Restoring Nominet’s Purpose: update

February 22nd, 2021 by

Earlier this month we reported that we’d signed up to the Public Benefit campaign to reform Nominet, the company responsible for overseeing UK domain registrations.

The campaign was seeking 5% of Nominet’s membership in order to call an EGM to replace Nominet’s non-elected directors. The campaign quickly achieved this, the EGM request was delivered, and Nominet have now set the date for the EGM as 22nd March 2021. Members representing more than 17% of Nominet voting rights have now signed up to support the campaign. Typical AGM voting turnout is well under 10% suggesting that the vote is pretty much certain to succeed, at least according to The Register’s analysis.

If there was ever any doubt about the need for reform, Nominet’s response to the EGM letter has completely removed this.

Nominet’s CEO rushed out a statement hoping that:

all constituencies will be able to engage in a constructive way

At the same time, Nominet responded to Public Benefit’s email requesting member information by providing 575 printed pages:


This would seem to be more obstructive than constructive.

The EGM request made two motions: (1) sack the current directors; and (2) appoint two interim directors to take over. Nominet are claiming that the second motion is illegal (contrary to legal advice received by Public Benefit) and are refusing to put it on the EGM agenda. They now have the gall to claim that the EGM request destabilises Nominet because it does not provide a credible plan to replace the current leadership.

Is this just about reducing UK domain fees?

It’s been suggested that this campaign is about Nominet members, who are mostly companies like us that resell domain registrations, trying to reduce the price that they pay for domains. This seems to ignore the fact that the domain market is very competitive, and UK domains are particularly easy to transfer between registrars. Provided that the price is the same for all members, what that price is doesn’t make much difference to us.

Nonetheless, we’re very happy to make a public commitment that if the EGM process results in a reduction in the price that we pay for domains, we will pass on that saving in the price that we charge.

Testimonials

February 5th, 2021 by

We’ve had a variety of customer being very complimentary recently. Andy Steven runs a series of web cams in the Shetland Islands that stream live views of the northern lights. The cameras relay the stream via one of our virtual servers in our MER data centre and the current bandwidth record is several Gbps.

I am proud to say that our new ‘AuroraCam’ network just delivers and for the first time I no longer break out in a sweat watching the demand increase from that AuroraWatchUK alert or a celebrity weather personality sending out a Tweet.

— Andy Steven, Shetland Webcams (full article)

Beautiful shot of the northern lights captured by Shetland Webcams. Could be improved by adding a kitten though.

We provide 10Gbps fibre connectivity to the Cambridge office of DarkTrace. Darktrace uses machine learning to identify and neutralise security threats in real time.

You’ve been much more transparent & approachable than any provider I’ve dealt with previously. Very happy with the service so far.

— Harry Godwin, Head of Business Infrastructure. Darktrace

The Web hosting review and advice site Hosting Advice interviewed us and wrote a great article about the management and infrastructure services we provide.

Recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managed hosting, Mythic Beasts can take on varying responsibility levels as needed. This range of services includes everything from ensuring that servers are up and running to providing the extensive monitoring, security, and assistance necessary to keep custom web applications functioning reliably.

— Hosting Advice (full article)

Lastly our strong stance about returning Nominet to it’s public benefit roots garnered entirely positive responses at Twitter.



Nominet: managing .uk for public benefit

February 1st, 2021 by

We have signed up to Public Benefit, an effort to restore Nominet to its roots as a public benefit, not for profit organisation.

Nominet runs a world class registry for domains ending in .uk. Their technical execution is faultless and we’re extremely happy with all the services they provide for .uk domains.

A ccTLD domain registry is a natural monopoly, and a profitable one at that. For many years, Nominet have donated their surplus to the Social Tech Trust (formerly the Nominet Trust, which was renamed after they cut funding), a charity that uses technology for the public good.

Charitable donations have dwindled whilst prices have increased over the last five years, due to spending on loss making research projects such as self driving cars and Radio Spectrum management, not to mention last year’s £249,000 pay rise for the CEO (to £772,000).

We are strongly in favour of the proposal of Axel Pawlik, former MD of RIPE, as a director. Under Axel’s leadership, RIPE achieved many significant improvements to internet infrastructure including, but not limited, to:

  • Managing IPv4 address exhaustion, balancing the needs of existing ISPs while preserving access for new entrants;
  • Encouraging and facilitating IPv6 uptake;
  • Encouraging uptake of RPKI to secure routing announcements (RIPE now has the highest participation rate of any RIR); and
  • Creating RIPE Atlas, a communal tool to track routing that makes running an ISP much easier.

Sir Michael Lyons also appears to be a sound proposal, although beyond his earlier report on Nominet governance, we have no day-to-day experience of his work.

