A web developer's perspective on using a TurnKey virtual appliance

This is a guest post by Jason Nash, writer, web developer extraordinaire at WebHostGear and casual TurnKey Linux user.

Aside from death and taxes, there are not a whole lot of universal certainties one can rely on. When it comes to the Internet, however, one thing is for certain: it just gets bigger and bigger every day. As the Internet gets bigger, websites become more and more sophisticated, with complexities that can cause the average web developer premature aging, insanity and other disorders if website development isn't taken care of properly. Yes, it is that serious. While the 20th century term for occupational madness may have been "going postal," the new 21th century term should definitely be "going web developer."

If there is one way to both reduce complexity and make developing web pages simpler and easier, it's to go with Turnkey virtual appliances. Turnkey virtual appliances are powerful, flexible tools for building websites that can be used on a wide range of hosting hardware.

"But what are virtual appliances?" you may ask. Well, virtual appliances are not mythical washing machines or imaginary toasters. Think of them as "computers within computers." A virtual machine (VM) is something like a self-contained, software-based computer that runs as a simulator on a "real" hardware-based computer. The beauty about virtual machines is that you can design one just once and then make multiple copies of it for future use. What makes a Turnkey virtual appliance so special is that the guys at Turnkey have done all the design work for you. You simply choose a VM that's right for your job and off you go! You need to try out a new development toolset without polluting your standard desktop? No problem. You need to make a new sandbox environment to test out your new website? Easy! Maybe you'd like to set up a bug-tracker for your QA staff and beta testers to notify you of any bugs they find? Piece of cake! Turnkey has a VM that's perfect for all of these needs and more.

How do I know? Because I've been there, done that. As a web developer, I'm faced with dozens of challenges every day. As with most businesses, it's bad enough handling customer requirements, compliance and so forth much less having the tools of your trade slow you down. Using Turnkey virtual machines eliminates that. If I need a development environment, I choose a virtual machine that fits the job. I can deploy it multiple times for my own use or to give to other developers that work with me. This way we can all be guaranteed we are using the same setup. No more fussing over whether or not we all installed the right software. Install once and deploy many times all within a matter of minutes.

Because a Turnkey virtual appliance includes both an operating system and the applications that run on it, all the dependencies are contained within the appliance itself. You can design the appliance to run however you like without worrying about the underlying hardware it will run on. The Turnkey virtual appliances also work in isolation from one another. This means if an application working on one appliance fails, the applications on other isolated appliances are not affected. With virtual machine technology, you can spread out critical applications amongst several virtual appliances all running on the same physical hardware in order to create a more robust solution. I, for example, have several LAMP-based virtual machines running separate web server applications. If one rogue application happens to crash its web server, the other web servers run unaffected.

Robustness aside, the Turnkey virtual machine solution allows me to run several versions of Tomcat and several versions of IIS. I can have ASP-based sites on the IIS VMs and PSP-based ones on the Tomcat IMs without any of them compromising the performance or security of the others. With Turnkey solutions, choosing PHP hosting versus windows web hosting is no longer an issue; you can have them both!

Turnkey offers more than 45 ready-to-use VM solutions in their library for website builders and other developers to take advantage of. Although most of them, being Ubuntu-based, are quite useful straight out of the box, all of them can be easily configured to meet your custom needs.

Several examples I successfully tried implementing are as follows:

  • MediaWiki Appliance - Having always been fascinated with Wikipedia, I wanted to create my own wiki to host some data that was important for my customers. Using Turnkey's MediaWiki Appliance, I was able to rapidly setup and deploy a wiki engine similar to Wikipedia's free encyclopedia for my own use. The power of such a knowledge management system can help put your data out on the web just as easily.
  • File Server Appliance - Although there are a lot of file depository sites out there, I am always nervous about sharing sensitive customer data through a site over which I have no control. With Turnkey's File Server Appliance, you can create your own web file manager or Windows file-sharing network. This appliance supports SFTP, SMB, and rsync file transfers. Its web-based file manager supports most popular compression methods like GZ, RAR and ZIP. Why not try branding it yourself and marketing these appliances to your clients? They are sure to be impressed when you present them with a customized, private server just for their own projects! They don't even have to know it's a virtual server!
  • WordPress Appliance - WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms in use throughout the entire Internet. Turnkey's WordPress Appliance allows you to rapidly take advantage of this incredible blogging software with little effort. This solution allows you to leverage a professional-grade blog publishing platform that is simple, effective, and easily customizable. With hundreds of plug-ins available, WordPress is one of the most flexible blogging platforms available. With its support for Google Analytics, tracking and statistics are a breeze. When you use Turnkey's WordPress solution, you make an already easy task that much easier.

This is just a few examples of the ready-made virtual appliances Turnkey has to offer. Regardless of which you choose, rest assured that Turnkey virtual appliances will save you time and money.

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Landis Arnold's picture

The author writes towards the bottom but I am unclear which TKL solutions will host ASP based IIS Pages.

" Robustness aside, the Turnkey virtual machine solution allows me to run several versions of Tomcat and several versions of IIS. I can have ASP-based sites on the IIS VMs and PSP-based ones on the Tomcat IMs without any of them compromising the performance or security of the others. With Turnkey solutions, choosing PHP hosting versus windows web hosting is no longer an issue; you can have them both!"

I understand Apache Hosting, and to a lesser extent Tomcat.  I have run IIS (Microsoft servers)...  How can one host ASP based code on TKL Servers?  Which server appliances?

Enough posting for now.

Liraz Siri's picture

Maybe he's using the ASP TKLPatch?

Jeremy Davis's picture

Ie running TKL VMs and MS VMs on the same hardware hypervisor, without need to decide either/or - you can have both if you wish!

Although perhaps Liraz is right? IIRC Basil made a TKL ASP patch (which uses mono) some time ago.

Liraz Siri's picture

Adrian also made an ASP TKLPatch which was a bit more complete than Basil's.

Landis Arnold's picture

I have been cursing a few Windows Servers (and seeing them crash and be hacked etc)..  I just made the mistake of installing VCenter Server on one.  Big Mistake.

I have looked for some ASP capable alternatives, just not hard enough...  just want to run a few old sites is all. 

Jeremy Davis's picture

It's here. But I couldn't find Adrian's :(


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