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Website Cloud-bound on Wednesday

We recently released a significant update to the backend systems for the AAVSO website. While most of the bugs introduced by this update have been fixed, there may still be problems we haven't fixed. If you run into a problem, please email webmaster@aavso.org
kqr's picture
kqr
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Joined: 2010-03-12

Folks:

After six successful tests both yesterday and today, we are going to move the AAVSO website to the Cloud starting at 1200UTC (8:00AM Eastern Time) on Wednesday, 25 July.

We are hoping that, in addition to the last infrastructure change we made - serving the database from the same box as the webserver ran on - the larger bandwith inherent in the cloud will work to everyone's advantage. We have historically had a T1 bandwith for our website here at HQ, with greater bursts of throughput given to us by an additional modem I installed a couple of years ago, but now-a-days T1 is slow. With the website being on the cloud we're hoping the bandwith bottleneck will now be placed at your end, where it belongs.  :-)

We've been building this new webserver for some time, and have been testing it this last week. So when will we do this?

The "trigger" on the new website will be pulled on Wednesday. The AAVSO website will be down from 1200-1600UTC (0800-1200 Eastern Time). This will mean that you will not be able to access anything - website, light curve generator, variable star plotter, or even adorable pictures of Snowy & Pixel, the AAVSO's First Cats - during that time period.

At the point the website comes down we will be doing a final sync of both the website contents and the databases to the cloud, changing all the pointers (just three now) to the new machine, and bringing things back up. Our tests show that this should take two hours, but I'm estimating we'll be down for four hours so I can then "look like a miracle worker."

If this works as designed and tested once we are back online the transition should appear transparent to you our users.

As usual, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me!
___
Doc Kinne
Astronomical Technologist, AAVSO

Moving too fast?
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lmk
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Hmmm, Well I am always for improvements, especially in the speed department, but is this "cloud" thing really safe? Putting our prized database and information out into someone elses hands!? How sure are we that these cloudy providers can live up to their promises, what if they go out of business without a trace, sell our information behind our backs?

I would still hope we keep a regular backup of everything somewhere in our physical possession.

Mike LMK

moving to cloud
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HQA
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Hi Mike,

This move only has positives, and no negatives that I can see.  The database is backed up on a nightly basis, just as it is currently on our existing website, and the current website actually ends up being a second, identical, version of the website as a "warm spare".  Everyone gets higher bandwidth, and we get easy expansion anytime in the future if we need more disk space or faster CPU.  I also expect this solution to save us money in the long term, as it means that HQ does not need to upgrade its internet service. Cloud computing has been around for several years and is a solid alternative to local computing.

The move will most likely have a few bugs; be patient, but be sure to let us know when something does not work.

Arne

Cloud safety?
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lmk
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Joined: 2010-07-23

Hi Arne,

Thanks for the reply! Well I must admit right away this cloud stuff is not something I am so familiar with. (Maybe I am just a victim of the common human failing - "fear of the unknown"?) I may not be the only one in this boat, though. Maybe it would help a lot if Doc or someone could provide an "executive summary" of the main issues of clouds vs. local computing, as say a blog on the front page?

But, a few real questions/concerns I still have:

1. How much of our information/data resides on their servers? Do we mirror our entire AID and VSX to their physical sites? But, if we keep the data, then they have to retrieve it from us over the internet with each website query. Big separation of website from backend DB, this could still be a speed bottleneck?

2. What sort of guarantee do they/can they provide for continuity of service 24/7? What if they go bankrupt or get bought out, what happens to our website and data?

3. There's probably a degree of security or confidentiality there, but what is the technical basis for their integrity? Possibility of mixing or corrupting our information with the many other shared users? Could a hacker take down the cloud? If many banks or financial institutions have stayed away from it, maybe that is a concern?

So, those are some of my primary issues with cloud. I guess being around a "few years" in this business makes it mature, but it still doesn't give me that warm fuzzy feeling ;)

Mike LMK

cloud history
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Aaron Price
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Cloud computing, in it's various forms, has been around since the mid 90's. Amazon's system, which the AAVSO uses, has been around for 6 years (as of next month). So it's not new. I'd estimate that consumer level cloud tech is probably in its 2nd or 3rd generation now. It seems new to you because companies (mainly Microsoft) began running advertisements about the cloud on TV a couple of years ago - so that's when it became mainstream.

Lots of banks and financial institutions are on cloud servers - just about every major web site is now on a cloud of some type. They have to be to handle the load. Their difference is they tend to run their own cloud, or they outsource to a private cloud contract through IBM, Oracle, etc. as opposed to using a consumer cloud like Amazon. This is because they have very unique requirements, being the top targeted web sites by cr/hackers. The AAVSO doesn't fall into that category. GalaxyZoo, a site with far more activity than our own, has been running in the cloud almost since its inception.

FWIW, VPhot has been running on the cloud for years now. And this move has been planned since last January with testing and deployment beginning in March. So staff has had time to gain experience with it. No doubt small things will crop up here and there - just as they would if we were upgrading from a local server to a new local server. But in the long run it means a faster, more secure, more affordable web site. And, most importantly, a much more flexible web site. If we need more disk space or bandwidth, staff just clicks a button.

Hi Mike! I appreciate your
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kqr
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Hi Mike!

I appreciate your comments! To be honest, I've thought (and feared) much of the same things you have. As Arne mentioned, we are going to be basically syncing the cloud to Mira back here at HQ. There is some work to be done at this end once the move to the cloud is done, but the goal is to have Mira available as a warm web site backup in case something goes wrong with the cloud site.

At this point the entire panalopy of databases we have will be on the cloud with both nightly backups to a separate area on the cloud AND backups back here to HQ. This will actually give us yet ANOTHER backup of our databases in the end. For the users there will be no separation between the database server and the web server, just as there isn't now. The difference we're hoping for is that now the website will have far greater bandwith behind it than it does now.

Could the site be vandalized? Could Amazon.com go broke? Could the web services area be bought out or transferred, or even cancelled?  Yep! (Although as Aaron notes, that's not likely.) But, as far as I'm concerned, I didn't expect Borders Books to go away, either. This is why we have a running copy of EVERYTHING web and database related that is on the cloud server also on a server at HQ.  I've had similar concerns to you, Mike, and we've tried to address them because we recognize that the website is the second most important piece of infrastructure we have here at the AAVSO, second only to the scientific databases themselves. The AAVSO IS the website, pratically, for our members and our observers, both amateur and professional, so we take its safety seriously.

Thank you for your questions!
----
Doc Kinne
Astronomical Technologist
AAVSO

AAVSO 49 Bay State Rd. Cambridge, MA 02138 aavso@aavso.org 617-354-0484