Open Insights 06 – Practice What You Preach

This month’s newsletter discusses a little server mishap which we

encountered here at Heavyweight Internet Group. I use the example to

illustrate a few lessons.

Practicing What You Preach

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Despite great efforts, it’s sometimes difficult to not come off a bit

preachy when discussing Open Source technology. The solutions are often

so good, you miss the difficulties. To that end, here’s a bit of a

rundown on what technologies we run our business on.

For Customer Relations Management we use SugarCRM. For a webserver we use

Apache 2. For a database we use MySQL though of course for enterprise

applications Oracle obviously comes into play. Our site software is

PostNuke, and our new weblog OracleOpenSource.com uses MoveableType. The

server that hosts all this great software runs Mandrake 10.1 distribution

of Linux. For email we use Postfix, and ASK a whitelist system for

spam blocking. We use Mandrake on the client side and the Firefox

browser. Also we use OpenOffice for creating and viewing Word, Excel, and

Powerpoint documents. And on the development side PHP, Perl, and CVS for

source code versioning. Soon we’ll be implementing OTRS for trouble

tickets, and possibly some web-based solution for invoicing.

The point here, and it’s a dramatic one, is that we learn by doing, and

sometimes the hard way. And by learning these lessons, we know better

what works for our clients.

Not Just Windows Servers Get Hit

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Here’s a great example of learning by doing. We host our own servers even

though it might be simpler to outsource this process to a hosting company

who dedicates themselves to this. Not that we’d recommend this to all our

clients, we probably wouldn’t. But time and again it teaches lessons

about what technologies work, and what can happen during the minute that

your head is turned.

Last month our server was hijacked to send spam. This wasn’t done in any

of the obvious ways of finding a way onto the machine by brute-force.

They did not get a login to the machine itself. They managed to exploit a

default feature of our webserver, Apache, to proxy requests to other

sites. Though the obvious hole of having your mail server configured for

an open mail relay had been closed long ago, these spam hackers had

managed to find a way to relay through Apache. In so doing, they slowed

down our server for a period, interrupted our network, but worse sent out

tons of spam from our host. This meant we got thrown on a spam-blocking

list, and many sites were bouncing emails from us. After tracking down

the problem, we patched the problem, and eliminated the unwanted traffic.

Once again we’re able to send out email.

A hard lesson to be sure, but one we are sure to see, and identify quickly

at client sites, so they don’t suffer the same troubles.

In the long run these types of lessons are what help your professional

services stand out, beyond the obvious problem solving, to identify and

manage difficult and complex enterprise computing environments.