optimum online home cable Internet - Huzzah! I'm all sorted!

As a techie, building and running a server farm carried a certain prestige, seriously, how many of your friends ran an online lunch ordering platform? It was cool, in my head anyway.

The reality was a PC that I'd built at home from spares, a couple of hard disks for redundancy and internet service from the local cable company was sort of okay but, though I could keep the server running and I could manage the software, the reliability of the utility power was the most risky part.

In just the first year in our town of Warren, NJ I'd come to realize that continuous power was not guaranteed; 10-15 minute outages were almost monthly events. It's not that we're out in the sticks or anything, it's just more that people are really clumsy around here! Seriously, look behind you before you reverse your truck!?!?

For the site to be reliable, I needed a battery backup system with enough capacity to last, something that would run the servers for hours, not minutes in case of an outage.

I'd picked up an old, dead, rack-mount battery-backup system, a "UPS" from the office; it was something alright, 1.5kW output which was really more than enough however, as I said, it was dead... well... that was the verdict of the techie at the office and, well who was I to question his prowess plus, it would have only embarrassed him in front of the whole office if I'd have pointed out that the batteries were simply replaceable... as we lifted it into the back of my car.

Getting new batteries for the UPS was harder than I thought though. The fancy 'factory' ones were ridiculously expensive but, I reasoned that I could just use four car batteries wired in through the hole in the front of the unit. Getting the batteries proved harder than I thought possible...

I arrived at the local car parts store, looked around, spotted rows and rows of car batteries - perfect! I approached the rather tall counter

"May I have four 12V car batteries please." I asked, politely.

"What car?" came the reply from the guy at the desk, barely lifting his gaze from a magazine that seemed to feature a cross between engine parts and female anatomy.

"Erm, actually, it's a UPS." I replied.

"Don't do truck batteries." he replied, turning the page.

"No, I mean, it's for a UPS, an uninterruptible power supply."

He closed the magazine, rather indignantly and looked me up and down.

"Do you have a purchase order?"

"What?"

"A purchase order, if you've got four trucks that need new batteries, I assume that you're purchasing them for a business." He turned and chuckled at his colleague who'd joined us.

"I'm sorry, I just need four 12v lead acid batteries. Does it matter what they're for?"

He shook his head.

"They're non-refundable." He added before asking. "What car are they for?"

"They're not for a car!"

I was struggling, I couldn't fathom why wouldn't they just sell me the batteries.

"They have to be for a car, they're car batteries." He smirked.

"OK, OK, Toyota Camry." I said, first thing that fell into my head, don't know why, never had one myself. I suppose they were popular?

"What year?"

Oh good grief! "1998" I replied.

"Oh, they'll be under warranty, you need to contact the dealer that you purchased the car from."

"Sorry, sorry," I said quickly, "I meant 1989... I'm dyslexic." I added for authenticity.

"Four you say."

"Yes."

"'89 Camry"

"Yes."

"Don't have those."

Deep breath. This is crazy. Eventually, after another fifteen minutes of back and forth I was able to load four roughly identical 12v car batteries into my car... not my UPS truck.

Back home, with four car batteries under the bench, the UPS fired up. I did a test to simulate a power failure with the batteries, just to see but after four hours it was still registering ¼ full and that was more than enough.

We were online.

 

Tech deep dive:

I've tinkered with PC builds for years and was totally comfortable building the hardware. I was also happy to 'go large' with Pentium 4 processors and over 4GB of ram in the database server, yep, this was the big time.

So, looking back, slightly less powerful than my 2022 digital watch.

The resulting setup was:

  • Web Server:
    • Pentium 4
    • 2GB Ram
    • 2 x 40GB HDD Raid 1
  • DB Server
    • Pentium 4
    • 4GB Ram
    • 4 x 40GB HDD
      • 2 x 40GB Data volume Raid 1
      • 2 x 40GB Log volume Raid 1
    • 1 x 250GB backup disk

A solution that ran well for a few years but, then hosting options got better...

 

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