As most of our members are aware, one of our older file servers, f5, has been causing intermittent problems. The time has come to move the sites still using it to newer, faster, more reliable equipment. The ability to do that manually has been available in our UI for about a week now, and it has not surprisingly been pretty popular. But after that server caused additional downtime this past week, we’re moving to the next phase: moving sites automatically.
We’ve been testing the replacement file servers for some time now, with hundreds of test sites and various use cases, and they have done very well. Naturally, we’re still paranoid that something will go wrong, but in addition to the testing we have an aggressive backup and replication schedule. So it’s time to move ahead.
Beginning August 4th and continuing through the end of the month, we will start automatically migrating affected sites. If you have any, they are marked with an asterisk on the Sites tab in our UI, with more details on the Site Info Panel for each affected site. The Site Info Panel will also let you adjust the scheduled upgraded, allowing you to migrate a site at any time or (to an extent) postpone an upgrade that is scheduled at a bad time for you.
Most sites don’t need to make any changes as a result of this migration. Based on our testing and the sites that have voluntarily migrated thus far, less than 1% of sites need anything modified to continue working after the upgrade. These changes are related to hardcoding absolute paths that won’t be valid after the migration. I.e. anything starting with /f5/sitename/. These fall into two broad categories.
First, .htaccess files. If you’re using HTTP basic authentication or something similar in your .htaccess file that uses absolute pathnames, those will have to be changed after the migration. You’ll be able to get the new path to use from your site info panel after the migration.
Second, if you’re still using PHP 5.3 Fast and you have hardcoded paths in your PHP code, those will also need to be updated. Using hardcoded paths in this situation was never recommended; it’s always preferable to use a preset variable like $_SERVER[‘DOCUMENT_ROOT’] or $_SERVER[‘NFSN_SITE_ROOT’] if at all possible. PHP 5.3 has also been obsolete for a long time. So if you find yourself in that situation, this is a great time to upgrade that from our UI as well. You’ll still have to change the paths, but this will be the last time. All the currently-supported versions of PHP (5.4 and later) use /home-based paths, just like CGI and ssh, and those never change.
To help you find out if your site needs to be modified, we’ve developed a scan which is run during the migration. When the migration is finished, it will email you to let you know it’s done and whether or not it found any potential problems. It may not catch every possible issue, but it does a very very good job.
Once f5 is no longer in use, it’ll be tempting to give it the full Office Space treatment due to the problems it has caused, but the truth is that it served us incredibly well for a long time, so giving it a salute as it is ejected into space in a decaying orbit into the sun would better fit the totality of its service. (Although that’s admittedly not in the budget, so recycling is a more likely outcome unless the console prints “Will I dream?” as we shut it down for the last time, in which case we probably won’t have the heart.)
Although only a tiny fraction of our members will have even minor problems with this upgrade, each and every one of our members and each and every one of their sites is important to us. If you do run into any snags related to migrated sites (or, really, anything else), please feel free to post on our forum and we’ll do what we can to help you out. (But please don’t post about them here; blog comments are a terrible venue for providing support, second only to Twitter in sheer awfulness and unnecessary difficulty.)
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