Tag Archives: Blogging

Top vBlog 2017: Notable Representation and Thanks

It feels like this year moving along at ludicrous speed so it’s no surprise that the Top vBlog for 2017 has been run and won. This year Eric Siebert changed things up by introducing new voting mechanisms to try and deliver a more palatable outcome for all who where involved…I think it worked well and delivered interesting results for all those active bloggers listed on the vLaunchpad.

Eric introduced a point system based on Google Page Speed and the number of posts in 2016 to help level the playing field and make it less of a perceived popularity contest. Introducing tangible metrics to make up a portion of the total ranking points was an interesting move and seemed to work well. If nothing else it made people (myself included) more aware around the dark art of web page speed optimization…and this has meant a better browsing experience for those visiting Top vBlog sites.

The Results:

As expected, with Duncan Epping bowing out of the race William Lam deservedly took out the #1 spot with Vladan Seget, Cormac Hogan, Chris Wahl and Scott Lowe rounding out the top 5. There was lots of movement in the top 25 and I managed to sneak into the top 20 at #19 which is extremely humbling.

Creating content for this community is a pleasure and has become somewhat of a personal obsession so it’s nice to get some recognition and I’m happy that what I’m able to produce is (for the most) found useful by people in the community. I’m a passionate guy in most things that I am involved in so it’s no surprise that I feel so strongly in being able to contribute to this great vCommunity…especially when it comes to my strong passion around Hosting, Cloud, Backup and DR.

Aussie Representation:

As with previous years I like to highlight the Aussie and Kiwi (ANZ) representation in the Top vBlog and this year is no different. We have a great blogging scene here in the VMware community and that is reflected with the quality of the bloggers listed below. Special mention to Matt Allford who debuted at #190 …watch out for him to climb up the list over the next few years!

Blog Rank Prev +/- Total Points Total Votes Voting Points #1 Votes # 2016 posts Post Pts PS % PS Pts
Virtualization is Life! (Anthony Spiteri) 19 44 25 1420 165 1042 15 123 246 66% 132
Long White Virtual Clouds (Michael Webster) 20 13 -7 1374 201 1228 7 17 34 56% 112
CloudXC (Josh Odgers) 29 17 -12 1166 144 930 7 53 106 65% 130
Penguinpunk.net (Dan Frith) 106 78 -28 545 48 317 4 46 92 68% 136
Virtual 10 (Manny Sidhu) 115 82 -33 520 44 268 0 32 64 94% 188
Proudest Monkey (Grant Orchard) 127 93 -34 501 53 341 0 11 22 69% 138
Demitasse (Alastair Cooke) 140 168 28 467 42 261 0 33 66 70% 140
Pragmatic IO (Brett Sinclair) 174 153 -21 418 29 222 6 12 24 86% 172
Virtual Tassie (Matt Allford) 190 NEW NEW 392 29 170 1 23 46 88% 176
ukotic.net (Mark Ukotic) 201 179 -22 369 24 159 6 14 28 91% 182
Virtual Notions (Derek Hennessy) 266 298 32 253 21 121 0 25 50 41% 82
Veeam Representation:

My follow colleagues at Veeam made it into the list and all below made the top 50!

Blog Rank Prev +/- Total Points Total Votes Voting Points #1 Votes # 2016 posts Post Pts PS % PS Pts
Virtualization is Life! (Anthony Spiteri) 19 44 25 1420 165 1042 15 123 246 66% 132
Notes from MWhite (Michael White) 31 38 7 1080 108 642 2 132 264 87% 174
Virtual To The Core (Luca Dell’Oca) 38 41 3 927 111 695 2 36 72 80% 160
vZilla (Michael Cade) 44 120 76 871 109 645 9 27 54 86% 172
Tim’s Tech Thoughts (Tim Smith) 48 100 52 837 92 583 5 32 64 95% 190
The Results Show:

Again a massive thank you to Eric for putting together the voting and organising the whole thing. It’s a huge undertaking and we should all be in gratitude to Eric for making it all happen.

The whole list and category winners can been viewed here.

 

The Anatomy of a vBlog Part 2: Plugins, Site Optimizations and Analytics

Part 1 – Building a Blogging Platform

Having looked at hosting platform and operating system suggestions in Part 1, to conclude this two part series I’ll talk about how to make WordPress work harder for you through its plugin ecosystem as well as go through the site optimizations and caching improvements offered by CloudFlare. To finish off I’ll talk about GoSquared which is an external analytics engines that keeps track of site visitors and page views.

WordPress Plugins:

WordPress having been the defacto blogging engine for a number of years now has enabled a whole ecosystem of free and paid for plugins that are used to enhance the usability of your WordPress site. Think about these plugins similar to IOS Apps in that, just like just like the App Store they are easily searchable and installable from the Administration Plugin Menu and for better or worse…they are ultimately what keep you invested the WordPress platform…just like Apps on the iPhone.

