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    rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated

Forest                                         2021-12-17

                     WHAT IS THIS?

If you're a wondering "what is capsul?", see:

Here's a quick summary of what's in this post:

- cryptocurrency payments are back

- we visited the server in person for maintenance

- most capsuls disks should have trim/discard support 
 now, so you can run the fstrim command to optimize
 your capsul's disk. (please do this, it will save us
 a lot of disk space!!)

- we updated most of our operating system images and
 added a new rocky linux image!

- potential ideas for future development on capsul

- exciting news about a new server and a new capsul fork 
 being developed by co-op cloud /



Life happens. Cyberia Computer Club has been hustling
and bustling to build out our new in-person space in
Minneapolis, MN:

Hackerspace, lab, clubhouse, we aren't sure what to call 
it yet, but we're extremely excited to finish with the 
renovations and move in!

In the meantime, something went wrong with the physical
machine hosting our BTCPay server and we didn't have 
anywhere convenient to move it, nor time to replace it,
so we simply disabled cryptocurrency payments 
temporarily in September 2021. 

Many of yall have emailed us asking "what gives??", 
and I'm glad to finally be able to announce that 

"the situation has been dealt with",

we have a brand new server and the blockchain syncing
process is complete, cryptocurrency payments in bitcoin, 
litecoin, and monero are back online now!

    -->   <--



Guess what? Yall loved capsul so much, you wore our disks 
out. Well, almost.

We use redundant solid state disks + the ZFS file system
for your capsul's block storage needs, and it turns out 
that some of our users like to write files. A lot. 

Over time, SSDs will wear out, mostly dependent on how 
many writes hit the disk. Baikal, the server behind, is a bit different from a typical desktop
computer, as it hosts about 100 virtual machines, each 
with thier own list of application processes, for over 50 
individual capsul users, each of whom may be providing 
services to many other individuals in turn.

The disk-wear-out situation was exacerbated by our 
geographical separation from the server; we live in 
Minneapolis, MN, but the server is in Georgia. We wanted 
to install NVME drives to expand our storage capacity 
ahead of growing demand, but when we would mail PCI-e to 
NVME adapters to CyberWurx, our datacenter colocation 
provider, they kept telling us the adapter didn't fit 
inside the 1U chassis of the server.

At one point, we were forced to take a risk and undo the 
redundancy of the disks in order to expand our storage 
capacity and prevent "out of disk space" errors from 
crashing your capsuls. It was a calculated risk, trading
certain doom now for the potential possibility of doom 

Well, time passed while we were busy with other projects,
and those non-redundant disks started wearing out. 
According to the "smartmon" monitoring indicator, they 
reached about 25% lifespan remaining. Once the disk 
theoretically hit 0%, it would become read-only in order 
to protect itself from total data loss. 
So we had to replace them before that happened.

We were so scared of what could happen if we slept on 
this that we booked a flight to Atlanta for maintenance.
We wanted to replace the disks in person, and ensure we 
could restore the ZFS disk mirroring feature.

We even custom 3d-printed a bracket for the tiny PCI-e 
NVME drive that we needed in order to restore redundancy
for the disks, just to make 100% sure that the 
maintenance we were doing would succeed & maintain
stability for everyone who has placed thier trust in us 
and voted with thier shells, investing thier time and 
money on virtual machines that we maintain on a volunteer

Unfortunately, "100% sure" was still not good enough, 
the new NVME drive didn't work as a ZFS mirroring partner
at first ⁠— the existing NVME drive was 951GB, and the 
one we had purchased was 931GB. It was too small and ZFS
would not accept that. f0x suggested:

> [you could] start a new pool on the new disk, 
> zfs send all the old data over, then have an 
> equally sized partition on the old disk then add 
> that to the mirror

But we had no idea how to do that exactly or how long it 
would take & we didn't want to change the plan at the 
last second, so instead we ended up taking the train from
the datacenter to Best Buy to buy a new disk instead.

