Who needs shell access anyway?



  • I work in an IT company owned by a nontechnical person. This leads to some rather interesting business decisions. To wit: Our main product is a web service. Obviously the central piece of hardware in the company is the web server, which is also our only server. Obviously you'd need a reasonably competent administrator to make sure this important server works exactly as we need it.

    Obviously my boss decided otherwise. You see, administrators are ridiculously expensive. My boss would have to pay upwards of thirty Euros per hour, eight hours a day for as many days as the admin is at work, despite the fact that the admin would spend much of that time not fixing problems. Since this would apparently make the entire company unprofitable he instead opted for a managed server, which is much superior to a self-administered one since the hosting company has trained professionals who will do whatever we require of them (with a several-hour response time) while being vastly cheaper. Oh, and we don't have shell access; our hoster doesn't offer servers with shell access. Software that isn't a PHP script is apparently not worth using. Despite the fact that it was previously decided that we'd be using Trac.

    Now, there are a few growing pains. Like frequent run-ins with the badly-configured security system* or trouble with Plesk or the fact that the absolutely mission-critical Plesk XML-RPC API (a WTF in itself) is not part of our SLA and not actually supported. Or the fact that we can't query our external name server (part of a legacy system I need to interface with) anymore because our hoster recently decided to block any outgoing traffic on port 53** unless it goes to their own name servers. Oh, and they refuse to change that policy; it's for our own safety, don'tchaknow? Port 53 is obviously evil.

    There's not a single month where we don't have any bizzarre problems that stem from components outside our control - frequently even one where we aren't even allowed to look at the log files. Parts of our codebase consist mainly of attempts to work around server quirks and I'm still waiting for the name server's admin to implement a goddamn web service that allows me to run DNS queries again.

    But at least we saved the money for an underpaid server admin.

     

    * Example: The security system would reject any POST containing two consecutive dashes as these two dashes could be part of a multipart boundary attack. Or, you know, part of an arbitrary file, which is perfectly fine to upload. Thankfully we cound convince the hoster to disable that rule. Another rule, which "recognizes" a POST containing any of a variety of PHP functions (e.g. "preg_replace(") as a hacking attempt had to be worked around using ROT13. The ROT13 is for our convenience; code like "$evil = 'preg_replace'; $evil(...)" is completely ignored by the security system and would work as well.

    ** In case you're wondering: I used to do DNS queries by running "shell_exec('dig @<OUR_NS> <DOMAIN>')". Yes, the hoster left PHP's shell functions enabled despite the fact that we're not supposed to have shell access. Intentionally.



  •  So, it's not just a managed server, but also a managed server at Lowest Bidder, inc.?

    Of course, a good managed server would probably cost more than the underpaid administrator.



  • I agree- Without knowing more about the business, I can't say if the managed server is a bad move- It might make sense, might not, depending on your size, whether you have appropriate infrastructure, etc.

    Getting a shitty company to manage it, however, definitely is.



  • @j6cubic said:

    Yes, the hoster left PHP's shell functions enabled despite the fact that we're not supposed to have shell access. Intentionally.

    I seem to recall encountering an off-the-shelf script kiddie package that gives you a web-embedded xterm simulator for sites configured that way.



  • Snails.



  • @flabdablet said:

    I seem to recall encountering an off-the-shelf script kiddie package that gives you a web-embedded xterm simulator for sites configured that way.


    I have heard an even better story once: a company that makes government websites included an webbased RDP client as public facing service on all their websites, presumably to configure webservers not directly under their control. Without any password protection whatsoever. If you knew the URL, you could just login on any webserver that had that website deployed.

    Once they found out, several dozen cities had to completely close down their website for a few days to fix it.

    I had just worked for another company that also makes similar websites, and what makes this story particularly horrific is that we had to spring through all kinds of security hoops because those sites tended to interface directly with the nation-wide civil registration system. That way, citizens could for example update their address using a simple form on the city website. Anyone with direct access to the server however could just as easily download all kinds of personal information. So much for privacy.

    As for using a managed server: it's not all that expensive to get a decent one. The company I work for uses several managed servers to host its websites (which is its core business), and since it is a fairly small company (with just two part-time developers), this works out very well for us. Now I can't change DNS records directly, but we don't need to do that particularly often anyway, and the hosting company is always quick to respond. A decent SLA ensures that, too. In return, we get a very solid cloud-based platform that has not gone down on us for more than about an hour over the past five years, including good backups, software updates, and all the other little bits of maintenance you could want. With shell-access, I should add.



  • @cdosrun said:

    I agree- Without knowing more about the business, I can't say if the managed server is a bad move- It might make sense, might not, depending on your size, whether you have appropriate infrastructure, etc.

    Getting a shitty company to manage it, however, definitely is.

    Given the "quality" of an admin that fits our requirements (must be a university student, must be willing to work for 10 EUR/h, can't work more than 20 hours a week because students aren't legally allowed to) it was probably a good move despite the headaches it causes. Also because we have a lot of churn due to many students wanting to spend a semester abroad or finishing their degree and continuing their studies somewhere else. That churn would obviously also affect the admin position, leading to a succession of admins with zero experience.

