Typical Server Setup

Since there are so many little tweaks that I do to my regular web-server setup, I felt that I should put down some of my thoughts here, for the purpose of documentation.

Operating System
I invariably go with Debian. If the VPS provider does not provide a Debian option, I will not buy a VPS from them. When choosing between Debian installs, I tend to choose 32-bit images because I do not believe in having a single large server with more than 4GB of RAM. A 32-bit installation allows me to do some wonderful optimisations. I can run a MySQL and web server with PHP5 in under 64MB of RAM on a 32-bit Debian install.

Firstly, security. My firewall of choice is Shorewall because it has been around for ages and I have been using it for just as long. It has only gotten better with age. I am one of those who believes in host-based security. Every person should be vigilant and take care of themselves when going out – same with servers. I will just tweak the example configurations provided with the documentation pack.

Next, I will install Dropbear and remove OpenSSH server. The reason that I do this is largely due to resource consumption. Since the SSH server is rarely used except for administrative work, I just use a light-weight one instead, to conserve RAM. I will set it with the “-w” option to block remote root logins. Other than that, I leave things as they are.

Since most Open Source web applications tend to use MySQL as their database, I need to configure this. Depending on the amount of RAM available, I will select the example configuration provided with the documentation pack. The amount of recommended RAM is stated in the example config files themselves. I will tweak it by adding the skip-networking, skip-bdb, skip-innodb flags to reduce RAM usage.

Web server
I prefer to use Lighttpd because it provides a lean web-server that is easy to configure. IMHO, Nginx is not as friendly to configure while Apache is too resource intensive. There are a number of configurations that I will do with this. I will set server.tag to emit some useful information – typically the name of the actual machine that is serving up the page. I will disable server.dir-listing. I will set the SSL certificates if required and set the algorithm to AES128-SHA to conserve CPU resources. I will also tweak the FastCGI numbers depending on the resources and expected performance of the server.

Web application
I tend to run PHP5 because that is what most Open Source stuff use. I will tweak it by turning on zlib.output_compression, reducing memory_limit and turning off expose_php for security and performance purposes. The actual values to tweak will depend on the resources available on the server.

Some points to note:

If using an opcode cache like XCache, it is important to reduce the number of FastCGI processes and increase the child threads because the cache is stored per-process. Otherwise, it is better to reduce the child threads to zero and increase the FastCGI processes to reduce resource consumption.

Other minor tweaks that I will install would be things like etckeeper that helps to keep track of maintenance issues. I may also install cron-apt to help with some update notifications. I also reduce swappiness to improve memory performance.


Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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