I have just finished what I hope is the last bug tests for the new FreeBSD/Apache web server. This will replace the current web server, which has been very stable and very reliable, and I hope I am not changing that, as it is running the same base software as before. What is different is that my sanity will no longer be negatively effected by administration of this machine. The current web server requires me to log in and make changes to the configuration, by hand, every time someone needs a new site, or a change to a site. This is needlessly wasteful of my time, and slows down site implementation times. New sites take me well over ten minutes to manually enter and bring live. Site visitor tracking has to be manually configured as well, and I have a nasty habit of forgetting to set that up for new sites. There is also the issue that sites on the web server, do not always get entered into the billing system. Data that needs to be entered in two places and kept consistent is never a good idea.
So, the wonderful solution was to build a new machine that is completely tied into our billing system. You want a new site, I enter it into the billing system, which provisions the site for me. I only have to input a sitename, a username, and a password. You get a site that is ready to go, ftp access, and stats tracking, all automatically.
Now I have to start moving customer sites over to the new machine, a process that should about the next eternity. In addition to the new automated provisioning system, a few upgrades were an order while I was at it. Most notable being that PHP version 4 is no longer supported, so the new webserver has version 5 installed. This is almost guaranteed to break several websites, as the differences between versions 4 and 5 are immense. But, security patches for version 4 no longer exist, meaning any new bugs found in version 4, will never be fixed. Kind of a bad thing to leave PHP4 installations around at this time.
If you have a site on the current webserver, and want to migrate it to the new machine yourself. Please let me know. I can give you access to both machines at once, and you would be saving me a load of time.
In order to better serve you, the customers, and to keep our own sanity, we are starting to use a trouble ticketing system. This is helpful because, as we have grown, we have discovered we cannot keep all of this stuff in a pile of notes on our desk, nor does it all fit in our brains all that well. So, we have centralized all the case notes in a very easily accessed system. The hope is, we will forget less, and when we have a caller with an ongoing issue that may span several days, one of us does not have to play the, “I wonder what the last tech already tried” game, we can just look at the case notes! I know, nothing terribly exciting, but it is important, and we hope it makes our support service faster and more effective.
My latest project around here, in between all the other urgent projects, has been to deploy a new version of our webmail service. Frequent users will be relieved to know that we are not switching platforms, our webmail is still based on the horde system, so the usual features everyone enjoys will be present, but now, there will be some new ones.
The biggest difference between the old software, and this one, is that the old software is just for email. The new version is what is commonly called groupware. it has a lot of the features of MS Exchange or IBM Lotus Notes; the already known address book, but also notes, calendars, appointments, and the ability to share any of these with other users. Their is also a new spam reporting feature, which will tie in with an adaptive filter on the mail servers, and hopefully make our spam tagging much more accurate.
Of course, this is a work in progress, in between all the other more urgent issues I tend to deal with regularly, and as such, is guaranteed to be broken in more ways than one. Just a few:
- Report as spam does nothing at this time, pretty sure you’ll get a bounce notice if you try to use it.
- Address Books have not been migrated from the old database to the new one, I’m kind of dreading this step. I am also regularly blowing away the address book data in the new database, as I test, and retest, and retest, while I try to build a migration script for existing data. So, expect your address book to disappear from the new software quite regularly until I determine I am “done” with this part. No, this won’t hurt your current address book, once I have a migration solution ready, I will mirror the old data into the new software. *UPDATE* The solution for this issue was far easier than I could have dreamed, currently address books from 2008-03-21 are mirrored from the old webmail, and I will re-mirror them at least one more time.
- Filter Rules have all the same issues I just said about address books, hence, I am also fearing migrating existing filters. The process is about the same, so when I finish one, the other should follow close behind.
- Mail Folders are stored in a slightly different place in the new software, which causes it to break all the sent-items folder settings for just about everybody. I’m trying to shoehorn that back into the old spot, so this issue will just go away.
- You might notice that the main page is a customizable portal, with many potential add-ons, one of which is a program called ‘fortune.’ Fortune is a fun program that basically generates odd little quips not unlike a fortune cookie. Some of them are quite hilarious. There is an option to display potentially offensive fortunes, as well as the tamer variety. Please don’t add the offensive ones to your portal if you are offended by just about anything, most of them make a wardrobe malfunction look minor.
- No, I don’t know why there is an ‘@’ symbol next to the user name box on the main login screen. I really want it to go away, but I can’t figure out where in the code it is created. It doesn’t hurt anything, so this is the last issue I will probably take care of, unless I find it while looking for something else.
- And I guarantee, there is much, much more.
So, that being said, if you want to tinker around, with all those issues tucked away in the front of your mind, feel free. The new webmail site is located at, new-webmail.amplex.net. The one thing that shouldn’t be effected is your actual stored email. Letters are stored on the mail servers, the webmail software resides on the web server, which simply accesses your mailboxes. It is the one thing that just works, everything else….. not so much.