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Hub 1.0 follow-up: two top issues users reported + what we're doing about it.

Last week we announced the release of TurnKey Hub v1.0. The response was great, signups went through the roof and many of you went the extra mile and provided detailed feedback on your first impressions from the new version.

Many thanks to all of you who cared enough to share their experience, whether good or bad. I know it gets thrown around a lot, but we really do care about getting feedback from users. And not just the ego-massaging vanity fair stuff either. "This didn't do what I expected and it gave me a hard time" is just as valuable if not more so. When you're so close to something it can be difficult to anticipate the perspective of a new user that may struggle with things we've been foolishly taking for granted.

In the future if you run into any issues, don't be shy. Speak up, we're listening. Even if you're sure someone else must have reported the same issue before you, there's still value in your report.  When users report the same related issues over and over, we take that as a sign of urgency, roll up our sleeves and do something about it.

For example here are a couple of the most common issues users have been talking to us about since the 1.0 Hub release last week.

Issue #1: Improved server status (implemented)

The problem

When a new server is launched, its in the pending state (represented by a yellow status icon) while Amazon allocates resources and boots the system. As soon as the server starts booting, Amazon changes the state of the server to running which we've been representing as a green status icon.

Trouble is, a green light sets the expectation that you're ready to go, but that isn't necessarily true as the machine may not have finished booting just yet.

TurnKey automatically installs security updates before exposing potentially vulnerable services to a hostile network, so depending on the number of updates, the boot process can take a few minutes to complete. Meanwhile you're scratching your head trying to figure out why you can't connect to the web application in your newly launched cloud server.

Bottom line, we received multiple reports related to this issue and on closer inspection realized we need to communicate better to the user that they still have to wait, preferably while providing some insight as to what is happening so the user doesn't lose patience and think the system is "stuck".

The solution

TurnKey cloud servers now update the Hub with their boot status, which the Hub server dashboard displays and periodically updates. Most importantly, the Hub only gives you a green light and changes the status to running when the server has fully finished booting.

Hub server status

The server dashboard uses AJAX to auto-update when the server status changes.

Issue #2: AWS free tier, and EBS backed instances (request for feedback)

Not long after Amazon announced support for micro instances, the AWS free tier plan was born, with much fanfare and excitement. Micro instances are especially small servers that don't pack a lot of punch for production use, but can none-the-less be useful in some low-end usage scenarios.

We were initially hoping to support micro instances immediately in the Hub, but micro instances presented a few unique technical challenges due to extra limitations imposed by Amazon. For example, they had to be EBS-backed, which means they're booted from a persistent virtual network drive known as an EBS volume in AWS lingo.

In case you're wondering, EBS backed instances are different from the regular temporary storage instances in that they provide the ability to stop and start instances at any time. You don't pay for CPU hours while an EBS backed instance is "off", just the persistent storage space.

Alas, as the Hub doesn't yet support setting up EBS based servers, TurnKey users couldn't launch micro instances or take advantage of the free tier, which we understand is a bit disappointing.

Since the 1.0 release we've received an increasing number of requests to add support for micro instances, the AWS free tier and EBS backed instances to the Hub.

We realize it's important to some users, but we're still trying to figure out if it's important enough to override other priorities. To get more information we've set up 2 community survey polls (micro/free-tier, ebs-backed) and are inviting users to register their vote.

Finally, if you have any other feedback on how we can improve the Hub, don't hesitate to let us know!


L. Arnold's picture

Your description of the micro instance "possibility" is interesting.  A while back now when I first went into the Hub beta I also found myself in the middle of the Amazon clud and did some things like testing Windows 2008 RC2 and a system I didn't have the hardware or software for otherwise.  That was neat.  The problem was in all the "gotchas"  --  even with everything shut off I ran into non-obvious

  • Ip Address Reservation (costs money, in use or not)
  • Stored Images (costs money, in use or not)
  • Running Images (costs money, being used or not -- ie if "on" its at cost)

Well, there is probably more than this and it took me, in my recollection, a month at a time (so 3 months) to dissect my $25.00, then $17 then $8 a month charges for service I kept trying to turn off.

All these things being said, it is a capable (if somewhat awkward) system they present.  From that perspective, and IF there were a way to "share" the storage costs for Micro Instances and have good accounting for some of the other gotchas, there would be a valued Service TKL Hub could provide.  This would be much more appropriate to the Application approach of TKL images (rather than a Microsoft Server for instance)..   This happens now with the support for the TKLBAM cloud  (reliable, usable, fairly priced)...

 However, if TKL Hub/ Amazon could provide storage and bandwidth and processing at comprable cost (electricity, ebay/clist sourced servers, network connectivity/rackspace) it would seem it would be as practical to go straight with the Hub.  A Hub "cost calculator" would be really helpful for people to look realistically at what the costs are (maybe even the CO2 footprint of various approaches)... The comparison should be vs ESXI or VirtualBox, and should also look at other services that are out there.  Perhaps the other services are an easier approach... that said, centralizing (or widely distributing) a TKL cloud may be the next step...

The problem w/ Amazon presentations I have seen so far though, is that they charge for a full instance even for a small TKL appliance that might only be serving your ToDo lists (like Tracks).  Now given that subject, it might be cool to have a "stackable" set of services to put on a TKL "Super Server" that shared RAM , Storage and Connectivity much the way an ESXI server does.  (From their perspective this is happening, but they are charging differently for it)....

The TKL approach is really fantastic.  Working out a "block" approach to more services is compelling and just may be the next internet avalanche.  That is both exciting, and I am sure too, a little bit scary when you look at it.  Those $24 a month charges could easily go to $2400 or $24000 if some detail were missed.

Good luck with the project! 

Liraz Siri's picture

The main point I can distill from your feedback is that it you would prefer the predictable pricing of a traditional hosting provider rather than the true pay as you go, pay-per-use model provided by Amazon Web Services. AWS lets you do things that hosting providers don't, such as launch a bunch of instances for an hour (e.g., evaluation) and then shut them down without incurring additional costs. For predictable, steady needs such as running a server 24x7, this is less attractive.

So bottom line I think what you're saying is that you'd like TurnKey/the TurnKey Hub to better integrate with the more conventional crop of non-cloud, VPS-type providers.

PS: sorry for the late reply. Local holiday season.

L. Arnold's picture

This could function like the "datastore" in VMWare and allow booting on demand to a micro-instance.

Still, I woiuld expect issues for "elastic ips" and "cost of storage" even when not running.

Would "micro instances" have a charge if they ran persistantly or do they need to be "turned off" when not in use.  Tracks could be used this way.  Many systems though do want a persistant URL at least.

Liraz Siri's picture

Micro instances are like any other Amazon instance, except that they're much cheaper and are being given away to new users as part of Amazon's free tier (the first year anyhow).

Since EBS storage is persistent, you'll be able to turn an EBS backed instance on or off as needed. When a server is off you won't pay for CPU hours, though you'll still have to pay for the EBS storage volume it's backed on.

Also, we're working on dynamic DNS integration, so soon you won't need elastic IPs for your instance.


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