The long awaited product launch – also there’ll be more to come!

So we’ve been talking about stuff on the company blog, with friends, with customers etc for months. Today we’re doing a soft, low key, launch. It’s a new range of VPS plans based on Parallels Virtuozzo. It’s tacked onto our brand new billing and provisioning systems. It’s all part of the project we’ve been working on behind the scenes to automate more and more and also provide the next generation in hosting to our existing customer base and to the rest of Europe.

So here it is http://www.blacknightvps.com our new virtualisation product launch. It’s a cost effective, scalable, high performance platform that allows us to deliver services on Linux and Windows x64 Virtual Environments.

Some of the cool features include:

  • Live migration
  • CentOS 5.x and Windows 2003 x64 VPS
  • Instant activation
  • Virtuozzo Power Panel
  • Advanced blacknight PEM billing control panel
  • Ability to migrate a VPS to a dedicated server
  • Ability to migrate a dedicated server to a VPS

And I guess lots more. We’ve thrown quite a bit of hardware at this new system and I’ve personally spent 100s of hours testing, configuring, breaking and fixing it over the past few months.

Any feedback, error reports etc are welcome.

Office space in Dublin costs the earth or does it?

We’re setting out to hiring a few people that’ll have to be located beside each of the data centres we use in Dublin so we can have staff on-site primarily during business hours. Later we’ll expand on that.

One reason Blacknight never had offices in Dublin is due to cost. Now lots of business are based in Dublin, that’s fine. However for the price of an office in Dublin we can hire 2-3 competent engineering staff. This is fact.

So in investigating our options I came across the following co-working site. After having a look around I see that they have 2 locations now that you rent office space in. It’s really simple, you get a desk, chair, internet, phone and secretarial services all for a fixed relatively low monthly fee. There are other ancillary services that you can pay additionally. It really is a good idea.

This is most probably the route we’ll go down for our “Data Centre Technican” positions that we have going. Hopefully this particular company might get more office space in west Dublin that’ll be closer to our kit.

Entering the property market..

As the title suggest I’ve thought about it long and hard over the past while and I’ve decided to go and buy a house. I had been living in a rented house for 7 years. I moved out in Oct. 2007 and moved into a house not far away with Tara. Amy and Niall. While living with a few people is good and all, the house we’re in isn’t great and it’s difficult to keep clean.

I’ve gone and made an offer on the old house and this has been accepted. It’s pretty new territory for me as I’d no idea how many forms that would be required or about the amount of paper work I had to get.

So I’m getting a 92% mortgage from Permanent TSB via a broker. It’s going to work out around 250 euro a month more than it would cost to rent a house on my own. So it’s not too bad. Also I’m getting all the furniture and fixtures so it’s a pretty sweet deal.

The mortgage is a “discounted tracker mortgage” which basically means it’s at a lower rate for the first year 4.7% AER and then it’ll move to around 5.2% in year two. Lots of people don’t know what a tracker mortgage is so I’ll try and explain it in simple terms. Basically the ECB (european central bank) sets a recommended rate in Europe that banks are supposed to follow. Now in the last 30 odd years (before tracker mortgages) you could be waiting a year before you bank gives you any discount on your loan rate after a drop. Now a tracker mortgage is linked to the ECB rate and is usually 0.25% and 1% in the difference of the ECB rate. Mine is going to be 0.75%. That means that if the ECB sets a rate of say 5.125% my rate could be either 5.2% AER or 5.05% AER. It’s up to the bank to decide. The main benifit of this is that when the rate changes my bank automatically adjust it for me. They can’t decide “We’re not going to give people the benifit of the ECB dropping their rates”, they have to give me the break. It also means that they have to put it up when it goes up.

Bank of Ireland online banking finally fixed…

Not that it was broke or anything. However they have removed the drop down box on the pin number screen. About bloody time too, it was pretty shoddy when it came to security.

I also note that they are giving 10% (EAR) Interest on current account balances upto 1500 euro. That’s pretty good.

Nokia N95 is the winner for best phone since sliced bread!

It’s official. Well unofficially official. Myself and Michele went to Vodafone and got us some Nokia N95’s. I’d been fairly happy with my N91, but me having thick thumbs… I found the keypad a bit of a chore to use. Also the N91 was sooo fricken heavy, mostly because of its 4GB microdrive but the N95 weighs in at 120gramms.

Good things about the N95:

a) Web browser rocks, it’s a version of Safari apparently and it renders our site, crazy DHTML menus and all, very well. I used it a fair bit over the weekend and I like it. Most sites look as one would expect.

b) 5Mega Pixel camera, wow. That’s about all I can say. This small little device that weighs a lot less and is physically smaller than the N91 has one of the best cameras in the phone market. Not only does it have a good resolution, it is also designed so that it can be used as a normal camera. The up/down volume bottons are for zooming, then there’s a gallery button and the all important photo snap button and you can do this while the phone is on it’s side which allows you to make use of the large 2.6″ (240 x 320) screen.

c) Other misc features: Wifi which works very well, Bluetooth which seems quite compatibable with tonnes of devices including heaps of car kits etc, infra red which now is mostly not used, but hey it has it, 3G support which works very nicely, MMS and txt message support etc.
d) Digital music player – supports MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+/WMA/M4A with playlists and equalizer.

e) It’s mighty pretty, I like it a lot.

f) It takes those new mini-SD cards that are super small

g) GPS, which works well. Friend mentioned getting route 66 software for it which I’m going to look into this evening.

