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CinemaQuestria Orchestration

Or: Continuous Defenstration in a Container-based Ecosystem

I’ve been a core member of the staff for CinemaQuestria for many months. In that time we have gone from shared hosting (updated by hand with FTP) to a git-based deployment system that has won over the other staffers.

In this blogpost I’m going to take a look at what it was, what it is, and what it will be as well as some challenges that have been faced or will be faced as things advance into the future.

The Past

The site for CinemaQuestria is mostly static HTML. This was chosen mainly because it made the most sense for the previous shared hosting environment as it was the least surprising to set up and test.

The live site content is about 50 MB of data including PDF transcripts of previous podcast episodes and for a long time was a Good Enough solution that we saw no need to replace it.

However, being on shared hosting it meant that there was only one set of authentication credentials and they had to be shared amongst ourselves. This made sense as we were small but as we started to grow it didn’t make much sense. Combined with the fact that the copy of the site on the live server was pretty much the only copy of the site we also lost disaster recovery points.

Needless to say, I started researching into better solutions for this.

The first solution I took a look at was AWS S3. It would let us host the CQ site for about 0 dollars per month. On paper this looked amazing, until we tried it and everyone was getting huge permissions issues. The only way to have fixed this would have been to have everyone use the same username/password or to have only one person do the deploys. In terms of reducing the Bus factor of the site’s staff, this was also unacceptable.

I had done a lot of work with Dokku-alt for hosting my personal things (this site is one of many hosted on this server), so I decided to give it a try with us.

The Present

Presently the CQ website is hosted on a Dokku-alt server inside a container. For a while while I was working on getting the warts out only I had access to deploy code to the server, but quickly on I set up a private repo on my git server for us to be able to track changes.

Once the other staffers realized the enormous amount of flexibility being on git gave us they loved it. From the comments I received the things they liked the most were:

After the warts were worked out I gave the relevant people access to the dokku server in the right way and the productivity has skyrocketed. Not only have people loved how simple it is to push out new changes but they love how consistent it is and the brutal simplicity of it.

Mind you these are not all super-technically gifted people, but the command line git client was good enough that not only were they able to commit and make changes to the site, but they also took initiative and corrected things they messed up and made sure things were consistent and correct.

When I saw those commits in the news feed, I almost started crying tears of happy.

Nowadays our site is hosted inside a simple nginx container. In fact, I’ll even paste the entire Dockerfile for the site below:

FROM nginx

COPY . /usr/share/nginx/html

That’s it. When someone pushes a new change to the server it figures out everything from just those two lines of code.

Of course, this isn’t to say this system is completely free of warts. I’d love to someday be able to notify the backrooms on skype every time a push to the live server is made, but that might be for another day.

The Future

In terms of future expansion I am split mentally. On one hand the existing static HTML is hysterically fast and efficient on the server, meaning that anything such as a Go binary, Lua/Lapis environment or other web application framework would have a very tough reputation to beat.

I have looked into using Lapis for this beta test site, but the fact that HTML is so dead easy to modify made that idea lose out.

Maybe this is in the realm of something like jekyll, Hugo or sw to take care of. I’d need to do more research into this when I have the time.

If you look at the website code currently a lot of it is heavily duplicated code because the shared hosting version used to use Apache server-side includes. I think a good place to apply these would be in the build in the future. Maybe with a nice husking operation on build.


Anyways, I hope this was interesting and a look into a side of CinemaQuestria that most of you haven’t seen before. The Season 5 premiere is coming up soon and this poor server is going to get hammered like nothing else, so that will be a nice functional test of Dokku-alt in a production setting.


Content posted on 2015-03-13, opinions and preferences of the author may have changed since then.