Saturday, June 23, 2007

Reviewing media, the UK and server[e] attacks

Nearly a month has gone by since I wrote anything... My son is much more reliable. I don't know how he finds the time since he is almost as busy as I am.

Anyhow four things significant have happened in the last month, one could think of them as a week each but the first one took a month, the second two weeks and the last two a week each
  • review of all media
  • preparing for Peter to visit UK
  • visit from someone from UK
  • server attacks
We have been reviewing all the media projects we are involved with and those of our partners to see where we can be most strategically involved in the future. Sounds simple... but wasn't at all... you see we had to develop the methods to do the reviewing before doing teh reviewing! We have been talking about this for a couple of years or more, that is, developing a system for evaluating media for our audience. An American colleague did some work on it about a year ago but really we got nowhere till a guy from the Middle East joined us for a month.

Alongside me, he developed scales for evaluating the media and then spend days watching videos, satellite TV channels, listening to Internet radio stations and reading through web sites. The result is an extremely useful evaluation of all the projects we are involved with and others we might be involved with through partners. This evaluation took a lot of my time and Peter suggested that I should write a book to help others in their thinking. I wrote the draft outline for three chapters and have had good feedback from people who have read it. I have realised that though the book is very necessary, it will be a big job. I shall probably write more today.

Alongside this we were preparing publicity stuff for Peter to take back to the UK. I wish that things like this could be focussed on, not just rushed and fitted in between other things. The new colour laser printer has proved to be extremely valuable in doing all the publicity.

Then we had a guest from one of our supporting churches in the UK. Actually it was the vicar/pastor. He spent a week with us catching up with all that we are doing. It was really great to have him come out.

Then the inevitable... we have had with one of the servers over the past 3-4 days. We reset that server many times per day, and then it works for a while. We will be resetting again and again over the weekend and then starting again to sort on Monday morning.

We had thought it was all caused by Denial of Service Attacks from Egypt [we were definitely getting these and the server crashed after each attempt]. Then on Friday morning we had a crash at a time we were NOT being attacked so we spoke to the hardware support people in Germany thinking this was a hardware problem. The moved one Hard Disk to a different location in the server as it was apparently quite hot. The server crashed again. They replaced the Power Supply. The server crashed again. They changed the hard disks over between the two servers... this to prove if it was related to the Hard Disks or the motherboard. It crashed again. Each 'crash again' was after a few hours so we were waiting each time to see... So we have now diagnosed the problem to be related to the Hard Disks. When I had spoken to the head of Tech Support in Germany we talked about moving all the data to a new server and rebuilding on totally new hardware. We will start this on Monday morning.

If we had not had the DoS attack we would have traced the hardware problem sooner, but we were fighting that [which was a pain, as soon as we blocked an IP they changed IP!] and thought that was the cause of the problem. Now we know its hardware we will change as soon as possible. Rebuilding the server will be a pain!

We hope a colleague from Egypt will come over soon and the project for him is to get mySQL based DNS working so we can swap sites around servers quickly to not have this problem in the future. The alternative is to use virtual IP based switching, but because of security problems the Data Centre locks IPs to MAC addresses to stop spoof attacks so we cannot use virtual IP switching :-( Now I expect I have really confused you... MAC addresses? Every network adaptor in the world has a unique hardware address called its MAC address. In order that people don't pretent to be you, ie spoof your server, the system matches MAC to the IP address.

Well, that's about it. By last night I was extremely tired and fed up. I hate all these technical problems - I would much rather be working on the media and letting other people do the techie stuff, but we don't have people to do the techie stuff so we have to do it, and with Peter in the UK for six weeks I am left 'holding the baby' so to speak!