    I learned a lot on this job. Most importantly I learned that you can't build a company on the backs of people who have zero job experience, can't guarantee when and how long they can work and are likely to leave your company after half a year. I also learned that I need to find a better job.



  • @j6cubic said:

    can't work more than 20 hours a week because students aren't legally allowed to

    TRWTF. But I'm curious. How is such a thing enforced? For all students? Full time? Part time? At what level is this law (local, country, EU)?



  • @boomzilla said:

    @j6cubic said:
    can't work more than 20 hours a week because students aren't legally allowed to

    TRWTF. But I'm curious. How is such a thing enforced? For all students? Full time? Part time? At what level is this law (local, country, EU)?

     

    "legally allowed" is probaly bollocks in the strict sense.

    You can work as much as you want-- but upwards of a certain amount of income your forfeit the right to government money for your study. That's reasonable.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @boomzilla said:

    @j6cubic said:
    can't work more than 20 hours a week because students aren't legally allowed to

    TRWTF. But I'm curious. How is such a thing enforced? For all students? Full time? Part time? At what level is this law (local, country, EU)?

    A quick google search indicates that non-EU students in the UK cannot work more than 20 hours. In Germany, there may be extra insurance costs if students work more than 20 hours. Again, in Germany, students should be allowed to work more than 20. So no idea where it's illegal for them to do so.



  • @dhromed said:

    You can work as much as you want-- but upwards of a certain amount of income your forfeit the right to government money for your study. That's reasonable.

    What's reasonable about it? Seems like punishing productive people. If I'm going to give money away, I'd rather give it to someone willing to work and study than some freeloader. I assume there's no minimum work requirement for public financial aid?



  • @PJH said:

    A quick google search indicates that non-EU students in the UK cannot work more than 20 hours. In Germany, there may be extra insurance costs if students work more than 20 hours. Again, in Germany, students should be allowed to work more than 20. So no idea where it's illegal for them to do so.

    I hadn't really considered foreign students. But I should know better than to underestimate the eccentricities of tax codes.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @boomzilla said:

    I hadn't really considered foreign students
    Wait - what? Was he indicating that 'native' students were restricted to 20 hrs? I can't find anything that says that.



  • @boomzilla said:

    Seems like punishing productive people. If I'm going to give money away, I'd rather give it to someone willing to work and study than some freeloader.
     

    Whu? It's not a reward, it's help. You're saying that people who work and don't need the extra money should
    have even more bestowed upon them, and that everybody else must surely
    be a lazy git. That's reverso-world. It's nuts.

    If I'm going to give money away, I'd rather give it to someone who needs it than someone who already works and has money.

    I assume there's no minimum work requirement for public financial aid?

    Why would you assume that? If you can't make it in the allotted time (4 years), or quit early, the money becomes a loan instead of a gift*. So that adequately punishes the lazy, I believe.

    But then then again again, this all assumes that the world can be neatly divided into the Willfully Lazy and the Honourable Hardworking, which is of course nothing but a nice fantasy.

     

    *) technically it's the other way around, but eh.



  • @dhromed said:

    @boomzilla said:
    Seems like punishing productive people. If I'm going to give money away, I'd rather give it to someone willing to work and study than some freeloader.

    Whu? It's not a reward, it's help. You're saying that people who work and don't need the extra money should
    have even more bestowed upon them, and that everybody else must surely
    be a lazy git. That's reverso-world. It's nuts.

    I know that in at least some countries in Europe, students can get "free" university educations. I don't know which country the OP is talking about, and I have very little knowledge of rules and higher education financing outside of the US.

    However, the problem with cutting off assistance like this is that it actively discourages work once a person approaches the point at which the benefit starts diminishing or goes away entirely. I assume this wasn't the intention of the creators of the law, but is surely a consequence.

    @dhromed said:
    Why would you assume that? If you can't make it in the allotted time (4 years), or quit early, the money becomes a loan instead of a gift*. So that adequately punishes the lazy, I believe.

    OK. Like I said, I don't know much about this topic over there.



  • @boomzilla said:

    I assume this wasn't the intention of the creators of the law, but is surely a consequence.
     

    It's not a very strong consequence, though.  If you work so many hours that you lose the support, then you also don't have time to study. There isn't much middle ground here. I had two days a week at the company I interned at the year before. That time eaten away may or may not have contributed to my skin-of-teeth final scores.

    Or maybe I'm just a lazy git.



  • @dhromed said:

    @boomzilla said:
    I assume this wasn't the intention of the creators of the law, but is surely a consequence.

    It's not a very strong consequence, though.  If you work so many hours that you lose the support, then you also don't have time to study. There isn't much middle ground here. I had two days a week at the company I interned at the year before. That time eaten away may or may not have contributed to my skin-of-teeth final scores.

    Or maybe I'm just a lazy git.

    Maybe you are. :-P

    I know I had a part time job for most of college. During my senior year, I was working about 30 hours a week, on average. I got my master's degree at night taking 2 or 3 classes per semester while working full time.