Faults:

a) Battery life

b) Battery life

c) Battery life

Yes, overall this is a fantastic phone. The battery life is pretty poor. Just incase anyone asks, I’ve 3G off most of the time along with bluetooth, wifi scanning etc. About 1 day of use is all I’m getting. This makes me not want it. But all the other cool features save it for me.

It’s a deadly phone, get one.

PHP4 EOL?

So I noticed on an IRC channel today a bit of buzz around PHP4 going EOL. Bye bye php4, with that announcement in mind, we’re going to discontinue PHP4 support at the end of the year also. In the mean time we’ll simply encourage our customers to make sure their applications work in PHP5. At this stage in the game there should be little or no applications that are still maintained that won’t work in PHP5.

The news was also posted on PHP.net

Vodafone E220 3G usb

I got one of these a while ago and I had no joy getting it working. I was at the time running Ubuntu LTS, but I’ve since upgraded to Edgy and I’ll move to feisty at some point.

To get this working there are a few short steps to take:

sudo rmmod usb-storage
sudo rmmod usb-serial

then run:

lsusb

In my case I get the following:

Bus 001 Device 005: ID 12d1:1003

modprobe usbserial vendor=0x12d1 product=0x1003

Once you’ve got this far things should be heating up.

run the following commands:
mknod /dev/ttyUSB0 c 188 0
mknod /dev/ttyUSB1 c 188 1
mknod /dev/ttyUSB2 c 188 2

This creates the devices that you need to use with wvdial

The wvdial.conf that works for vodafone Ireland, for me anyway, is as follows:

[Dialer hsdpa]
Phone = *99***1#
Username = vodafone
Password = vodafone
Stupid Mode = 1
Dial Command = ATDT
Modem = /dev/ttyUSB0
Baud = 460800
Init2 = ATZ
Init3 = ATE0V1&D2&C1S0=0+IFC=2,2
ISDN = 0
Modem Type = Analog Modem
Init5 =AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","isp.vodafone.ie";

So there we have it. This is 100% working on Ubuntu Edgy with Vodafone Irelands Huawei E220 with a 2.6.17-11 kernel.

3D secure teething issues

We’ve spent about the last month or so writing code to help prevent against fraudulent orders. This has meant a huge re-write of parts of Modernbill previously thought to be “demented and wrong”. Along the way we’ve tested it pretty much completely. Today we put the code (along with tonnes of other cool stuff) live and we sat back and watched payments coming in.

All works perfect, as expected. However I noted certain Visa card payments going through detailing that the user was not enrolled. This is normal enough. However I have a personal BOI visa card that I use online a fair bit to buy various bits ‘n’ bobs. I went through our order process and came to paying and I was not presented with anything asking about 3D secure. I thought this a bit odd, as my work Visa card is enrolled and I get presented with the “Verified by Visa” where it asks for my password.

So to find out what was going on I ring BOI. I explain to the nice lady what I’m talking about and she replies “I haven’t heard of that, it isn’t an option on our cards.”. I go into a bit more detail and she goes off to ask a supervisor. She comes back saying “He hasn’t heard of 3D secure either, but we googled for it and printed off all the details and have sent them onto our security department.” The mind boggles. So BOI have not heard about or implemented 3D secure?? WTF??? It really is apparent to me now that AIB are years ahead of the other banks in Ireland. I’m going to keep a close eye on other Banks cards over the coming few days and see which banks have actually signed up for 3D secure and which haven’t. I’ll make a list of banks to avoid getting credit cards from then.

Simple annoying e-mail related problems

One thing that always causes hassle for us as an e-mail services provider is the use of double extension file names attached to e-mails. e.g. annualreport.doc.pdf – this looks harmless, however in file naming terms it’s wrong. A filename should be comprised of a meaningfull name and it’s extension. I don’t know if this is a user issue or an application issue, but I suspect a bit of both.

If you insist on using double file extensions because your application makes them that way, then change the application. Or even better rename the file before sending. You have to save it anyway, correct? Well then, save the file with the proper file extension, then e-mail that file to the intended recipient.

The main reason for this slightly ranty post is that our mail scanning software catches all double extension attachments and treats them as an attempt to send a virus. Now it doesn’t delete them, or do anything funky with them, it sends the original message with the attachment replaced with a warning text file letting us know what server and the location to the e-mail in the quarantine so we can release it for you. It does this as a lot of traditional viruses used to send themselves from an infected users pc to everyone in their address book as an attachment with a name of something like .doc.com or .doc.exe and it would infect the end users pc.

I’ve considered removing this restriction a few times. But the pedant in me doesn’t let me. Please just use common sense and use proper file extension naming, for the sake of everyone.