2018-05-29 – 2018-05-31: Major data center upgrade

TL;DR We are consolidating our hardware and racks in the data center and will perform a longer period of maintenance over multiple days. We have prepared thoroughly for the migration to avoid any downtimes and will use this opportunity to further improve our network.

Over the last years our data center setup has grown from a few machines in a single rack to three racks that are completely filled up with servers and additional customer-specific racks in our vicinity.

One of our basic tenets has always been to grow organically to avoid unnecessary waste. Now we have reached the limit of renting individual racks and our next organic step is to move to a separate row (and room!) of multiple consecutive racks. This gives us and you enough room to grow in the future while maintaining tight control over our network structure. It also gives us the chance to nicely clean up some smaller annoyances have accumulated over the years.

As this maintenance requires us to move all of our machines, we are leveraging this opportunity by having reviewed and improved all our technology layers:

  • We are introducing a redundant spine/core into our switching setup and are upgrading to 40G on all backbone connections.
  • Simplify our network infrastructure by reducing it to single-vendor components.
  • Our routers get upgraded with 10 Gbit/s on internal and external interfaces.
  • Our DNS is now more reliable by running it on the routers and having it included in automatic failover.
  • We improved our VM migration code to better support large migration tasks like moving whole racks around.
  • Our overall resource usage has around 40% or more free capacity on all of CPU, RAM and storage.
  • We are keeping a set of SSDs and HDDs on hand just in the case that disks should experience failures after turning the servers off. of them should experience issues when turning them back on.
  • Virtualisation hosts that have not yet been upgraded to 10G storage interfaces will be upgraded at that time.

The maintenance itself will be performed during regular business and evening hours as all involved components are fully redundant and have been tested recently. We will perform all steps slowly and carefully, leaving enough capacity and time to verify individual steps to reduce the chance for critical mishaps.

Nevertheless, our back office personnel will be monitoring the situation closely and will be able to respond to any issues immediately.

If you have any questions or feedback – let us know through your usual contact channels or by email to support@flyingcircus.io.

Cover photo by Tristan Schmurr, © 2012 CC-BY-2.0

Support during Ascension and Pentecost 2018

In Germany we have a few further public holidays coming up next time resulting in shorter-than-usual work weeks. Here’s an overview of our support availability. The highlighted days are national holidays and only covered for SLA customers:

  • 2018-05-07 (Monday): regular support
  • 2018-05-08 (Tuesday): regular support
  • 2018-05-09 (Wednesday): regular support
  • 2018-05-10 (Thursday): Ascension: SLA-covered emergency support only
  • 2018-05-11 (Friday): regular support
  • 2018-05-12 (Saturday): SLA-covered emergency support only
  • 2018-05-13 (Sunday): SLA-covered emergency support only
  • 2018-05-14 (Monday): regular support
  • 2018-05-15 (Tuesday): regular support
  • 2018-05-16 (Wednesday): regular support
  • 2018-06-17 (Thursday): regular support
  • 2018-06-18 (Friday): regular support
  • 2018-06-19 (Saturday): SLA-covered emergency support only
  • 2018-06-20 (Sunday): SLA-covered emergency support only
  • 2018-05-21 (Monday) Pentecost: SLA-covered emergency support only
  • 2018-05-22 (Tuesday): regular support

To ensure that all your applications in the Flying Circus are running smoothly we will monitor all regular support during business hours: Monday to Friday , 8-16 CE(S)T and SLA-covered emergency support as usual.

Have a good time, a safely flight – and May the 4th be with you!

Retiring our Gentoo platform – Sundown until September 2018

Over the last years we have moved our managed service offerings from a Gentoo-based Linux system over to a distribution called NixOS.

Since almost two years this has been the platform of choice for new projects and even within existing projects we started to add NixOS VMs where possible. We have also migrated some projects or moved them partially to NixOS where newer components were required.

Today, it’s time to start saying goodbye to our old Gentoo platform. Of course, we won’t leave anyone behind who is still using Gentoo-based VMs. Here’s our schedule for the next months and it’s impact for customers using the Gentoo platform:

Phase Dates Impact for Gentoo VMs
Announced  Immediately
  • No further feature development
  • No major updates
Sundown period May 2018
to
August 2018
  • No new VMs
  • Security updates only
  • Migration to NixOS VMs depending on individual agreements
Grace period September­ 2018
  • No further security updates
  • Remaining VMs will stay online.
End of Life September 2019
  • Remaining Gentoo VMs will be shut down.