Nominet is structured such that the elected non-executive directors are out-numbered and are unable to achieve meaningful change, which is why after years of dissatisfaction this has come to an Extraordinary General Meeting to remove the existing directors. Voting is weighted in a complicated fashion, but the more domains the member controls the more important their vote is. As a result domain owners can effectively vote by switching registrars, and if you would like to support this proposal we would recommend moving any .uk domains to a registrar that has signed up to call the EGM. Nominet are very good at actually running the registry, and .uk domain transfers are very easy, and free.

Zero-day Security Updates for Managed WordPress

November 26th, 2020 by
Cat, napping

Don’t get caught napping when it comes to WordPress updates!

Installing updates is an important part of keeping your computer secure. This is also true when running a website based around popular publishing tools such as WordPress, which have vast communities of plugin and theme developers of varying experience. Plugins often contain security vulnerabilities that can lead to a compromised site and it can be difficult to tell if a new version is a security update or just adding features.

For our managed WordPress customers we have been using the excellent WPScan API for some time to check installed plugins and themes against their list of security vulnerabilities. Dealing with this report was a time-consuming manual process once or twice a week which we wanted to improve.

Helpfully WPScan have recently introduced a feature which allows us to receive these updates in real-time. Now, when a new security update for a plugin or theme is announced we automatically check within a few minutes if a vulnerable version is present on any of our managed WordPress installs, and then generate a support case to ask the customer when they’d like us to install the update. Some customers prefer to perform the updates themselves, which is also fine – the important thing is that the vulnerability gets fixed.

Where a security issue is dangerous and likely to be exploited then we apply our standard zero-day vulnerability process of deploying an update immediately and notifying customers afterwards. A good example of this would have been the recent Loginizer SQL Injection vulnerability, had the WordPress team not already decided this was too dangerous and invoked their rarely-used forced update process.

Now we can respond much more quickly to WordPress vulnerabilities, helping us keep our customers’ websites secure.

Our managed WordPress service includes a number of features that help keep your site secure and protect your data:

  • Daily backups, mirrored to multiple sites
  • 24/7 monitoring
  • Custom security hardening
  • Notification and installation of security updates
  • You can ask us for help if something goes wrong!

If this sounds interesting then you can order managed WordPress, see details of our other managed applications or contact us if you have questions.

MagPi magazine: how to host a website on a Raspberry Pi

October 9th, 2020 by

The MagPi MagazineThe MagPi Magazine has published a new article on how to set up a web server using a Raspberry Pi hosted in our Pi Cloud.

The article walks through all the steps necessary from ordering a server on our website to getting WordPress installed and running.

It’s also a great demonstration of how easy it is to host a website on an IPv6-only server such as those in our Pi Cloud. In fact, it’s so easy that the article doesn’t even mention that the Pi doesn’t have a public IPv4 address. An SSH port-forward on our gateway server provides IPv4 access for remote administration, and our v4 to v6 proxy relays incoming HTTP requests from those still using a legacy internet connection.

You can read the article on the MagPi site or order a server to try it out yourself.

We have Pi 3 and Pi 4 servers available now, and the option of per-second billing means you can try this without any ongoing commitment.

More DNS API fun: find an IP across all zones

September 21st, 2020 by

A customer was doing an IP address change on a server and wanted a quick way to find all references to the old IP address across all of their domains.

This seemed like a good job for our DNS API and a few UNIX utilities.

Finding matching records

Our DNS API makes it easy to find records with particular content:

curl -sn https://api.mythic-beasts.com/dns/v2/zones/example1.com/records?data=1.2.3.4

The -n assumes we’ve got a .netrc file with our API credentials. See our DNS API tutorial for more details.

This gives us a block of JSON with any matching records:

{
  "records": [
    {
      "data": "1.2.3.4",
      "host": "www",
      "ttl": 300,
      "type": "A"
    }
  ]
}

jq lets us turn the presence or absence of any matching records into an exit code that we can test with an if statement by piping into the following:

jq -e '.records | length > 0' 

This counts the number of members of the records array, and -e sets the exit code based on the output of the last expression.

