About this server

How a VPS can lead to further adventures :)

The server that shows you this page is hosted on a VPS at Hetzner. It is the cheapest option they offer, with 1 vCPU, 2GB RAM and 20GB of disk space, and 20TB in traffic, and you get an IPv4 address too. It’s been running very reliably for me, since December 2018.

Physically it is in Nuremberg, Germany. I started renting it for participation in the NTP Pool. That’s a task that’s not too demanding of any server. So, of course, there are more functions for a server that is setting idle most of the time, so I configured additional services. Here is a short description of the services. They serve as my own notes and of course they can also provide inspiration for any reader.

Functions of the Server

  1. NTP Server in the Pool
  2. Web Server
  3. VPN Server
  4. Summary

1. NTP-Pool

Timekeeping has been important to me for many years. In the very distant past it was to make certain that I would not miss identifications on top of the hour at on radio stations, nowadays I just like to have accurate timestamps on… well, everything :)

The NTP Pool is run entirely by volunteers, and it is a very interesting and rewarding way to really make a difference. The biggest and the smallest organisatios use my server to get accurate time.

Performance of this server can be seen here, or of course in a picture:

NTP Pool performance

The server is currently at a setting of 3 Mbps. That does not even generate 2 GB in traffic per month, so it’s negliable, but it does make a difference to performance to the pool. All servers are run by volunteers, and many many many volunteers make for a very light load. If you have the opportunity, please consider running a server for the pool, too.

And of course, whatever you do, never ever use the direct IP-address of a NTP-server in an application! Always use the pool as a hostname, because no server is forever.

Andy Smith of BitFolk had some experience with that, he points out on his blog. It also references some other fails.

2. Webserver

As the VPS was rented anyway, it seemed like a great opportunity to let my voice be known in the wide world by running a webserver. I never was a blogger, but of course I do have some interesting things to say (or at least, I think so myself).

Static HTML

Of course, there is a wide selection of Content Management Systems available. WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal are well-known names. However, I knew that running a site entails a lot of manual updating, or of course paying for a service that does this for you.

It was not quite what I had in mind. I wanted something that’s easy to run, keeps on running if you have something else to do for a couple of weeks, yet something that does look better than a Geocities site :)

There seemed to be something called Static Site Generator and out of these, Hugo appealed the most to me.

Hugo

As I decribed before, I decided to use Hugo as my site generator. It took a while before I fully understood the concept, but the work flow is as follows:

  • install Hugo on your website from the Snapstore in my case
  • select a theme that you like from the Hugo Theme site (this site runs on the Hugo Academic theme)
  • if you’re not that apt on writing HTML and using the markdown languages that Hugo uses, you can always take inspiration from kind souls like Leslie Myint that published not only their own sites in editable form, but also leave many useful comments
  • provide content (JOE works very nicely for me)
  • monitor progress by running hugo server and pointing a browser at localhost:1313 (with auto-update)
  • when you’re done or just want to upload something to your server , just use rsync the files to your host and
  • finally: relax and enjoy your website

Hugo has proven to be very stable, and in fact I use it to generate documents like CVs. I find that they look very professional with a good theme.

A bigger site like mine is generated in about 10 seconds, having many pages with images seem to add some time in generating the pages. This I am not too disappointed as my raw files are already nearly 4GB!

Caddy

So, haveing decided on hosting only some static content, it was just a matter of deciding how. The times where any old webserver would do and something very light could be installed was over. I needed something which could do SSL certficates, and because it looks nice, I wanted the subdomain ‘www’ pointed to the main domain on the web, and of course all plain traffic re-directed to port 80.

Of course, in principle the well-known servers like Apache, lighthttpd and NGINX can do this easily. SSL certificates are now provided by Let’s Encrypt for free.

However, site with SSL-certificates comes at the cost of relatively heavy manual configuration and not without some scripting too (to renew and replace the certicates). It would be a little like what I started out with - a lot of work for a website that may not change all that much.

Therefore, after trying a few servers, I came across Caddy. Caddy is a superfast webserver, and in fact the entire configuration for this site looks as follows:

wian.ws {
root /var/www/wianws
gzip
}

VoilĂ , that’s it! A gzip-enabled webserver, with auto-renewing certifcates from Let’s Encrypt, defaulting to HTTPS connections.

Note that Caddy is free for personal use, but the pre-compiled version for production use needs a licence. You can read more about it here.

3. VPN Server

Sometimes, when I am travelling, I prefer my traffic to be routed through a VPN server. This ensure that no traffic is seen by whomever the networks that I am working on belongs to.

At home I have a server that I set up with PiVPN. On my VPS, I used Angristan’s solution. The solution works without any issue and with 20 TB in traffic to use, I don’t think it will be fully used any time soon :)

Of course I could go through the experience of setting up and configuring OpenVPN, and I have done it, but this is just so much easier.

Summary

This is a long post, but I hope it serves to show that:

  • a server in the NTP Pool is fun!
  • renting a VPS can lead to many things

Happy experimenting!

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Wian Stienstra
ICT, Strategy, Marketing and More

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