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About two weeks ago, we held our periodic strategy days where we thought about and discussed where we can improve in order to make the lives of our customers and of ourselves better. One central point became very clear from the beginning: We have to improve our support processes. So what you will see over the coming weeks will be changes to the way we work and how we handle support.

The first step in this process is to be more transparent about problems and incidents with our Drupal Hosting platform.

Until now, we used to announce incidents like power outages, network problems or urgent maintenance work in a forum on our Help Center website. But it was hard to find there and not the easiest way for us to publish urgent information.

That is why we built a status blog for freistil IT .

There, we will keep you up-to-date on all the incidents our operations team is currently working on. You can subscribe to it using its RSS feed or follow @freistilops on Twitter. Very soon, we will add email notifications as well. So, simply pick the method that fits your needs best.

If you can think of any way to improve this, please tell us by leaving a comment below or send us an email!

27 Jan 2012

Yesterday, Eugen Mayer of KontextWork told me on IRC that the download archive for the QTip2 JQuery plugin had been compromised and that there are now QTip2 versions with exploit code in the wild. As discussed on Github, someone hacked the QTip2 website and added malicious code.

This can also affect Drupal users because QTip2 is a popular JQuery plugin and can be easily integrated in Drupal projects, for example with the QTip module.

So, if you’re using QTip2, especially if you downloaded the plugin between December 8th 2011 and January 10th 2012, we recommend you get a clean current version as soon as possible.

25 Jan 2012

While our newer DrupalCONCEPT clusters already run PHP 5.3, mainly the ones we built in 2010 still have PHP 5.2 installed. The PHP project stopped its support for PHP 5.2 in August 2011 and we’ve decided, for obvious maintenance and security reasons, to upgrade all our clusters to PHP 5.3 .

Affected by this upgrade are all DrupalCONCEPT clusters from pro07 to pro25 and elite4 to elite6 .

We’ll upgrade those clusters from PHP version 5.2.10 to 5.3.2 (using the original Ubuntu 10.04 LTS packages).

All upgrades will take place over night from Saturday, 2012–03–03 23:00 CET , to Sunday, 2012–03–04 05:00 CET.

To prevent problems and outages, we urge all customers that are using the clusters mentioned above to test their websites with PHP 5.3 and to install necessary Drupal and module upgrades in good time before the upgrade deadline. We recommend to run those tests in a local test environment, better yet on a staging website instance on the DrupalCONCEPT hosting platform.

If you have any questions regarding this upgrade, please let us know! We’ll be more than happy to help you make the change.

24 Jan 2012

Looking back

Last year, we started offering DrupalCONCEPT hosting in our domestic german market. Building upon that, 2011 was the year of our expansion onto Europe and beyond. Today, we provide high-performance Drupal hosting solutions to customers in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italia, England, and even in Uganda! (This success certainly gives us sufficient opportunity to polish up our spoken English.)

Our rapidly growing customer base also shows us where we still need to improve our teamwork, our infrastructure, processes and tools.

Teamwork in a virtual company like freistil IT is different from working in a shared office, and we invested a lot of time and thought into finding the collaboration tools that work most effectively for us. (Drop us a line in the comments if you’d like to exchange experiences!)

Every new customer comes with their own workflow, tools and site building philosophy. Sizes range from solo website owners to big development teams, expectations from “I simply want to upload my site.” to “We need a multi-stage Continuous Integration process.” Obviously, it’s not easy to balance all those needs while trying to keep our products and infrastructure as homogenous as possible. We’ll continue doing our best to build practical solutions for all your Drupal hosting needs.

Also, dealing with an increasing amount of support requests is a challenge we still haven’t yet fully mastered. This year, we received a lot of positive feedback but also constructive criticism. Both drive us to further increase our customer care efforts.

It’s been a year of hard work. And it’s been a year of a lot of fun! We’ve learned a lot about building a great IT infrastructure and a business around it. We’ve learned a lot from our customers – in telephone calls, at Drupal user meetings and in London pubs. We’re happy to be part of the amazing Drupal community.

Looking forward

Well, 2012 certainly has a lot in store for us!

Improving customer support is our Number One priority. We’ve gone over the feedback we got and found many recurring topics. Based on that feedback, we’re making plans how to improve our efficiency (make better use of our time), transparency (communicate more often and more clearly) and our product documentation.

One of the most requested features is a self-service website that enables our hosting customers to configure domains, email addresses etc. themselves. We’re already working heavily on our Hosting Dashboard and plan to start beta-testing it early next year.

In 2012, we’ll need a bigger team to keep up with our growing customer base. There’ll certainly be new names on our team page. With added skills and manpower, there also will be new services and products we’re going to offer. (We’re as excited about what exactly they’ll be as you!)

Thank you so much!

We would not be where we are today without our customers. It’s you who we serve, who we learn from, with whom we always have a great time at conferences and other meetings, and who, above all, make our business work. We are more thankful to you than we can express.