In terms of plugin management, the WordPress platform makes it easy to install, configure and upgrade all the plugin from the one menu page. Up to this point I haven’t had any major issues with the plugins I use even. In terms of what plugins I use to help improve the readability, usability and socialability of the site, I’ve listed the plugins I consider core to this site below:

  • CloudFlare: Integrates your blog with the CloudFlare platform.
  • Crayon Syntax Highlighter: A Syntax Highlighter built in PHP and jQuery that supports customizable languages and themes.
  • GoSquared: Add GoSquared tracking code directly to your WordPress site.
  • Image Formatr: A simple plugin that goes through all the content images on posts & pages, and with zero user changes
  • Jetpack: Simplifies managing WordPress sites by giving you visitor stats, security services, speeding up images, and helping you get more traffic. Jetpack is a free plugin
  • Revive Old Post: Helps you to keeps your old posts alive by sharing them and driving more traffic to them from social networks. It also helps you to promote your content.
  • Yoast SEO: Written from the ground up by Joost de Valk and his team at Yoast to improve your site’s SEO on all needed aspects

TIP: Take a look at what features paid for plugins offer over free ones. Just like any software, you will always find an open/free alternative. Some plugins will also come in a lite version with certain features locked to a paid for version.

CloudFlare Optimizations:

As a new blog is starting off the amount of traffic hitting the site is generally small so having the site directly exposed on the internet isn’t usually a problem, however as your site grows you may need to consider fronting the site with a caching or performance engine. Security should also be a consideration to help protect you blog against malicious attacks or code vulnerabilities and exploits.

In the early days of the internet Akamai dominated web geocaching services and a lot of the world’s largest high volume sites used them to improved user experience and protect origin servers from traffic spikes. CloudFlare offers similar services to Akamai, but they do things differently… Their story is worth a read to get an idea of where they came from and what they are trying to achieve. https://www.cloudflare.com/our-story

CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks. On average, a website on CloudFlare:

  • Loads twice as fast
  • Uses 60% less bandwidth
  • Has 65% fewer requests
  • Is way more secure

CloudFlare can be used regardless of your choice in platform. Setup takes most about five to ten minutes. Adding a website requires your domain’s DNS records to be hosted at CloudFlare (for free) and then make a couple of adjustments to the origin URL’s of your site and have the domain NS records point at CloudFlare’s name servers. A, AAAA, and CNAME records can have their traffic routed through the CloudFlare system. The core service is free and they do offer enhanced services for websites who need extra features like real time reporting or SSL.

As you can see below, CloudFlare offers a number of tweaking options, most of which are available on the free plan.

The efficiency in terms of bandwidth savings is also significant

The Firewall features is also impressive and works to block IP addresses trying to cause issues and launch brute force attacks on sections of the WorpdPress site such as /wp-admin

Having CloudFlare front your site is a no brainier and given that there is a very feature rich’s free version that is extremely effective its something to configure for all blogging sites. Or to add to your existing site. For a look at the specific plan capabilities, click here.

TIP: Comment SPAM can be a significant PITA for bloggers, and in the early days I would spend ten to thirty minutes a week cleaning up unmoderated comments. With CloudFlare in play the amount of comment SPAM has dropped down to almost non-existent levels.

GoSqaured Analytics:

GoSquared takes what JetPack does and elevates it to another level. This is one of the few external services that I have no trouble paying for because, as someone who loves numbers and trend analytics it delivers everything I need to keep tabs of what’s happening on the site. GoSquared offers real time stats on site visitors and as shown below gives you deep insights into not only, where people are visiting you site from, but a lot about what platform they are using to browse.

It works by downloading the WordPress plugin and entering the tracker code that in turn injects a bit of code onto every page from which the live tracking stats are received. They also have a free plan option, but it’s worth looking at the paid plans as your site grows.

https://www.gosquared.com/plans/

TIP: By looking at the site visit graphs you will start to get a feel for when your site is most accessed and from where the site visits occur. From this you will be able to deduct the best time for which to publish a new blog post.

Conclusion:

I hope this two part series has been helpful in breaking down the obvious and less obvious components of a blogging site and more specifically the Virtualization is Life! site that is running WordPress. As mention in Part 1, there is no right answer to what blogging platform is best, however my preference is to keep things under total control all while having a simple and efficient platform from which to create and distribute content. The tools that I have mentioned that go on top of the WordPress site are also vital in keeping things ticking over.

Hope this was useful for some!

The Anatomy of a vBlog Part 1: Building a Blogging Platform

Earlier this week my good friend Matt Crape sent out a Tweet lamenting the fact that he was having issues uploading media to WordPress…shortly after that tweet went out Matt wasn’t short of Twitter and Slack vCommunity advice (follow the Twitter conversation below) and there where a number of options presented to Matt on how best to host his blogging site Matt That IT Guy.

