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Some months ago, I got an email from my server provider Hetzner, telling me that I have to migrate my server to a new system. When I started with this entire server hosting as a student, I had loads of time and interest in these things, but nowadays, I just want something that is working. I do not want to care about exploding mail standards, Debian upgrades, server migrations, ever evolving security rules, backups and so on. So I took this opportunity to shut down my main server entirely and move to some proper cloud services. This posts illustrates the choices and the pros and cons compared to my old, self-hosted solution.

Blog

For some time now, I was using Ghost, which initially was just Markdown + pictures. But over time, their software became more complex and moved to a new format (Mobiledoc), resulting in some solid vendor lock-in. Also, I do not see how a blog that gets new content rarely requires a Node.js server, burning a solid amount of energy. So I decided to move to a static side engine. My new setup contains of Zola, which is written in Rust and therefore easy to hack on, and is hosted by GitLab Pages.

For people facing interested in the conversion path, here is the following converter might be helpful:

Warning: This only converts Markdown-driven posts and cannot handle Mobidoc. This was not a huge issue for me since I only had a single post in Mobiledoc, where I manually converted the resulting HTML into Markdown.

One thing that I forgot about was that I had configured my side to use HTTP Public Key Pinning (HPKP). So just migrating to GitLab pages and make everything unencrypted did not work out. But just providing key and certificate to GitLab is not sufficient, since the certificate is issued by Let's Encrypt, so I need a way to renew it. After some trail + error, I settled with dehydrated and lexicon to issue an ACME DNS-01 challenge.

Pros:

  • simple data format (just Markdown files and images)
  • secure (static sides are just served and cannot be altered)
  • GIT-based management

Cons:

  • lost IPv6 support (Issue 645)
  • manual certificate renewal

Mail

So emails are a quite complicated thing to host. On top of that, consuming your own solution seems easy but mail clients on mobile are a hell. I have used K-9 for ages and it is an advanced client, but the IMAP protocol is bad for mobile where you switch between data and WiFi very often and also drains your battery. Also, end-to-end encryption is basically unused. To solve these issues, I decided to now use Tutanota as may mail provider.

Pros:

  • encryption of ALL incoming mails on server including metadata
  • better mobile connection management compared to K9

Cons:

  • no conversation view (Issue 6)
  • no nice GPG/PGP support anymore
  • no nice S/MIME support anymore

VPN

Sometimes you are using a WiFi or you are in a country that blocks certain websites or services. Also, TCP connection in certain unstable data or WiFi connection are a pain. In that situations, a VPN might help. I have used OpenVPN and later on WireGuard on my server and it worked great. Only problem is that you cannot workaround certain restrictions using that because the server was hosted in Germany. Now I am using Azirevpn in WireGuard-mode and I am very happy with them.

Pros:

  • multiple locations

Cons:

  • provider COULD introspect data (but Hetzner could in theory do the same)

Backup Storage

I tried to use the server as a backup store but it turns out that this is quite an expensive solution, so some months ago I already switched to Backblaze.

Pros:

  • unlimited disk space
  • works with Synology NAS (although support could be better)
  • very good restic integration

Cons:

  • non-standard API

DNS

My contract with Hetzner not only included the server but also a domain including DNS servers from their side. I was not too happy with their support due to lacking DNSSEC which kinda is a topic since 2011 and they keep delaying it ever since. Since multiple other technologies require this features (see pros below), I wanted to switch to another provider for some months now. After some research I decided for OVH.

One of the biggest pain moving a domain is the transfer. I just thought just using the Auth-Code would be sufficient and that would lead to an instant transfer (modulo DNS TTL). Turns out you also have to approve the transfer and Hetzner only lets you wait for 5 days to do a passive approval. Also turns out 5 days might actually be 6 and in the end the transfer may occur at a random point in time. Also, OVH only sets up the DNS zone including all entries when the transfer is complete (or I missed something), so you will for sure end up with some downtime for EVERYTHING INCLUDING EMAIL! Also, the OVH UI is kinda horrible at this point since they are not able to show states (e.g. "approved by new owner") properly (see cons below). In the end, it was a pain but now everything works nicely.

BTW: some providers advice you to lower the TTL before transfer but I am actually pretty happy that I did not so many consumers did not see the downtime between the transfers.

Pros:

Cons:

  • some French messages / UI elements
  • UI seems to be buggy in some places

Missing Bits

I currently did not convert the following pieces but might just rent a tiny server at Scaleway (they BTW also host ARM64 servers) for the following things:

  • TOR relay
  • experiments

One large advantage is that the following things are NOT needed anymore:

  • configuration backups
  • monitoring and intrusion detection (that actually never was really implemented)
  • fail-over solutions (never implemented as well)
  • regular and quick security updates (I have used very irregular, manual updates)

Image: by Kaushik Panchal on Unsplash