Testing the blog server with pupils

Having spent almost two and a half years On this project it was a great sense of achievement to finally have some pupils using the blog server. It also, was not without it’s hiccups. Th Blog Server was used by two classes in this school the first a colleague of mine allowed a small group of his pupils use it. His only response was that whilst it worked it was a bit slow.

Not completely unsurprising as the hardware was an old computer with 512 Mb Ram, an Intel Celeron D Processor and two 80Gb hard disks. Whoo-whee!!! Not exactly bursting with lots of power but it’s a start. Anyway, it was struggling to allow the pupils to access the dashboard simultaneously so I’m currently taking a two pronged approach to solve these issues. First, I’m looking for a better box, a proper server and one will come my way in due course. Second, I’m looking for optimisations which can be implemented on the server.

Optimisations

There are two optimisations which can help improve the performance of the blog server. Caching the PHP pages generated from WordPress and cache the database queries. Both these optimisations save processor operations and can speed up the web server’s responses to the users.

There are a number of WordPress plugins which can be used to cache these pages. I’ve tried WP Super Cache and WP optimisation. Plus others which I’ll post later.

The latest test with 7 users worked well and fairly fast. The educational benefits are starting to become evident following this test of this one fact I remain pleased and positive.

Optimisation of the Blog Server – 9/6/11 19:55 (Blog server, multisite, mysql, optimisation, php, testing, wordpress)

Ok, so the story so far…

I’ve built the blog server, it is now installed on the network and this involved routing the blog server to look through the network’s proxy server. The problem with trying to achieve this is understanding the nature ofna network which is not your own. I found various articles here but configuring the network was a bit tricky.

Here are the articles which I used for advice
article 1
article 2
etc

I also created a plain HTML file which was very useful it had embedded content for YouTube as this would prove if the problem resided with my WordPress installation. This indeed prove to be a master stroke on my part. As indeed I did have an issue with the wordpress setup. There seem to be a myriad of hidden options which can be added to the wp-config.php file and some of these do the trick!

Blog Server Demo

This is a wee video which I shot using one of the mockup servers that I created. But basically you’ll get the idea!

 

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/nQP_jlUD9OE?hd=1″ width=”480″ height=”390″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

 

It has taken a long time but the real version went live on our network last week. Now all I need to do is get my pupils involved in using it!

Blog Server

The problems you face when it comes to implementing a project like this are wide and varied. This is a proper computing project when the issues are many and rely on a cool head and a logical approach. That’s easier said than done! As when you come across the challenges your state of mind, fatigue etc vary and I wish I could have stopped myself battering on when the logical side of the brain wasn’t always as sharp as it could have been.

Setting up the blog server with Ubuntu, that was easy. If you’ve ever Installed an operating system then ubuntu is much the same. follow the prompts and there are many webcast demos on YouTube to help you out. Just see my last post for some details.

Then there is the lack of an HCI – if you want a lean mean blog serving machine then you need to try and reduce overheads, accordingly I did without the GUI and went for the command line only server installation of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Well… second time around!!! My first incarnation of the box was based on 8.04 LTS and predates the later release.

However, the learning curve of learning and controlling everything by command line using a SSL client like putty or terminal is too big a task for most. Therefore I plummeted for Webmin, a web based interface which allowed me some control via a web interface. I would happily recommend Webmin although during the last installation which I carried out I have discovered that one of the dependent packages has been relegated to the back dated old software repositories which ae not in vogue. I ever of course to the dependent package for libmd5. however there are blog articles about how to install this.

Next we have the main event! Setting up the blog server to do something. In my case I leafed how to set up virtual hosts for my multiuser version of wordpress. During the first incarnations of my server I installed the multiuser version of wordpress called “wpmu”. However this version has now been integrated into the main edition of WordPress and been rebranded WordPress Multisite. I have now installed this on my latest server.

in my earlier editions of the server I had to run DNS and Apache on the same server but on my school network the two have to be separated with DNS being handled on one of our two main servers. This meant that I actually rebuilt the server from the ground up and relied on apache only on my web server.