Getting a list of zones

We want to check this across all zones, so let’s get a list of zones:

curl -sn https://api.mythic-beasts.com/dns/v2/zones

This gives us some JSON:

{
  "zones": [
    "example1.com",
    "example2.com"
  ]
}

What we really want is a flat list, so we can iterate over it in bash. jq to the rescue again. Simply pipe into:

jq -r '.zones[]'

and we get:

example1.com
example2.com

Putting it all together

Putting this all together with a for loop and an if:

IP=1.2.3.4
for zone in $(curl -sn https://api.mythic-beasts.com/dns/v2/zones | jq -r '.zones[]') ; do
  if curl -sn "https://api.mythic-beasts.com/dns/v2/zones/$zone/records?data=$IP" |\
      jq -e '.records | length > 0' >/dev/null ; then 
    echo "$IP found in $zone"
  fi
done

Gives:

1.2.3.4 found in example1.com

More than one way to do it

Another approach would be to use the zone file output format and check if the output is empty or not:

curl -sn -H 'Accept: text/dns' \
  "https://api.mythic-beasts.com/dns/v2/zones/$zone/records?data=$IP"

This give us matching records, one per line:

www         300 A 1.2.3.4

We can then test if we’ve got any matches using ifne (if-not-empty, part of the moreutils package in most distributions):

curl -sn -H 'Accept: text/dns' \
  "https://api.mythic-beasts.com/dns/v2/zones/$zone/records?data=$IP" \
  | ifne echo $IP found in $zone

Access to our DNS API is included with all domains registered with us. API credentials can be limited to individual zones or even records, can be either read/write or read-only.

ANAME records

Of course, it’s generally desirable to avoid including an IP address in lots of different DNS records in the first place. It’s preferable to assign the IP to a single hostname, and then point other records at that. Our DNS service supports ANAME records which allow the use of hostnames rather than IP addresses in places where CNAMEs cannot be used.

IPv4/IPv6 transit in HE Fremont 2

September 18th, 2020 by

Back in 2018, we acquired BHost, a virtual hosting provider with a presence in the UK, the Netherlands and the US. Since the acquisition, we’ve been working steadily to upgrade the US site from a single transit provider with incomplete IPv6 networking and a mixture of container-based and full virtualisation to what we have now:

  • Dual redundant routers
  • Two upstream network providers (HE.net, CenturyLink)
  • A presence on two internet Exchanges (FCIX/SFMIX)
  • Full IPv6 routing
  • All customers on our own KVM-based virtualisation platform

With these improvements to our network, we’re now able to offer IPv4 and IPv6 transit connectivity to other customers in Hurricane Electric’s Fremont 2 data centre. We believe that standard services should have a standard price list, so here’s ours:

Transit Price List

Prices start at £60/month on a one month rolling contract, with discounts for longer commits. You can order online by hitting the big green button, we’ll send you a cross-connect location within one working day, and we’ll have your session up within one working day of the cross connect being completed. If we don’t hit this timescale, your first month is free.

We believe that ordering something as simple as IP transit should be this straightforward, but it seems that it’s not the norm. Here’s what it took for us to get our second 10G transit link in place:

  • 24th April – Contact sales representative recommended by another ISP.
  • 1st May – Contact different sales representative recommended by UKNOF as one of their sponsors.
  • 7th May – 1 hour video conference to discuss our requirements (a 10Gbps link).
  • 4th June – Chase for a formal quote.
  • 10th June – Provide additional details required for a formal quote.
  • 10th June – Receive quote.
  • 1st July – Clarify further details on quote, including commit.
  • 2nd July – Approve quote, place order by email.
  • 6th July – Answer clarifications, push for contract.
  • 7th July – Quote cancelled. Provider realises that Fremont is in the US and they have sent EU pricing. Receive and accept higher revised quote.
  • 10th July – Receive contract.
  • 14th July – Return signed contract. Ask for cross connect location.
  • 15th July – Reconfirm the delivery details from the signed contract.
  • 16th July – Send network plan details for setting up the network.
  • 27th July – Send IP space justification form. They remind us to provision a cross connect, we ask for details again.
  • 6th August – Chase for cross connect location.
  • 7th August – Delivery manager allocated who will process our order.
  • 11th August – Ask for a cross connect location.
  • 20th August – Ask for a cross connect location.
  • 21st August – Circuit is declared complete within the 35 day working setup period. Billing for the circuit starts.
  • 26th August – Receive a Letter Of Authorisation allowing us to arrange the cross connect. We immediately place order for cross connect.
  • 26th August – Data centre is unable to fulfil cross connect order because the cross connect location is already in use.
  • 28th August – Provide contact at data centre for our new provider to work out why this port is already in use.
  • 1st September – Receive holding mail confirming they’re working on sorting our cross connect issue.
  • 2nd September – Receive invoice for August + September. Refuse to pay it.
  • 3rd September – Cross connect location resolved, circuit plugged in, service starts functioning.

Shortly after this we put our order form live and improved our implementation, we received our first order on the 9th September and provisioned a few days later. Our third transit customer is up and live, order form to fully working was just under twelve hours; comfortably within our promise of two working days.

Raspberry Pi Cloud updates, 64 Bit OS support

August 17th, 2020 by

Two new fans of our Raspberry Pi cloud.

