Chasing my tail and finding something new to learn

Experience and keeping notes helps limit chasing tail.

In my last post, Help people get the job done, I wrote about disappointment with how a change was made in the end user’s environment at my office. The change required they do something different to accommodate a purely technical change in systems. Once connected their work was no different than it had been.

Why we didn’t build in the logic to connect them to the new resource and make it transparent for the user seemed to me like a failure on our part. Simplify the user experience so they can focus on the work they do by IT using our skills to make the computers work for people rather than the other way around.

I made some changes to personal websites to demonstrate redirection could be used to point at the correct work websites. It was meant to illustrate the analog idea that one work website could be pointed at the other. Going to my websites, train.boba.org and sclc.boba.org, immediately sent a browser to the intended work website. Success!

After demonstrating the capability I disabled it so my URLs go to their originally intended websites.

So where’s chasing my tail come in?

While experimenting with the redirect I modified the boba.org configuration. For a while it wasn’t possible to get to that site at all. Then depending on the URL got to it or andrewboba.com. Putting boba.org in the browser’s address bar ended up at andrewboba.com, but not correctly displayed. Putting http://boba.org went to the correct site but didn’t rewrite the link as secure, https://.

To stop being distracted by that issue and continue testing the redirect I disabled the boba.org website.

Worked more with the redirect over a few days. Got to the point I felt I understood it well and tried boba.org again.

It wouldn’t come up no matter what I tried. Everything went to a proper display of andrewboba.com.

I increased the logging level. I created a log specifically for boba.org (it didn’t show up which was my first clue). Not seeing the log I went through other site configurations to see how their custom logs were set up. They appeared to be the same.

Finally I decided to try boba.org without a secure connection. I wasn’t sure the name of the .conf file for secure connections and decided to look in Apache’s ../sites-enabled directory to see if there were separate .conf files for https connections.

And guess what I found? There are separate .conf’s for https, yes. There were no .confs of any kind for boba.org! Then it hit me. There had been no log files for boba.org because there were no ../sites-enabled .conf files for boba.org.

And then I finally remembered I had disabled the site myself to focus on the redirect. Chasing my tail because I’m very new at Apache webserver administration. I disabled a feature to focus on making something happen then forgot the change I made when I resolved the first challenge.

Better notes, and more experience, would have helped me remember sooner.

And I also found something new to learn. While boba.org was disabled, andrewboba.com was being displayed. Would prefer “not found” or something similar to show up rather than a different website on the server.

New challenge. Figure out how to serve a desired site/page not available message when a site on this server is down.

One of the reasons I like information technology. Always something new to learn at every turn.

Help people get the job done

IT’s job is supposed to be making things easier for users.

Users have been using a single URL for access to all their web applications and now the backend for just one is moved to another server to avoid end of life? If you’re where I am now users are sent a new URL and told to use it if that application is needed.

It is accessed via Citrix and I don’t understand Citrix architecture well I have to say. However the users of this app apparently don’t use any other app via Citrix.

In the meeting about the change I wondered out loud whether users could just be redirected? No need to learn a new URL, no need to know when or if to use it. Just send the apps’ users to the new URL when they attempt to use the app.

The response was, “no, can’t do that”, “don’t have wild card certificates”, “can’t install existing certificates on other servers”, “can’t change DNS”, “can’t send people from the old site to the new site”, and so on…

My reasoning was to simplify the user experience. Why make people learn something new if there’s a way to get them to the new webapp without learning a new URL? As a technologist I feel VERY strongly my job and the job of others like me is to enable people to do their work and not force them to understand or learn technology that is not relevant to that.

Back to the objections. A DNS name can have its network address updated periodically. This very website has a dynamic address and can still be found by name even after an address change. The server is running a job to monitor the public address and update DNS when it changes. Automatic. Hands off.

No certificate changes required. If siteA and siteB are continuing to operate as siteA and siteB and each has their own valid certificate then no change in certificate needed. When someone browses to the site the browser requests a secure connection. The trustworthiness of the connection is determined by information the site provides and certificate authorities the browser trusts. No need to move certificates anywhere. Even if there were that can be done without renewing certificates.

Sending people from one site to another, in its simplest (as far as I know) form only requires a Redirect. For wesiteA and websiteB, if visitors to websiteA should actually be going to websiteB tell websiteA’s webserver to redirect browsers to websiteB. When somebody browses to websiteA the webserver sends a message back to the user’s web browser which says you need to ask for websiteB instead. Then the browser does just that and ends up at websiteB even if it’s on a different server in a different country.

I actually set up Redirect on this server to test my understanding and be certain it would work the way I thought. It did. Visiting one of my webhosts on this server automatically directed me to workAppA and visiting another webhost went automatically to workAppB.

In doing the reading to get Redirect set up I learned it could be as granular as by user or program on an Apache server. I suppose it’s possible Citrix doesn’t have a way to support that. But I don’t believe it. I know Citrix apps can be secured by login so userA and userB don’t see all the same apps. I’ve written powershell to report what security groups are associated with which published apps on a Citrix server.

In this case telling end users YOU HAVE TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW to keep doing your job strikes me as IT not doing its job!