The actual formatted sizes of these drives are typically 
never printed on the packaging or even mentioned on PDF
datasheets online. When I could find an actual number
for a model, it was always the lower 931GB.
So, we ended up buying a "2TB" drive as it was the only
one BestBuy had which we could guarantee would work.

So, lesson learned the hard way. If you want to use ZFS 
mirroring and maybe replace a drive later, make sure to
choose a fixed partition size which is slightly smaller 
than the typical avaliable space on the size of drive 
you're using, in case the replacement drive was 
manufactured with slightly less avaliable formatted 

Once mirroring was restored, we made sure to test it
in practice by carefully removing a disk from the server 
while it's running:

While we could have theoretically done this maintenance 
remotely with the folks at CyberWurx performing the 
physical parts replacement per a ticket we open with 
them, we wanted to be sure we could meet the timeline
that the disks had set for **US**. That's no knock on 
CyberWurx, moreso a knock on us for yolo-ing this server 
into "production" with tape and no test environment :D

The reality is we are vounteer supported. Right now
the payments that the club receives from capusl users 
don't add up to enough to compensate (make ends meet for) 
your average professional software developer or sysadmin,
at least if local tech labor market stats are to be 

We are all also working on other things, we can't devote
all of our time to capsul. But we do care about capsul,
we want our service to live, mostly because we use it 
ourselves, but also because the club benefits from it.

We want it to be easy and fun to use, while also staying 
easy and fun to maintain. A system that's agressively
maintained will be a lot more likely to remain maintained 
when it's no one's job to come in every weekday for that.

That's why we also decided to upgrade to the latest 
stable Debian major version on baikal while we were
there. We encountered no issues during the upgrade 
besides a couple of initial omissions in our package 
source lists. The installer also notified us of several
configuration files we had modified, presenting us with
a git-merge-ish interface that displayed diffs and 
allowed us to decide to keep our changes, replace our
file with the new version, or merge the two manually.

I can't speak more accurately about it than that, as
j3s did this part and I just watched :)


               LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

We wanted to upgrade to this new Debian version because
it had a new major version of QEMU, supporting virtio-blk
storage devices that can pass-through file system discard 
commands to the host operating system.

We didn't see any benefits right away, as the vms 
stayed defined in libvirt as their original machine types,
either pc-i440fx-3.1 or a type from the pc-q35 family.

After returning home, we noticed that when we created 
a new capsul, it would come up as the pc-i440fx-5.2 
machine type and the main disk on the guest would display 
discard support in the form of a non-zero DISC-MAX size 
displayed by the `lsblk -D` command:

localhost:~# sudo lsblk -D
sr0         0        0B       0B         0
vda       512      512B       2G         0

Most of our capsuls were pc-i440fx ones, and we upgraded 
them to pc-i440fx-5.2, which finally got discards working 
for the grand majority of capsuls.

If you see discard settings like that on your capsul,
you should also be able to run `fstrim -v /` on your 
capsul which saves us disk space on baikal:

welcome, cyberian ^(;,;)^
your machine awaits

localhost:~# sudo lsblk -D
sr0         0        0B       0B         0
vda       512      512B       2G         0

localhost:~# sudo fstrim -v /
/: 15.1 GiB (16185487360 bytes) trimmed

^ Please do this if you are able to!

You might also be able to enable an fstrim service or
timer which will run fstrim to clean up and optimize 
your disk periodically.

However, some of the older vms were the pc-q35 family of 
QEMU machine type, and while I was able to get one of 
ours to upgrade to pc-i440fx-5.2, discard support still 
did not show up in the guest OS. We're not sure what's
happening there yet.

