Venturing into the world of external hosting

This morning, for the first time in nearly 18 years, I did not run apt-get update on my server to look for any software updates. The reason is, I can’t. There is no server; it was decommissioned on Saturday, a decision that was forced on me. I have hosted my domains myself ever since I bought them.

Yes, the government forced me to do it. Pardon me while I take a rather circuitous route to explain.

Australia is in the laborious process of rolling out a broadband network across the nation; due to political wrangling, the rollout has been something like the Shakespearean drama The Comedy of Errors.

The original plan, envisaged by the Labor Party, one of the two main political factions in Australia, was to provide 93% of premises with fibre right up to the home. The 7% who could not be provided with this technology due to geographical factors were to be served by fixed wireless or satellite.

The project got underway in 2009, with a government company, NBN Co, set up to handle the rollout. But in 2013, the other side of politics, the Coalition (a loose alliance between the Liberal and National Parties), took office and changed the technologies that would be used, claiming that this would hasten the rollout. (It has turned out be a big lie.)

In addition to fibre to the home, satellite and wireless, the Coalition added hybrid fibre coaxial using existing cable networks (one of the two cable networks had to be excluded later when it was found not to be fit for purpose) and fibre to the node. The latter means that the copper lead-in to a home will be anything from 400 metres to a couple of kilometres and the speed one gets will accordingly suffer.

The Coalition also added fibre to the building/basement where fibre is taken to the basement of an apartment complex and copper is used to provide the links in each apartment, and, very recently, something called fibre to the distribution point where the lead-in is by copper running less than 40 metres. The NBN Co has also been throwing around an American term, fibre to the curb, (kerb in proper English) which means that the last bit of copper runs for between 300 and 400 metres. Both these terms, FttDP and FttC, have been used interchangeably by the NBN Co, adding to the confusion that surrounds the project.

The NBN Co advises residents when their homes/businesses are ready to be hooked up and gives private residences 18 months and businesses double that time to switch over. Reports from those who have switched have, for the most part, been quite discouraging. Thus it does take an act of faith to make the plunge before one is forced to do so.

I decided to switch in September after hearing from a neighbour that he had done so and was getting good download and upload speeds. I work from home, and my wife also does so occasionally, so upload speeds are important. And on ADSL, those are less than a megabit.

After checking with my existing ISP and finding out that they were not offering any business packages on cable — which is the technology allocated to the area where I reside — I picked another ISP and ordered a connection. NBN Co obviously did not give a rat’s that there are many small businesses that use ADSL business connections to run their own services like web and mail.

It took a total of 14 days for the NBN Co staff to come out and connect me, pretty good considering that the ISP told me it would take 20 business days at the maximum to get me connected. The work began at 11.30am and was finished by 12.30pm on the day and I had to contact my ISP two hours later to find out why the connection was not working. At 5.30pm, I was told that it would take about three hours more to be activated. By the time I was able to check again, it was 11 hours since the guy who came to do the work had gone. By that time it was working.

The decision to get rid of my server was forced on me by the fact that no ISP is offering business packages on cable. I am not surprised, as the numbers being served by each ISP on this technology would be small and given the outrageous charges that ISPs have to pay the NBN Co for bandwidth, profits can only be made by them if volumes are large. Given that Australia has a very small population, 24 million all told, those numbers will always be a pipe dream considering how many ISPs are in the game and how many more are coming onboard to try and grab new customers.

Without a business connection (and a fixed IP which is part of the deal), one cannot run any services as I was – and hence I decided to host my websites and mail externally. A friend, Linux expert Russell Coker, very kindly offered to do the hosting.

Two days into using the NBN, things appear to be okay. But with cable the downside is always that the more people who connect, the slower the speeds become. It is like a water pipe; the more holes you punch in it, the less will be the force of each individual stream.

But then one has no choice in this matter. I have taken the fastest possible connection, 100Mbps/40Mbps, to mitigate problems, should they arise, for as long as possible. Cable is only a temporary solution; the government will have to upgrade everything to fibre to the home in the future whether it likes the idea or not.


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