Note: Customers already using the NixOS platform will not be affected by this.

I’m still using Gentoo-based VMs. What do I do now?

If you’re a customer with a support contract in the “Guided” or “Managed” service classes  then we’ll approach you directly and discuss how to move your remaining Gentoo VMs to NixOS.

If you’re a customer in the “Hosted” service class then we recommend you contacting our support team to discuss setting up new VMs and migrating your services over. We’ll help you with any information and coordination that you might need, but you’ll be responsible to migrate your data and services to new machines.

And lastly, rest assured that we won’t shut off any remaining Gentoo VMs for at least another 18 months. However, as the old platform will not receive further updates and as there will be a hard limit in September 2019, we advise you to take the time and move to the new platform as early as possible.

How do I know which VMs are still using Gentoo?

You can look at the VMs of your projects on my.flyingcircus.io. Select a project (“More details”) and then choose “Manage” on the box titled “Virtual Machines”. You’ll see a listing like the one in this screenshot. The VMs have different labels. If a VM has a label “Puppet” then it is still running on Gentoo. If the VM has a label “NixOS” then it is already running on the NixOS platform.

Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 13.03.33

Why are we moving to NixOS?

A big part of our service is that we want to have as few “breaking” updates as possible – after all, we want to deliver small and continuous updates. When we started out with out Gentoo-based platform more than 10 years ago, we envisioned that we would profit from Gentoo’s rolling nature.

However, with the rising complexity, Gentoo has shown conceptual issues that has hindered us to efficiently manage the balance between stability and progress.

NixOS has been around for a while but wasn’t ready until around 2015 when we started to investigate alternatives to Gentoo. Since then we’ve been achieving great improvements to our service that would be impossible on our old platform. Due to that, we decided that it’s time to make the transition for everyone.

Aside from the larger motivation, there are also a number of direct benefits for you when moving to our NixOS based platform:

  • VMs now run a 64-bit kernel which provide better performance for many languages (Python, Java, …) and allow larger RAM allocations to be used effectively.
  • Service users can install custom (Nix) packages and versions without requiring pre-defined roles from our platform and still have them monitored within our security update tools.
  • Improved logging (Graylog), monitoring (Sensu), and telemetry (Telegraf/Prometheus/Grafana) services that have a higher flexibility and allow more direct interaction without needing our personal assistance. (Even though we’re always happy to help!)
  • Overall a newer set of versions for many components like nginx (HTTP 2!), MySQL, PostgreSQL, Python, PHP, …
  • A better release process that is much much more robust and more flexible to provide you with early releases of customizations.
  • Faster installation of changes, updates, rollback capability, and local versioning of all configuration.

If you’d like to know more about NixOS and its benefits, we recommend talking to us or visiting the NixOS homepage. Similar to the effect that Gentoo has been a comparatively “exotic” Linux distribution, we know that NixOS may look even more so. However, our documentation has been extended with a NixOS-specific area that will help you discover the relevant parts for you to interact with. On every other account: it’s a Linux environment that will run your applications well and we hope that you’ll enjoy that platform that we’ve built using it.

If you have questions …

As always: if you have any questions or comments then let us know and send us an email to support@flyingcircus.io and we will follow up quickly.

Greetings from a new employee

DSC_0084_cs

Hello, My name is Christian Schmidt, the new Application Operations Engineer at Flying Circus.

Since about two weeks I augment the crew and dive into a very interesting environment. While getting in touch I currently migrate our Jenkins from Gentoo to NixOS platform.

I am already feeling at home here and the staff here has been great with giving me all of the necessary information to perform the necessary tasks.

On a personal level I’m 31 years old and, since I moved to Halle (Saale) in 2011, I compaign at the local hacker and makerspace Eigenbaukombinat, organizing workshops and events to provide knowledge of especially privacy, coding, lockpicking, linux and many more.

I look forward to working with all of you and providing the quality service and support that Flying Circus is known for providing. See you on the web!