Improving the world bit by expensive bit

October 6th, 2021 by

We’re delighted to announce our sponsorship of Organic Maps. Organic Maps is a simple, user-friendly application that downloads complete Open Street Map data to your phone, allowing you to use their mapping application offline complete with route planning from the on-device database.

This is a wonderful application. It doesn’t track you, advertise at you or flood you with non-notifications, and it works without mobile data and conserves battery life. So if you’ve ever been lost without signal or somewhere where roaming data is prohibitively expensive, or to a very busy location where the mobile networks were overloaded this application is genuinely better than the alternatives.

While the app avoids the need for mobile data, this comes at the cost of a significant up-front download of all the mapping data that you may or may not use offline. This won’t trouble typical home broadband, but for the servers at the other end it adds up quickly. We’ve stepped in and offered two 4GB virtual servers with 400TB/month of free bandwidth to Organic Maps, split between our London and Amsterdam zones, reducing the reliance on a traditional and bankruptcy-inducing large cloud provider.

Quote from unspecified cloud provider of $24,452 per month

“Use the cloud, it’s cheap,” people often say, incorrectly.

Quote from unspecified cloud provider of $20,591 per month

A competing quote from a slightly cheaper large cloud provider

 

At our list prices this would be somewhat cheaper:

Qty Item Item price Price
2 VPS4 virtual servers (4TB/mo bandwidth) £32.14 £64.28
396 Additional bandwidth (per TB) £5 £1,980.00
Total £2,044.28

Being 90% better value is achieved in part by not having to fund our own space programme.

Bullseye, new Debian release

August 20th, 2021 by

A small galaxy hit the bullseye of NGC922 about 330m years ago. More information: www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1218a/
Credit:
NASA, ESA

Congratulations to the Debian team for their new release of Debian Bullseye (11). Just over two years of hard work have resulted in over 40,000 package updates and 10,000 additions.

We’ve made images for our VPS cloud that are available in all regions and included the install ISO for customers who prefer to build their own OS images. Sympl, a management package for web and email hosting that we maintain has been updated to support Bullseye with packages available for download.

Our mirror server is up to date with the Debian Bullseye packages. We’ll now be looking at deploying new systems on Debian Bullseye and starting our upgrade program for Debian Stretch and Buster systems.

The UK Debian folks will be having a small party in Cambridge in a few days time and we’re sponsoring the beer to say thank you. It’s a weekend full of beer and barbeques.

8GB and overclocked Raspberry Pi servers

June 15th, 2021 by
Pi 4 with PoE HAT

Our Pi 4 servers all wear the Power over Ethernet HAT to provide power and cooling to the CPU.

Since the launch of the 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 we’ve had many requests to add these to our Raspberry Pi cloud. Meanwhile many Raspberry Pi users have read about overclocking the Raspberry Pi and running at a higher clock speed.

Overclocking further increases the computing power of the Pi, but brings significant operational issues for our Pi cloud. Not all Raspberry Pi hardware will run reliably at the higher clockspeed and the higher voltage required to support it. Increasing the clockspeed and voltage significantly increases the power consumption and thus the cooling requirements necessary to prevent overheating. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time testing and we’re now ready to launch our first 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 cluster. We’re offering them at two clock speeds: the stock 1.5GHz and overclocked to 2GHz.

The overclocked Raspberry Pis have all been run at a significant CPU load for several weeks to test their stability before release. Any that failed the stability test have been added to the cloud at the normal 1.5GHz clockspeed.

The 8GB Pi is available at 1.5GHz and 2GHz clock speeds. Supported operating systems are Raspberry Pi OS 64 and Ubuntu 64.

Larger fans provide more cooling to our 8GB Pi4 cloud so we can run at higher clockspeeds.

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 its 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.

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.

Raspberry Pi 4 now available in our Pi Cloud

June 17th, 2020 by
PI 4 with PoE HAT

Our PI 4 servers all wear the Power over Ethernet HAT to provide power and cooling to the CPU.

We’re now offering these in our Raspberry Pi Cloud starting from £7.50/month or 1.2p/hour.

Since the release of the Raspberry Pi 4 last year, it’s been an obvious addition to our Raspberry Pi cloud, but it’s taken us a little while to make it happen. Our Raspberry Pi Cloud relies on network boot in order to ensure that customers can’t brick or compromise servers and, at launch, the Pi 4 wasn’t able to network boot. We now have a stable replacement firmware with full PXE boot support.

The Pi 4 represents a significant upgrade over the Pi 3; it is over twice as fast, has four times the RAM and the network card runs at full gigabit speed. On a network-booted server this gives you much faster file access in addition to more bandwidth out to the internet. We’ve done considerable back-end work to support the Pi 4. We’ve implemented:

  • New operating system images that work on the Pi 4 for 32 bit Raspberry Pi OS and Ubuntu.
  • A significant file server upgrade for faster IO performance.
  • Supporting the different PXE boot mode of the Pi 4 without impacting our Pi 3 support.

Ben Nuttall has been running some secret beta testing with his project Pi Wheels which builds Python packages for the Raspberry Pi. We’re grateful for his help.

Is it any good?

tl;dr – YES

We’ve historically used WordPress as a benchmarking tool, mostly because it’s representative of web applications in general and as a hosting company we manage a lot of those. So we put the Raspberry Pi 4 up against a Well Known Cloud Provider that offers ARM instances. We benchmarked against both first generation (a1) and second generation (m6g) instances.

Our test was rendering 10,000 pages from a default WordPress install at a concurrency level of 50.

Raspberry Pi 4 a1.large m6g.medium
Spec 4 cores @ 1.5Ghz
4GB RAM
2 cores
4GB RAM
1 core
4GB RAM
Monthly price £8.63 $45.35
(~ £36.09)
$34.69
(~ £27.61)
Requests per second 107 52 57
Mean request time 457ms 978ms 868ms
99th percentile request time 791ms 1247ms 1056ms

In both cases the Pi 4 is approximately twice as fast at a quarter of the price.

Notes:

  • Raspberry Pi 4 monthly price based on on-demand per-second pricing.
  • USD to GBP conversion from Google on 17th June 2020