support, anywhere

30 June 2014

A new competitor to Team Sky has recently emerged from the heart of Bloomsbury. Composed of MetaBroadcats past and present, and with three members cycling RideLondon this year, Team MetaBroadcast has been gathering pace for a little while now and is getting to be quite a crowd. It was only a few weeks ago, though, that we went for our inaugural ride together.

After some negotiation on the start time, and on what was the hottest day of the year so far, we met at Richmond Park's Kingston Gate at the sprightly hour of 9 o'clock, at the start of a route which took in all the Surrey hills bits of the RideLondon course. Good training for August!

Having quite a few of us on out on the road together had presented us with a bit of a challenge: systems support. I happened to be on call that weekend and while there was only a small chance of something going awry with a component in a way that didn't self-heal, there was a chance nonetheless. Normally, I'd ask someone else to cover the hours spent wheeling around the countryside, but all candidates for said cover were going to be with me, or otherwise engaged. So I'd need to support from the bike.

problem #1: the computer

Last year when I rode from London to Paris, I found a Bluetooth keyboard and my Nexus 4 worked great together to let me write blog posts on the road. That was perfect with a large rucksack that could fit a large, light, keyboard, but no good for putting in the back pocket of a jersey. The solution was easy: a folding Bluetooth keyboard. With a bit of foresight and a next-day delivery it arrived in good time for the ride.

problem #2: the vpn

We used an L2TP over IPSec VPN which, due to a long-standing bug, isn't supported on stock Android builds. I was all set to apply a workaround but at midnight the night before when I came to do it, I only then realised that rooting my phone would wipe the contents. Not the sort of thing I wanted to embark on at that hour, especially as all my two-factor authentication tokens—also essential for support—live on the self same phone. I also didn't much fancy changing the server components at midnight. Now, we'd looked a little at OpenVPN in the past but prefered to stick with something supported natively by operating systems. However, it already being far too late on a Saturday night, I decided to give the OpenVPN AWS appliance a whirl.

It was a breeze to set up and within 30 minutes I was all set up with VPN and terminal access. With both of these problems overcome, only the hills themselves remained to be conquered.

problems solved!

Setting off the next day, I knew that if any calls came through from my dear friend, PagerDuty, I'd be all set. None did, thankfully, so we were able to enjoy the day without PagerDuty's dulcet tones interrupting. Rolling through the hills, we took in the wonderful views across the Downs, finishing the day with a climb of Box Hill before heading to the great G!RO cafe to reward ourselves with coffee and cake.

All in all, a successful day. We've now even switched to the OpenVPN appliance for all our VPN needs. It's more stable (thanks, mainly I think, to its ability to use either TCP or UDP), requires less administration, and works everywhere, even if you do need to install a client for it to do so.

Supporting systems 24/7 can be a burden on a team, but we try to keep that to a minimum by making sure the most appropriate device can be used for wherever you are and whatever you're up to. If you like the sound of this flexibility over a work-prescribed brick of a laptop when you're on support, why not check out the MetaBroadcast jobs page? Or if you fancy joining us on one our weekend jaunts to the countryside, then drop me a line!

Picture credit: scottmontreal

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