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Author Topic: DISCUSSION: Server Issues and The Future of the TC Message Board  (Read 15609 times)
RandallS
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« Topic Start: September 15, 2008, 09:43:28 pm »

Since The Cauldron moved off of DelphiForums in April 2004, we have been hosted for free on one of Bob's servers. This has been great as hosting for a large message board is not cheap. Large, active message boards do poorly on affordable shared hosting because while they may not use much disk space or bandwidth they use a lot of CPU time -- the least available resource on a shared server. Free hosting for the message board has meant our expenses have been low, a couple of hundred dollars most years for hosting the main web site (http://www.ecauldron.com/).

Bob's servers are getting old and cranky and he is now half a country away from them (which makes it hard to maintain them and fix problems). As you have probably noticed, the board has probably seen more down time since Bob moved early this summer than it did in the entire previous year. That's an obvious symptom of the problem -- and it is likely to grow much worse with time.

We therefore need to decide what we want to do with The Cauldron's message board -- because we want to decide and implement things before Bob's server calls it quits. I say "we" because most of these options are more expensive by far than our current costs and since the Host's cash supply is non-existent due to all our medical costs (see the Cancer Surgery for LyricFox thread), funding for whatever we decide to do is going to have to come almost entirely from donations from members. I'm going to give a lot of options -- even some that are unlikely to work well (unless we are very lucky). They will be arranged from least expensive to most expensive. Unfortunately, that is also very close to the order from least likely to work well to most likely to work well. 

ZERO ADDITIONAL COST OPTION: Shut down the message board completely. We would lose all posts on this board and those on both the 2005 and 2006 archive boards (the old Beehive boards), the flashchat, and CauldronMux. The Web site would remain. We would replace this board with a new message board on a free message board hosting service. We would use SMFForFree, currently used for our backup board. If you've used the backup board you know it is functional but (at times) very slow and not as nearly as customized as what we have here.  ADDITIONAL ANNUAL COST: $0

LOW ADDITIONAL COST OPTION: Some people have been successful at running boards about our size on a separate account just for the board at Dreamhost. This would be an additional $120 or so a year. If we used too many resources, Dreamhost would want us to leave (meaning move to one of the Medium or High cost options or revert to the zero-cost option) or switch to their pricey "Private Servers" options (a weird combination of shared hosting and a Virtual Private Server without most of the advantages of a VPS but with all the cost). However, if it works it would be relatively cheap. We would be able to keep the messages from this board as we would just be moving it. We would lose the messages from the two old Beehive boards as they are so cpu-intensive that no shared hosting plan could run them. (They are too slow to be usable on Bob's server!) Flashchat would probably not be doable as it uses quite a bit of CPU as well. The Mux would also be gone. ADDITIONAL ANNUAL COST: $120-150

LOW-MEDIUM ADDITIONAL COST OPTION-1: As the Low Additional Cost Option, except rent space on a MU* Host for CauldronMUX (usual $12 a month or so). Translation: This would add CauldronMUX to the Low Additional cost Option. ADDITIONAL ANNUAL COST: $240-280

LOW-MEDIUM ADDITIONAL COST OPTION-2: As the Low Additional Cost Option, except rent a chat service from a chat host. Translation: This would add something like Flashchat to the Low Additional Cost Option. ADDITIONAL ANNUAL COST: $240-280.

MEDIUM COST OPTION: Get a good XEN-based Virtual Private Server from Linode.com or other very good reputation VPS host. This should be able to run the web site (it would move from Dreamhost when our Dreamhost contract is up in January), this board, flashchat, and the MUX with no problem. It probably would not be able to run the old Beehive Boards as they are just too CPU-intensive -- but we would probably at least try them). The cost would vary between $40 and $80 a month depending on what level of VPS we end up needing, with the $60/month option or $80/month option being most likely. TOTAL ANNUAL COST: $720 or $960 ($480 possible but pretty unlikely).

HIGH COST OPTION: Get a dedicated server from a mid-level (decent but not over-priced) host. This should run everything including old Beehive boards without problems. Cost Per Month would range from $90 to ungodly amounts. A ball-park estimate is $130/month plus a setup fee of $100+. ESTIMATED ANNUAL COST: $1560 plus $100-200 setup fee to start with.