It’s been less than two months since we launched the Raspberry Pi 4 into our public cloud. Take-up exceeded our predictions to the extent that we briefly ran out of stock and had to accelerate our expansion.

We now have Pi 4 servers back in stock, and we’ve also added OS images for 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS and Ubuntu.

64-bit operating systems offer significant benefits for some server applications. For example, MongoDB limits your database size to 2GB if you’re on a 32-bit host. It’s also the case that larger ARM servers only support 64-bit operating modes, so this addition brings us compatibility with the general ARM server ecosystem.

We’ve also boosted the cooling in our Raspberry Pi cloud by adding higher throughput fan trays. The new trays move 336m³/h, and the shelf is 0.05m³, so the air should change at least once per second. We are seeing maximum on chip temperatures (measured by vcgencmd measure_temp) of 59°C, which is considerably below the 80°C threshold where CPU throttling starts.

Save £700/month with a Mythic Beasts VPS and OpenStreetMap

June 30th, 2020 by

Cambridge Freegle pictured on a map backed by OpenStreetMap tiles from the Mythic Beasts hosted tile server.

We’re supporters of Freegle, a charity that recycles unwanted things by passing them on to new owners. As the COVID-19 lockdown is eased, many people have de-cluttered and have things available to be passed on to new owners. Similarly, a number of people have been struggling financially and will benefit from donations. Traffic on Freegle has rocketed.

Freegle used to use Google Maps for displaying items. In 2018, Google changes the terms for their maps service moving to pay-as-you-go, per-tile-served pricing model. Many sites are able to operate within the a $200/month fee credit, which buys 200,000 monthly tile requests. Freegle is now seeing enough usage to incur bills of over £750/month for map tiles — a significant expense for a small charity.

As is often the case with usage-based cloud services, a free, or very low, initial price can quickly escalate into a large and uncontrollable cost.

Fortunately, as is often the case, a comparable alternative based on open source software exists and can provide a much lower total overall cost.

Freegle contacted us looking for help in moving to their own tile server based on OpenStreetMap, providing lower – and just as importantly – fixed monthly costs.

Running an OpenStreetMap tile server

Freegle are using a Mythic Beasts virtual server to host OpenStreetMap docker image, fronted by NGINX to provide HTTPS and HTTP/2 support. The initial approach of rendering tiles on demand proved to be far too slow, so tiles are now pre-rendered and cached on SSD. Full details can be found in their article, Junking Google Maps for OpenStreetMap.

The initial pre-rendering is being done with a 256GB/16 core server. This is expected to complete within a few days, and once done, the server will be scaled down to 16GB/4 cores for normal production usage.

Costs for this custom solution? One working day of staff time, a few days of a fast virtual server (~£60), and the monthly cost of the product virtual server (~£50) which nets current monthly savings of £700 and gives long term guaranteed price stability.

The convenience of cloud without the price tag

Being based on open source software, there’s no risk of a future change in terms making the service unaffordable, and Freegle aren’t locked in to a single provider’s proprietary API. If we were to hike our prices, Freegle could easily move their service to another provider (although based on recent experience, we’re more likely to do the opposite).

Freegle implemented this service themselves on our VPS platform, but we can also offer this as a managed application, giving the convenience of a cloud-style service, but without the cloud-style lock-in and pricing.

New improved VPS pricing

June 25th, 2020 by

Time passed and everything grew.

We have just rolled out a substantial update to our price list for virtual private servers.

The new price list is significantly better value, and also introduces the ability to specify storage independently of RAM and CPU. Servers can be configured with either SSD or HDD-backed storage, with sizes ranging from 5GB to 4TB.

This is immediately available in all six VPS zones: London UK (HEX, MER and SOV), Cambridge (UK), Amsterdam (NL) and Fremont (US).

Better prices

Our base prices for virtual servers have decreased, making them even better value with prices now starting from £47/year. CPU, RAM and disk space have all fallen in price. The only price we haven’t reduced is our IPv4 address pricing, but we have held that constant, despite the continuing depletion of the world’s limited supply of these legacy addresses.

More options

We have expanded our range of products. To meet customer demand for larger servers, we’ve now added 192GB and 256GB options with up to 16 cores. We’ve also introduced additional intermediate products.

More capacity

In addition to adding our US zone recently, we have added more capacity in all four of our UK zones to support upgrades and additional customers.

New OS images

We have also improved our standard OS images to support our new enhanced DNS infrastructure. We’re now automatically recreating and retesting them, rather than security updating on first install. This reduces the amount of time taken for your VPS to be provisioned in all of our sites.

Existing customers

We have always avoided unsustainable introductory pricing, and “new customer only” offers. We prefer to reward loyalty, which is why existing customers have already received an email with details of a specification upgrade that puts them on an even better deal than our new list pricing.