Self-hosting and Embracing the Cloud

The computing field is always in need of new cliches.

Alan Perlis

My self-hosting journey is an odd one. Once upon the time in college, my computer was simultaneously my media center, my workstation, and a server. Self-hosting was how you did it. Back then, I also hosted websites on Pair.com. After my stint as an IT guy, I lost interest in that tinkering so my skills withered for the better part of a decade.

So when I first got this old fashioned blog back online I went with an old reliable host: Dreamhost. They’ve served me well before and made things easy. Simple shared hosting. Dreamhost gives more access than many other shared hosts (e.g., SSH access), but you didn’t have full control of the system. They were far better than some of the hosts I used earlier in this century. Remember iPaska? Yea those guys were terrible.

But that was just how things were done in the early 2000s. They were simpler times where you didn’t have full access. Instead, everyone had their own control panel of some sort, and they made it easy to install common applications like WordPress. Dreamhost was a competent shop and provided a reliable service (unlike iPaska). And although people complained about the speed of the service, I never had a problem. I also didn’t have that much traffic but that’s another issue for another day.

As with all things, times changed. Dreamhost is still here, providing the shared hosting experience. They sell a good service and continue to run it competently. But the big boys (Google, Microsoft, Amazon) now sell you cloud services and also offer free levels for people to use. Sure it isn’t a 12-core processor with gobs of memory, but it is more than enough to host a few web apps. And it isn’t like I get that kind of traffic anyway. All I need is a decently fast system that I can SSH into and have root on. What I would’ve given for this level of access back when I was younger.

The big boys are appealing, but there is a dark horse in the cloud race: Oracle Cloud Free Tier. They give you two AMD compute VMs, and you can get up to Arm Ampere instances, all for free forever. The AMD compute VMs are easier to get, depending on which region you’re interested in your instance living. And they let you use standard Linux distributions including Ubuntu. They’re not a big name in the space, but boy it is hard to argue with two free AMD VMs. It isn’t the fanciest (1 GB memory each) but it is more than enough to handle a few web apps.

With a free system like that online, I’ve spent a little time here and there over the past month to get everything setup. Lately I’ve started using Docker more at home to manage some of the applications hosted on the server. That has helped simplify deployment even though it isn’t as efficient as installing everything on bare metal. But hey the AMD VMs have the resources. WordPress has its official Docker image, so I used one of those variants as my base. The good people at linuxserver.io provided the database, and I tried out a reverse proxy of a more recent vintage with Caddy. The end result is a self-hosted WordPress instance that has a valid SSL certificate that autorenews. Not bad for the price of free, with a little bit of tinkering time over the past few weekends.

Now I’ve expanded on my self-hosted journey. I’ve created a Wallabag instance for my read-it-later service. I don’t commute anymore thanks to remote life, so I don’t have the same amount of idle time every day to read through the day’s articles on Pocket. But I want to guarantee that my articles are always there for me. Even though Pocket is owned by Mozilla now, I wanted to self-host if possible. And Oracle’s AMD VMs are more than enough to meet the task.

Now, not only am I back to self-hosting this blog and some useful tools, I’m back to tinkering. It feels nice after so many years away.