As you can see, there are no sure-to-work low cost options. (Exception: The Zero Additional Cost option is okay if folks can live with its limits.) There are other considerations besides cost, but for the moment cost is the main one to look at. If nothing else, this should give everyone an appreciation of what Bob has been giving us the last 4.5 years.

Comments and discussion are invited.
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« Reply #1: September 15, 2008, 10:04:07 pm »


I'll keep my ey out, on this thread and for anything else.  I'll try and think of something in the next week or so, too.  I'll get back to you on this.
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« Reply #2: September 15, 2008, 10:04:38 pm »


I wish that I had the cash flow to provide TC with a new server all by myself!  As my own cash flow increases, I would be honored to donate as much as I possibly can toward whatever option is ultimately chosen.  Honestly, beyond the Beehive board, I don't tend to use the "extra" features like the MUX and FlashChat, but I know that these are more important for other members, so I'd hate to see them go unless they have to.

One thing I'm curious about, though, in relation to the archives of the Beehive boards: is there any way for users who care about having access to these to actually download the entire archive for personal reference?  This might make the pain of losing the Beehive backups a little more bearable (I'd even be willing to host a dedicated, albeit low-speed, .torrent for anyone else to download the backup).
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« Reply #3: September 15, 2008, 10:17:33 pm »

I wish that I had the cash flow to provide TC with a new server all by myself!  As my own cash flow increases, I would be honored to donate as much as I possibly can toward whatever option is ultimately chosen.  Honestly, beyond the Beehive board, I don't tend to use the "extra" features like the MUX and FlashChat, but I know that these are more important for other members, so I'd hate to see them go unless they have to.

One thing I'm curious about, though, in relation to the archives of the Beehive boards: is there any way for users who care about having access to these to actually download the entire archive for personal reference?  This might make the pain of losing the Beehive backups a little more bearable (I'd even be willing to host a dedicated, albeit low-speed, .torrent for anyone else to download the backup).

Or since those boards are read-only anyway, couldn't we simply use something like google docs, and transfer all of them over there somehow?  Then make it accessible, but not editable...

Not sure how anything like that would exactly work out.  But I hadn't really thought of those. 

We could also see how many would be willing to host different sections we have here (like the stuff off to the side over there) and try something like a shorter list of links, that could save on memory usage at least by the main host...

Forgive my ignorance I don't really know how a lot of this stuff would work out exactly, I'm likely just pulling stuff out of my ears...  Wink
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« Reply #4: September 15, 2008, 10:20:34 pm »


Is advertising an option at all? This is a pretty high-traffic board/website.

(Or how much advertising do we already have?)
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« Reply #5: September 15, 2008, 10:28:42 pm »

Is advertising an option at all? This is a pretty high-traffic board/website.

(Or how much advertising do we already have?)

That would be a good idea.  I wouldn't mind a few ads here and there, or even a lot more than a few, if it meant keeping this site up and running.  I know a lot of people have a problem with them, but if an "ADHD" kid can ignore them... well...
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RandallS
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« Reply #6: September 15, 2008, 10:31:27 pm »

(Or how much advertising do we already have?)

Advertising on the message board earns us about $5 to $10 a month. Advertising on message boards brings in very little income because advertisers know that message board users are some of the least likely people to click on an ad (because doing so interrupts their use of the message board).  This is why DelphiForums has such obnoxious ads -- they have to get people to read and use them.

We could do well with ads if this was a product-oriented board (say video games or something else that people spend a lot of money on).  There aren't many things that Pagans buy on impulse from the web.
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« Reply #7: September 15, 2008, 10:35:47 pm »

I wish that I had the cash flow to provide TC with a new server all by myself!  As my own cash flow increases, I would be honored to donate as much as I possibly can toward whatever option is ultimately chosen.  Honestly, beyond the Beehive board, I don't tend to use the "extra" features like the MUX and FlashChat, but I know that these are more important for other members, so I'd hate to see them go unless they have to.

I also don't use the features such as MUX and FlashChat, but as thain said I would hate to see them go because I know how much they mean to many members.