So, to all our customers and partners, and to all our website visitors, we simply say:

Have a very merry christmas! Enjoy the holidays and have a great start into the new year 2012!

20 Dec 2011

From this Saturday (Christmas Eve, 2011-12-24) on, our team will be off recharging.

During the holiday time, we’ll only do emergency support. That means we’ll only handle outages and other incidents that impact the delivery of existing websites.

We’ll resume working on tasks that aren’t connected to such incidents on Monday, January 9th 2012.

So, if you plan to launch a new website over the holidays or need other kinds of assistance, please let us know immediately!

20 Dec 2011

Many Drupal users that have been running a website for a while have made the painful experience that a) usual shared hosting plans don’t offer enough resources and b) more powerful dedicated servers cause a heap of maintenance headaches.

That’s why we built a new Drupal hosting product line: A fully managed Drupal VPS called DrupalCONCEPT POWER.

Like our existing hosting platforms DrupalCONCEPT PRO and DrupalCONCEPT ELITE, the DrupalCONCEPT POWER VPS is a turnkey Drupal web hosting solution that has everything you need to run a high performance Drupal website:

  • You get a pre-configured hosting infrastructure including Varnish, APC, Memcache and Apache Solr.
  • Thanks to our Git-based deployment mechanism, you can easily integrate the hosting of your website into your development process.
  • When your website and its requirements grow, we can in many cases simply assign your VPS more resources with a simple reboot.
  • Our operations team takes care of the complete management of the hosting infrastructure.

So, if you want guaranteed capacity but don’t need the high availability features of DrupalCONCEPT PRO or the horizontal scalability of DrupalCONCEPT ELITE, our new DrupalCONCEPT POWER VPS is the most cost-effective solution for hosting your Drupal website.

Find details and prices on our DrupalCONCEPT POWER page!

22 Nov 2011

The Logical Volume Manager LVM2 in Linux is a great way to become independent from physical – or virtual – disk devices.

Especially in a cloud environment like the Amazon Web Services where you can add or remove virtual disks (called “Elastic Block Storage”, EBS) at any time, LVM makes it easy to adapt a server’s storage capacity to current demand.

Preparations: Create an LVM volume

To build your filesystem, you first create an EBS volume via the Web Console or the EC2 command line tools and attach it to the EC2 instance. The default block device name is /dev/sdf, but you can choose another one if you want or need to.

This EBS volume must be marked as a Physical Volume (PV), the basic building block of our LVM storage pool:

# pvcreate /dev/sdf

The PV becomes the foundation of a Volume Group (VG). Later, you’ll be able to add other PVs to the VG, thereby growing the VG’s storage capacity.

# vgcreate vg0 /dev/sdf

Finally, from this VG, you create Logical Volumes (LV). LVs are the virtual disk devices that you’re going to format and mount. Modern filesystems like ext3/4 or XFS are able to grow in size without reformatting; this will come in handy later.

# lvcreate -L20G -n vol1 vg0
# mkfs.xfs /dev/vg0/vol1
# mkdir /vol1
# mount -t xfs /dev/vg0/vol1 /vol1

How to increase a volume’s size

If your virtual disk, the LV, is filling up, you can easily grow its capacity. Just create and attach another EBS volume (for example as /dev/sdg), add it to the VG, and finally extend first the LV and then the filesystem:

# pvcreate /dev/sdg
# vgextend vg0 /dev/sdg
# lvextend -L+20G /dev/vg0/vol1
# xfs_growfs /dev/vg0/vol1

How to replace an EBS volume

Alternatively, you could just replace the current EBS volume with a bigger one. This is easy because LVM lets you add a bigger EBS volume to the VG, then migrate all data onto it and finally remove the old volume from the VG:

# pvcreate /dev/sdg
# vgextend vg0 /dev/sdg
# pvmove /dev/sdf /dev/sdg
# lvreduce vg0 /dev/sdf
# lvextend -L+20G /dev/vg0/vol1
# xfs_growfs /dev/vg0/vol1

Now, you can detach the old EBS volume from the EC2 instance and then delete it.

Conclusion

We use virtual IT infrastructure resources from the cloud for their flexibility. By using LVM, we maintain this flexibility even on the single filesystem level.

17 Nov 2011

Last week was a special one.

Jochen had the first week off after a very long time without vacation. And I had to take care of all the work alone. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I underestimated almost everything.

As a result, the only day on which I could do “normal work” like site building for a customer was Thursday. On the days before, I was overwhelmed by support requests, coming in either via email or phone calls. I really wanted to do this job as best I could, so I guess I forgot my organizational skills and put support requests above everything else. Which resulted in some happy customers, but an exhausted me.

Since this was a really demanding week, we’ll have to learn from that and organize some stuff differently. Customer support has to work better even if one central person is missing, and all other, no less important, work has to keep going on as well. We will implement some rules and processes to improve our workflows and make sure that both our customers and ourselves stay happy.

In the end it actually was rewarding as well, having gotten so much positive feedback. Thanks for that!

15 Nov 2011

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