WHMCS – Is the promo applied or not?

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WHMCS is one of the most popular billing systems for web hosting companies. Despite this fact there are many small caveats and grudges you will find with the WHMCS platform.

For example, when a customer is passed to an order page using a link with a promotional code or with an existing promo code applied the order summary does not show the discounted total. The discounted total is only shown on the checkout page. How stupid? This simple mistake by WHMCS’s developers can not only increase customer cart abandonment rates but also confuse the customer whether the discount is applied or not. Put simply, it grinds my gears as well. Continue reading…

My first dedicated server, back in 2005

This is a short post about my first ever dedicated server… back in 2005. I seldom forget exactly how long I’ve been involved in the web industry. I took a moment to reflect back in time. Using the WayBackMachine I was able to find the company’s page and details. I rented my first dedicated server from a company called AngelNetworkz. This image below is exactly how I remember their website and page looking.

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Continue reading…

Virtual Firewall and Networking – Planning Guide

This is a planning guide on how to create a robust, redundant, virtual network for your home-lab environment including a virtual firewall. This requires a lot of existing hardware and expertise. This is not recommended the faint of heart and will challenge you. Using a physical firewall is the easy choice.

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I have structured this guide around how I have my own network configured for the vSkilled home lab. I have been running in this configuration for literally years without incident. You should first weigh the pros and cons for your own environment and then decide if this design is the right choice for YOU. Just because it works for me, does not mean it will work for you. There are many mixed opinions between running your firewall physically or virtually. Neither is right or wrong. That really depends entirely on your skill level and the equipment you have available. You should decide on a network topology which you are most comfortable troubleshooting and fixing when it breaks.

Continue reading…

Firewalls for Home Use

A question I see often is what firewall is the best for a home/residential environment? Before I get into that, we must realize that the majority of non tech-savvy people do not even have a firewall, or they have one but it’s not enabled/configured correctly, or they’re just not sure. In an age where we see more weaponized vulnerabilities and threats year after year – this is a huge problem. The problem though, is as big as an issue for consumers as it is for businesses such as ISPs and network device manufactures.

Home router firmware hasn’t change much over time. In early 2016, The Wall Street Journal looked at the security capabilities of the top 20 home routers. Only six of those had up-to-date firmware at that time, and just two of them had good password processes. The recent ASUS settlement with the Federal Trade Commision over the critical security flaws in their home routers is further proof that home router manufacturers don’t take security seriously. Today’s home router selections don’t offer you the flexibility to set up your network the way you see fit. They also don’t provide you visibility into the devices that are connecting to your network says Untangle.

There is a wide array of security practices that would probably make you shake your head.  Just the other day I was at my parents place and found that the ISP provided modem/gateway’s firewall was set to “NAT only”. The firewall was disabled and it even stated that this was the default option and that enabling the firewall was “optional”. I would highly suspect that this is the default configuration for all of the ISP’s customers. This means the firewall functionality and security legwork is responsibility of the end-device. Scary! Continue reading…

Windows Server 2016 – Technical Preview 5

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Microsoft has released Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 5 (build #14300). You can see what’s new here. This could probably be one of the last few TP (tech preview) builds that we will see. Especially so if Microsoft is still firm on their plans to officially launch Windows Server 2016 this summer (Q3 2016).

As long as you are running VMware ESXi 5.5 or higher (6.0 or later is recommended) then Windows Server 2016 is an supported operating system on VMware. You can even select it as an option for the guest OS on virtual machine version 11 or higher. Keep in mind that VMware VM version 11 restricts you to using the web client ONLY. When moving from a previous version of Windows Server to Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 5, you will need to uninstall the previous version for a clean installation of Technical Preview 5. You can download TP5 as an ISO, however Nano server is only available in VHD format. See Getting Started with Nano Server for full details.

Personally I was never a fan of Windows 8.x or Server 2012. So far I think that Windows Server 2016 is already step in a better direction. Even in technical preview it offers many improvements of it’s predecessor. Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 5 provides a wide range of new and enhanced features and capabilities spanning server virtualization, storage, software-defined networking, server management and automation, web and application platform, access and information protection, virtual desktop infrastructure, and more. The GUI version or what is now referred to by Microsoft as the “Desktop Experience” is my current de-facto standard. If you use or have seen Windows 10 then right out of the box you will notice that Server 2016 is a stripped down, optimized, server version of Windows 10.

Choose Standard or Datacenter edition, depending on the features you need:

  • Windows Server 2016 Standard
    • Up to 2 VM’s or Hyper-V containers
    • Unlimited Windows containers
    • New Nano Server deployment option for “just enough OS”
  • Windows Server 2016 Datacenter
    • Unlimited VM’s and Hyper-V containers
    • Unlimited Windows containers
    • New Nano Server deployment option for “just enough OS”
    • Shielded VM’s and Host Guardian Service
    • Storage features, including Storage Spaces Direct and Storage Replica
    • New networking stack

Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 5 Gallery:

Overall Technical Preview 5’s new features seem to be focused on Hyper-V, Networking, Storage, Nano Server and Security. In Server 2016 you will also find Windows Defender and “Windows Server Antimalware” is installed and enabled by default.

The introduction of Host Guardian Service (HGS)’s new feature Shielded Virtual Machines which focuses on the security of virtual machines running in the Hyper-V environment. The goal of shielded VMs and Guarded Fabric is to help provide service providers and cloud operators the ability to offer their tenant administrators a hosted environment where protection of tenant virtual machine data is strengthened against threats from compromised storage, network, and host administrators, as well as malware.

This is just a quick post showcasing the new tech preview build. I will have a more in-depth view of all of these features and more when a release candidate build is finally available.

What do you think of Windows Server 2016 so far? Comment below!

vSkilled Crypto – Now SSL Encrypted!

vSkilled is now fully SSL encrypted and including HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS).  Since vSkilled is a technical IT blog, one would expect to think that the communication between the client and server aught be encrypted. Now that traffic has picked up on the site I decided to move things over to SSL.

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vSkilled uses CloudFlare as our CDN so that complicates things slightly when using SSL. We’re using the Full SSL (Strict) model which encrypts the connection between you and CloudFlare, and from CloudFlare to vSkilled’s web servers.

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Enjoy!