If it ended up coming down to the zero additional cost option and a lot of features would be lost, I would be sad but to be honest I would still just be happy to have TC up and running. To lose TC altogether would be just so much worse, thus anything is better than nothing. A LOT better.

I don't have a lot of money, but I would be more than willing to donate something if it became apparant that one of the more expensive options is the one that everybody wants.
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RandallS
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« Reply #8: September 15, 2008, 10:35:53 pm »

That would be a good idea.  I wouldn't mind a few ads here and there, or even a lot more than a few, if it meant keeping this site up and running.  I know a lot of people have a problem with them, but if an "ADHD" kid can ignore them... well...

One problem with depending on advertising to run a site is that ad income is NOT steady. One month you might get $90 and the next month $20.  The owners need cash to cover the shortfalls. The Hosts no longer have that. Even $5 at the wrong day would be impossible some months.

I'm not trying to kill the ad idea, but I'd rather go with the ZERO ADDITIONAL COST option than have to put up enough ads to be able to depend on the income.
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« Reply #9: September 15, 2008, 11:52:00 pm »


Two things that I know I would be prepared to do are reliably donate $AU20/month and purchase an annual membership were such a paid scheme deployed to cover these costs. Of course, the problem with donations per se is the same as advertising - not very predictable and membership brings administration and graduated access.

It seems like on of those problems that will take a range of techniques to address (eg. some targetted forums to meet advertiser's needs, stable advertising space, membership etc.) in the longer term.
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« Reply #10: September 16, 2008, 01:37:38 am »

Two things that I know I would be prepared to do are reliably donate $AU20/month and purchase an annual membership were such a paid scheme deployed to cover these costs.

I know for as much as I'm lurking here, I'd be willing to do an annual membership type of thing or something of that nature.  I'm not rolling in the funds but TC is worth it to me.

I don't really have anything else useful to toss into the conversation other than that since I know next to nada about servers and such-like.
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« Reply #11: September 16, 2008, 01:48:57 am »

I know for as much as I'm lurking here, I'd be willing to do an annual membership type of thing or something of that nature.  I'm not rolling in the funds but TC is worth it to me.

I don't really have anything else useful to toss into the conversation other than that since I know next to nada about servers and such-like.


I also really feel fine about an annual membership, as long as it doesn't impede the people who don't have much of an income (ie the teens) from being able to access the board. I don't use any of the other features of the forum, although I do think the old board and the posts here are quite useful, so if you could save them that would be great.
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« Reply #12: September 16, 2008, 02:59:45 am »

I also really feel fine about an annual membership, as long as it doesn't impede the people who don't have much of an income (ie the teens) from being able to access the board.


As others have already said, I would definitely be OK with a periodic membership fee (annual or whatever).  I already donate to TC, and I'm very willing to continue to do so.  I also would be willing to contribute to some kind of periodic fundraising drive, if that kind of mechanism makes more sense than a standing membership fee.

I do agree with Rose, though, that we should try to keep the board accessible to those with limited incomes -- especially teens who might be unable to contribute for a variety of reasons.

I'm sorry I can't say anything useful about the actual options offered in Randall's OP.  I know less than nothing about servers and such. 

All I can say is that TC is very important to me, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is -- although I'm afraid I have more mouth than money.   Undecided

Randall, thanks for letting us know what's going on and giving us the opportunity to provide feedback.  TC is so important to so many of us that I'm sure we can figure out a way to keep it alive and kicking. 
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« Reply #13: September 16, 2008, 04:58:10 am »

Randall, thanks for letting us know what's going on and giving us the opportunity to provide feedback.

The most important part of something like this can often be the end point that you choose to aim for. Out of interest, what outcome would the hosts like to see in a perfect world? What services, how much effort to administer? How sustainable? Getting the right solution has so much to do with getting the right problem.
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« Reply #14: September 16, 2008, 05:05:45 am »

Two things that I know I would be prepared to do are reliably donate $AU20/month and purchase an annual membership were such a paid scheme deployed to cover these costs. Of course, the problem with donations per se is the same as advertising - not very predictable and membership brings administration and graduated access.

What about making full membership cost USD 10 / year? Or 20 / year? I'd pay that.
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