Over the years I have seen that same question of “which platform is best” pop up a fair bit and thought it a perfect opportunity to dissect the anatomy of Virtualization is Life!. The answer to the specific question as to which blogging platform is best doesn’t have a wrong or right answer and like most things in life the platform that you use to host your blog is dependent on your own requirements and resources. For me, I’ve always believed in eating my own dog food and I’ve always liked total end to end control of sites that I run. So while, what I’m about to talk about worked for me…you might like to look at alternative options but feel free to borrow on my example as I do feel it gives bloggers full flexibility and control.

Brief History:

Virtualization is Life! started out as Hosting is Life! back in April of 2012 and I choose WordPress at the time mainly due to it’s relatively simple installation and ease of use. The site was hosted on a Windows Hosting Platform that I had built at Anittel, utilizing WebsitePanel on IIS7.5, running FastCGI to serve the PHP content. Server backend was hosted on a VMware ESX Cluster out of the Anittel Sydney Zones. The cost of running this site was approximately $10 US per month.

Tip: At this stage the site was effectively on a shared hosting platform which is a great way to start off as the costs should be low and maintenance and uptime should be included in the hosters SLA.

Migration to Zettagrid:

When I started at Zettagrid, I had a whole new class of virtual infrastructure at my hands and decided to migrate the blog to one of Zettagrid’s Virtual DataCenter products where I provisioned a vCloud Director vDC and created a vApp with a fresh Ubuntu VM inside. The migration from a Windows based system to Linux went smoother than I thought and I only had a few issues with some character maps after restoring the folder structure and database.

The VM it’s self is configured with the following hardware specs:

  • 2 vCPU (5GHz)
  • 4GB vRAM
  • 20GB Storage

As you can see above the actual usage pulled from vCloud Director shows you how little resource a VM with a single WordPress instance uses. That storage number actually represents the expanded size of a thin provisioned disk…actual used on the file system is less than 3GB, and that is with four and a half years and about 290 posts worth of media and database content  I’ll go through site optimizations in Part 2, but in reality the amount of resources required to get you started is small…though you have to consider the occasional burst in traffic and work in a buffer as I have done with my VM above.

The cost of running this Virtual Datacenter in Zettagrid is approx $120 US per month.

TipEven though I am using a vCloud Director vDC, given the small resource requirements initially needed a VPS or instance based service might be a better bet. Azure/AWS/Google all offer instance based VM instances, but a better bet might be a more boutique provider like DigitalOcean.

Networking and Security:

From a networking point of view I use the vShield/NSX Edge that is part of vCloud Director as my Gateway device. This handles all my DHCP, NAT and Firewall rules and is able to handle the site traffic with ease. If you want to look at what capabilities the vShield/NSX Edges can do, check out my NSX Edge vs vShield Series. Both the basic vShield Edges and NSX Edges have decent Load Balancing features that can be used in high availability situations if required.

As shown below I configured the Gateway rules from the Zettagrid MyAccount Page but could have used the vCloud Director UI. For a WordPress site, the following services should be configured at a minimum.

  • Web (HTTP)
  • Secure Web (HTTPS)
  • FTP (Locked down to only accept connections from specific IPs)
  • SSH (Locked down to only accept connections from specific IPs)

OS and Web Platform Details:

As mentioned above I choose Ubuntu as my OS of choice to run Wordpress though any Linux flavour would have done the trick. Choosing Linux over Windows obviously means you save on the Microsoft SPLA costs associated with hosting a Windows based OS…the savings should be around $20-$50 US a month right there. A Linux distro is a personal choice so as long as you can install the following modules it doesn’t really matter which one you use.

  • SSH
  • PHP
  • MySQL
  • Apache
  • HTOP

The only thing I would suggest is that you use a long term support distro as you don’t want to be stuck on a build that can’t be upgraded or patched to protect against vulnerability and exploits. Essentially I am running a traditional LAMP stack, which is Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP built on a minimal install of Ubuntu with only SSH enabled. The upkeep and management of the OS and LAMP stack is not much and I would estimate that I have spent about five to ten hours a year since deploying the original server dealing with updates and maintenance. Apache as a web server still performs well enough for a single blog site, though I know many that made the switch to NGINX and use the LEMP Stack.

The last package on this list is a personal favorite of mine…HTOP is an interactive process viewer for Unix systems that can be installed with a quick apt-get install htop command. As shown below it has a detailed interface and is much better than trying to work through standard top.

TipIf you don’t want to deal with installing the OS or installing and configuring the LAMP packages, you can download a number of ready made appliances that contain the LAMP stack. Turnkey Linux offers a number of appliances that can be deployed in OVA format and have a ready made LAMP appliance as well as a ready made WordPress appliance.

That covers off the hosting and platform components of this blog…In Part 2 I will go through my WordPress install in a little more detail and look at themes and plugins as well as talk about how best to optimize a blogging site with the help of free caching and geo-distribution platforms.

References and Guides:

http://www.ubuntu.com/download/server

http://howtoubuntu.org/how-to-install-lamp-on-ubuntu

https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-install-linux-nginx-mysql-php-lemp-stack-in-ubuntu-16-04