We also improved capsul's monitoring features; we began
work on proper infrastructure-as-code-style diffing 
functionality, so we get notified if any key aspects of
your capsuls are out of whack. In the past this had been
an issue, with DHCP leases expiring during maintenance
downtimes and capsuls stealing each-others assigned IP 
addresses when we turn everything back on. 

capsul-flask now also includes an admin panel with 
1-click-fix actions built in, leveraging this data:

I acknowledge that this is a bit of a silly system,
but it's an artifact of how we do what we do. Capsul
is always changing and evolving, and the web app was 
built on the idea of simply "providing a button for" 
any manual action that would have to be taken, 
either by a user or by an admin. 

At one point, back when capsul was called "cvm",
_everything_ was done by hand over email and the 
commandline, so of course anything that reduced the 
amount of manual administration work was welcome, 
and we are still working on that today.

When we build new UIs and prototype features, we learn 
more about how our system works, we expand what's 
possible for capsul, and we come up with new ways to 
organize data and intelligently direct the venerable 
virtualization software our service is built on. 

I think that's what the "agile development" buzzword from
professional software development circles was supposed to
be about: freedom to experiment means better designs 
because we get the opportunity to experience some of the 
consequences before we fully commit to any specific 
design. A touch of humility and flexibility goes a 
long way in my opinion.

We do have a lot of ideas about how to continue 
making capsul easier for everyone involved, things

1. Metered billing w/ stripe, so you get a monthly bill 
   with auto-pay to your credit card, and you only pay 
   for the resources you use, similar to what service 
   providers like Backblaze do.

   (Note: of course we would also allow you to 
   pre-pay with cryptocurrency if you wish)

2. Looking into rewrite options for some parts of the 
   system: perhaps driving QEMU from capsul-flask 
   directly instead of going through libvirt,
   and perhaps rewriting the web application in golang
   instead of sticking with flask.

3. JSON API designed to make it easier to manage capsuls
   in code, scripts, or with an infrastructure-as-code 
   tool like Terraform.

4. IO throttling your vms:
   As I mentioned before, the vms wear out the disks 
   fast. We had hoped that enabling discards would help
   with this, but it appears that it hasn't done much
   to decrease the growth rate of the smartmon wearout
   indicator metric. 
   So, most likely we will have to enforce some form of 
   limit on the amount of disk writes your capsul can
   perform while it's running day in and day out. 
   80-90% of capsul users will never see this limit,
   but our heaviest writers will be required to either
   change thier software so it writes less, or pay more
   money for service. In any case, we'll send you a
   warning email long before we throttle your capsul's

And last but not least, Cybera Computer Club Congress
voted to use a couple thousand of the capsulbux we've 
recieved in payment to purchase a new server, allowing 
us to expand the service ahead of demand and improve our 
processes all the way from hardware up. 

(No tape this time!)

Shown: Dell PowerEdge R640 1U server with two 
10-core xeon silver 4114 processors and 256GB of RAM.
(Upgradable to 768GB!!)


                    CAN I HELP?

Yes! We are not the only ones working on capsul these 
days. For example, another group,
has forked capsul-flask and set up thier own instance at

Thier source code repository is here 
(not sure this is the right one):

Having more people setting up instances of capsul-flask
really helps us, whether folks are simply testing or 
aiming to run it in production like we do.

Unfortunately we don't have a direct incentive to
work on making capsul-flask easier to set up until folks
ask us how to do it. Autonomic helped us a lot as they 
made thier way through our terrible documentation and 
asked for better organization / clarification along the 
way, leading to much more expansive and organized README 

They also gave a great shove in the right direction when
they decided to contribute most of a basic automated 
testing implementation and the beginnings of a JSON API 
at the same time. They are building a command line tool
called abra that can create capsuls upon the users 
request, as well as many other things like installing
applications. I think it's very neat :)

Also, just donating or using the service helps support, both in terms of maintaing and
reaching out and supporting our local community. 

We accept donations via either a credit card (stripe)
or in Bitcoin, Litecoin, or Monero via our BTCPay server:

For the capsul source code, navigate to:

As always, you may contact us at:

Or on matrix:

For information on what matrix chat is and how to use it,

Forest                                         2021-12-17

(c) Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International
    Cyberia Computer Club 2020-∞

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