The current CathInfo server is almost 3 1/2 years old! Time for a new one.
As many of you know, CathInfo is self-hosted, which provides another layer of protection for the site. Unless and until actual utilities (electricity, Internet service) get involved in the Culture War, we are safe here. To the best of my knowledge, we have not seen a single case of electricity providers, water companies, and other utilities "cancelling" anyone. Now banking, fundraising, credit card processing, mail sending, web hosting, web-based "services", even visiting a foreign country -- that's a completely different story!
When I say "server" or "web server" I'm really talking about a custom-built PC made with off-the-shelf components, in a mid-tower form factor. In the olden days, it would have been called a Workstation. My custom-built web servers feature a RAID array of 3.5" hard drives, high quality power supply, plenty of RAM, etc.
When I first moved CathInfo off your average bottom-basement "shared" web hosting (I was forced to; the site just used too many resources), I tried upgrading to a higher-end hosting plan. Well, long story short, it failed. That was a $90/month plan, and about 7 years ago. I was shocked at how little RAM and CPU I got for my $90/month. So if you assume CathInfo would cost $250 - $350 a month to host with a professional hosting outfit, my custom-built web hosting hardware costs about what I'd pay in 4-6 months of hosting fees. Talk about the frugal option!
As Luke Skywalker said, "We could almost buy our own ship for that!" and Han Solo replied, "But who's gonna fly it, kid, you?" Well, like Luke Skywalker, I'm not such a bad pilot myself, and the last several years have proven that fact.
Obviously for home use, PCs often get used for much longer than 4 years, often until some piece of them fails. In our home for example. Other times, PCs get upgraded only when a new operating system (Windows 7 --> Windows 10 --> Windows 11) forces the issue.
But in the business world, PCs are often pre-emptively replaced BEFORE they fail, BEFORE any downtime is incurred, and BEFORE employees wake up one day with a 9 year old PC that can't run the latest software, etc. Because a business has a budget, uses PCs to make money, and most importantly, can't afford downtime, PCs are routinely replaced on a set schedule: usually every 3-4 years, to prevent the corporation from ever having to deal with "old, obsolete PCs".
Well, CathInfo is more in the latter category. 1 week downtime wouldn't be a huge loss in terms of raw ad revenue, but it would be a disaster in terms of damage to the community, habits, communication, etc. CathInfo is an important forum in the Catholic world, a vital resource connecting otherwise isolated English-speaking Catholics all over the world.
Parts for the last server were ordered in early February, 2019.
I build all my own servers from parts, for many good reasons. I know what I need and don't need, and I like to pick each item based on value, reviews, reputation, etc. Now I don't actually enjoy building or setting up servers -- I actually consider it a chore -- but it's something that needs to be done from time to time, for a host of reasons:
The various pieces of a computer don't last forever. I need to take advantage of various improvements, not fall behind in anything (especially security-related), etc. Having some extra (maybe a few years out of date a.k.a. "still good") hardware lying around is a good thing in an emergency. But for that last PC's hardware to still be usable, you can't have a 10-year technology gap between PCs.
Probably the most worrisome component: the hard drives. Those hard drives have been spinning in this server 24/7 for the past almost 3.5 years. Who knows how many more months or years those things have left in them.
Increased speed from a new, faster server is always a good thing; Every CathInfo member (even guests) directly benefit, as it makes the site run snappier. And the faster the server, the more easily it can shrug off bots and other attacks poking at the server all hours of the day, trying to find a way in.
More importantly, when I start over with a new server, I can start with a new/different Linux operating system. I can't "wipe" or format and re-install from scratch a running web server. The downtime makes that a no-can-do. My ONLY chance to wipe or start over from scratch is when I first build the server. My first server was CentOS 6. The current one is CentOS 7, which will be supported until Dec 2024. Apparently there have been major changes in the CentOS world over the past couple years, so I'm looking into which operating system would be the best choice for this new server.
Speaking of which: the way I upgrade to a new server involves building a complete 2nd server. I build and configure it, install all the software I need, set it up, copy the website over, and make sure everything works. Then one day I "pause" or bring down CathInfo (so no posts are lost) and I transfer the database one last time over to the new server. Then I point all incoming traffic to the new server, and I'm done. I can then unplug the old server and put it in storage. But you see, my process requires 2 complete machines. I can't use anything from the old server in the new one, because several days of downtime is out of the question.
If you want to contribute towards the new CathInfo web server --
1. You can Paypal me. My Paypal is: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. You can send a check or equivalent to my home address. I will freely give my address out to anyone who asks (PM me) but I'm not going to post it here so every lurker and bot has access to it. Even if I PM'ed my address to 100 people, that's less than 1/10th of 1% of who would get my address if I just posted it in a CathInfo message.
3. My wife has Zelle set up; I'll have to get you those details. PM me.
4. I'm open to other options, if none of these work for you.
CathInfo will continue to be Free-to-Play for everyone, but as you know nothing in this world is actually free, even if it costs YOU zero to use & enjoy it. Whether it's nationalized healthcare or the computer hardware CathInfo runs on, SOMEONE has to pay for it, even if end-users aren't required to pay a cent to make use of it.
I have received a kind, generous, and substantial donation already from an anonymous donor. But I wanted to give others a chance to donate to the CathInfo server as well. I will choose the final hardware (especially the processor!) for the server after I see how much is raised. Also, it would be nice to have an extra hard drive (same model/size) on hand, so I can just pop it in, in the event of a failure.
It's also possible that some parts will cost more than I expect, due to shortages/inflation/etc.
Thank you all for your support (financial, moral, and spiritual) over the years.
In Christo Rege,