State of the Onion: MetaBrainz

In the past few weeks we’ve been hit with several traffic increases to MusicBrainz which is putting considerably more strain on our aging infrastructure than we’re happy with. If it seems that we’re not doing anything about it, that is because we’ve been busy behind the scenes trying to keep things moving forward. This sometimes doesn’t leave us a lot of time to keep the public informed on our work. Hopefully this blog post will fix this in the short term:

In 2011 we started to make plans to move MusicBrainz hosting into the cloud, but then out of the blue we were donated a pile of machines. There were so many machines that I postponed the cloud plans and prepared the donated machines for service. That has carried us for 4+ years with almost no hardware cost, which was really great. The plan was to move to the cloud sometime around 2015, but then I spent most of 2014/2015 dealing with conflicts in the team, putting us seriously behind schedule while our hardware decayed.

On top of that, we’ve recently had some “bad luck”. We have had some disrespectful commercial customers hit us really hard and we had to find and block them. We have had unexpected traffic spikes and when trying to address these unexpected traffic spikes, we had two more machines fail on us. These were the donated machines that we kept in reserve for just this moment. The loss of two machines caught us short on capacity to handle the increased demands on our servers.

So, now we face the tough question: Do we buy expensive hardware that we might use for 6 months (~$5000) or do we try and save the money and tough it out? I’d rather not spend so much money on such short term use if we can avoid it. We’re going to try and move to a new hosting facility somewhere in the EU, since that is where most of our users are.

Moving to a new hosting facility has an incredible number of dependencies that Christina (our Biz Dev manager), Zas and I have been working through. It may not seem like we have a plan, but we do, and we’re incredibly busy trying to make the plan happen. To give you a taste of what we’re up against:

  1. We want to move our hosting to Europe and have a business presence in Europe in order to reduce the costs and inefficiencies of being a solely US based business. A lot of our traffic, customers and contractors are in the EU and it simply makes sense to have a presence here.
  2. To establish a presence in the EU I needed local help to help with the business matters as well as researching and establishing an EU organization. So I needed to find a Biz Dev manager and that person is Christina.
  3. Once Christina was on board she researched our options about what was suited for us. Getting that process moving involved getting certified documents from California, board approval for spending funds to establish the organization, EU labor law research, (and we needed to swap a board member, too!), hiring help to establish the org. and generally navigating the Spanish bureaucracy. (See this only slightly exaggerated short film for some clues of our ordeal.)
  4. Once the org. had been established we needed to convince the bank to open a bank account for us. The draconian US banking laws extend worldwide and the local bank had to ensure that they were not opening themselves up to thousands of $$$ in accounting hassles just to allow a tiny non-profit to open a bank account. We finally have a bank account and have started paying our contractors with it!
  5. At the same time we’re also working to set up an office for the growing team here in Barcelona. That required a byzantine process that barely started when you sign the lease. Getting power, internet and water set up has taken a frustratingly long time. Had I known how long, I would have stayed at my co-working space for a while longer while addressing hosting issues.
  6. While Christina has been focused on the hardcore paperwork, Zas is keeping the site running, which itself requires many heroics. Zas and I have started planning the move to the EU hosting provider. We’ve got a 5-page document that collects some of the open questions and requirements around this process: https://docs.google.com/document/d/16KNm4KksNwz29Opk1aILOMtCmPIeXFuxxUjMoPT3th0/edit#heading=h.dpfvoz1idcro. Right now Zas and Bitmap are here in Barcelona and we’re going to work on establishing a formal plan for moving to the new hosting company. We’re currently comparing hosting company offerings – see what we’ve collected so far if you care to follow along. The amount of work required to make this happen is making my head hurt. (A special shoutout to KodeStar, lead developer of FanArt.tv, for providing a lot of useful feedback about our various options.)
  7. While Christina, Zas and I have our hands full, Bitmap and Gentlecat continue to release new features and work on the schema change. Not to mention all the contributions from Freso and Reosarevok to keep the community happy and polite while we deal with less than optimal site conditions. That said, I am really happy and proud of my team, trying to keep things running in sub-optimal conditions.

This is just a snapshot of everything that is happening behind the scenes that will culminate with the goal of moving to a new hosting company and being set up in the EU. And mind you, we’re doing this with a minuscule budget trying to be careful of how we spent our money.

4 thoughts on “State of the Onion: MetaBrainz

  1. megleton

    So sorry too hear the bad news! Growing pains hurt a little but you gotta believe! Hang in things will be fine!😀 You all are great! TY for how you’ve help me and my career. Much luv!

  2. CyberSkull

    I wonder if you could lease the equipment for short term use instead of buying?

  3. ruaok Post author

    CyberSkull: That isn’t really an options for us. The existing hosting company doesn’t offer that. 😦

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