This actually meant that when I edited the /etc/network/interfaces file and the resolve.conf files that I had very little configuration to do. However, it has to a be said that apache did want a specific ip address to be entered against the server and did not allow it to work leaving the setting on the wildcard * entry for all addresses.

having had my server set up and working at home i took the machine to work and adjusted the appropriate networking settings. this presents more issues. Firstly getting the correct network settings, making sure that you can ping other machines within the network and getting a nslookup from the dns server for my internal domain name. Next, e-mail, I couldn’t send and receive emails until I reconfigured the postfix mail server nor the wordpress plugin configure email, I have just managed this and both are now working. I’m going to take a few days and make sure I’m happy which one works best.

My next challenge is to try and set up the correct proxy settings for the web server. As, I need my webservr to be able to intereact with the outside world. Traffic from outside will need to supply updates, plugins, themes etc via FTP, rss feeds, slidesshare and YouTube embeds will need to pass throughout the web server to be displayed on the blogs that people wish to serve up. I’ve read the apache advice on this concerning mod_proxy and the related modules and I’m working on getting the correct settings next. All in all, I’m pleased with the wordpress install and will be happier when I get it working fully and feel that I can move onto the next part of my blog server – the video and media server YouTube clone. i’ve tried both phpmotion and clip-bucket. My next post will tell you about these and my experiences so far trying to incorporate them into my blog server.

Setting up a blog server

Ok, so here’s how I went about it!  First, I installed a first attempt of the WordPress MU 2.3 on apache on an Windows XP machine.  Execpt, having learned about apache and virtual hosts and installing mysql on a Windows PC I discovered that XP only allows 10 concurrent connections so after a 100 hours of work.  I abandoned the first blog server as being a learning curve and pushed on to blog server mark 2.  This time I went and ventured into the world of linux and installed Ubuntu server 8.04 LTS which was a real learning curve.  I used the following videos to help me through my initial steps and to install a web interface called webmin to control the computer.  I did not want to install the desktop onto the server for security and resource reasons so whilst this made things harder I’ve come out of the experience having learned a whole lot more.

1. How to set up Ubuntu

I have watched many of these videos about setting up Ubuntu but at the time these were the videos which I followed.

Part 1

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/bVjzt_uriwE” width=”425″ height=”349″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

Part 2

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/VAZRomlY8CE” width=”425″ height=”349″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

2. How to install Webmin

I used this video as a faster way once I understood what I was doing.

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/yhcBWE0TWIw” width=”425″ height=”349″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

To start with I found these two videos useful. Part 1

Now webmin requires a file on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS which is no longer supported. You can use this link to sort that issue.

Installing Webmin on Ubuntu Server 10.04 LTS (Lucid)

Other than that you can follow this video.

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/uy97qET8u9I” width=”425″ height=”349″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

Now part 2

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/RkpblH5WsNw” width=”425″ height=”349″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

Now that we have a web interface installed we will look at how to set-up wordpress.

A blog server is born…

At least three years ago, everybody seemed to be learning to blog. There were a multitude of people blogging via blogger, wordpress and other platforms and I felt it was my turn to join in too. After looking around, and  given my reluctance to divulge my personal information to the web, I decided that a self hosted version of WordPress seemed to be the way to go. Since then I have had a blog of sorts which I have broken, lost and not posted to on a regular basis. However, I will persevere and recognising the merits of blogging I started to bandy about with the concept of building a school server which would allow the pupils to have a blog which they could post to internally within our school network. This blog would allow pupils to build up a personal blog, recording achievements and displaying their work from around the school. I also expected that in time we would be able to theme the site and that they could build their own personal theme learning some HTML, CSS and a little about PHP.

After discussing it with some of my Senior Management Team (SMT) colleagues, the idea of using such a blog as a tool for personal learning planning and as a record of achievement, the idea was sealed and a concept was born. Implementation took me on the following journey…