  • @dhromed said:

    If I'm going to give money away, I'd rather give it to someone who needs it than someone who already works and has money.

    Which just creates a disincentive to work in the first place. Much easier to not work and get free money.

    @dhromed said:

    Why would you assume that? If you can't make it in the allotted time (4 years), or quit early, the money becomes a loan instead of a gift*. So that adequately punishes the lazy, I believe.

    That's probably better than our system, where we give out billions in "gifts" to people who never finish. Oh, and you can go to school for 20 years and the Federal government will still keep loaning you money to go to school. Also, we have no restriction on what kind of degree you must pursue, so the only people who go into engineering or medicine or science are the Asian kids. The white kids all go into Marxist-Feminist Basketweaving or Creative Writing (literally: you pay us to let your write stories, and we might even read them!)

    Oh, and plenty of money doesn't go to pay for school. I mean, you have "living expenses", right? Like tattoos, iPads, concert tickets, booze, drugs..

    And then the universities themselves have been cashing in on this scam, bloating the size of their administrations so they can double tuition. Students don't care how much it costs, because clearly they deserve it. So they borrow $40k /year and graduate in 7 years with an undergrad degree in post-modern literary criticism or some bullshit, and $300k in debt. And since they're basically useless to society and can never pay that back, the only solution is for them to go back to grad school and get a PhD in post-modern literary criticism.

    I know, you probably think I'm joking, but I am not. I've spent a lot of time around people of my generation who are in college and this is what happens. I'll still have social interactions where several people my own age are still in college. And it's not like they took a break or anything, but all they can do is go to college and accrue debt.

    @dhromed said:

    But then then again again, this all assumes that the world can be neatly divided into the Willfully Lazy and the Honourable Hardworking, which is of course nothing but a nice fantasy.

    Of course not, but when you punish people who are working and reward people who aren't, you actually create such a divide.



  • @dhromed said:

    If you work so many hours that you lose the support, then you also don't have time to study.

    Beh, I never studied anyway. I worked 40 hours /week and went to college--a lot of people do it. I did fail some classes, but just because I didn't get along with the instructors.

    College is mostly a scam. Just a way for universities to rake in barrels of cash while giving students nothing of value in return. Believe me, I've dealt with a lot of CS grads and it's dismal. There's no correlation I've seen between having a degree (even from a supposedly "top" school) and being a good software engineer. Good people do come out of university, but it was because they were genuinely interested in the curriculum and I get the feeling they could have taught themselves and saved a bunch of time and money.



  • @boomzilla said:

    During my senior year, I was working about 30 hours a week, on average.

    Yeah, that's really not that unusual. I think there were times I was in college when I was working 45-50 hours /week. But to be fair, I was just doing manual labor (not really anything to "take home" on that one, and you can spend your time reflecting on stuff, since you actually get to use your brain for your own purposes). Also, I rarely went to class, except to take tests.



  • Time for some clarification. The country in question is Germany and "students aren't legally allowed" is the boiled-down version of "once students do this we have enough caveats that many people involved just save themselves the headache and assume that twenty hours are a hard limit".


    @morbiuswilters said:
    Which just creates a disincentive to work in the first place. Much easier to not work and get free money.

    You have to prove that your family can't afford to pay for your education, which essentially means doing their taxes every six months. If my memory doesn't fail me you had to prove thet neither your parents nor your siblings could afford to pay for your studies. Plus the rules involved were designed to be understood by the bureaucrats implementing them, not the students, leading to some rather counterintuitive situations. Plus, it's a loan anyway and you have to pay back varying amounts of it based on your performance (although I think you can't end up paying back more than half of it without dropping out).

    If you want a real WTF in the German higher education system, have a look at the federal country that got its tuition law declared unconstitutional. How hard is it to get "university students have to pay money to study" right? Too hard for Bremen, it seems.



  • @j6cubic said:

    You have to prove that your family can't afford to pay for your education

    You do here, too, but the bar is incredibly low (or.. high?) Also, it's not based on performance or likelihood you will graduate or even the usefulness of your degree to society. It's like "Your family makes less than $50k /year, have some buckets of taxpayer money."

    And if you don't qualify for free money, you will at least qualify for student loans! And those will basically never be paid back and the US now has over $1 trillion in student loans, mostly to delinquent shitheads who aren't ever going to pay them back. I mean, for many, it's actually impossible for them to pay it back. They owe $150k and their degree is in Feminist Perspectives on LOLCats and the most they can ever make is $20k /year. So, like, their monthly payment will be $50 and they'll die owing more money than they borrowed, when you take interest into account.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    And if you don't qualify for free money, you will at least qualify for student loans! And those will basically never be paid back and the US now has over $1 trillion in student loans, mostly to delinquent shitheads who aren't ever going to pay them back. I mean, for many, it's actually impossible for them to pay it back. They owe $150k and their degree is in Feminist Perspectives on LOLCats and the most they can ever make is $20k /year. So, like, their monthly payment will be $50 and they'll die owing more money than they borrowed, when you take interest into account.

    Student loans in the US are simply a way to subsidize education without looking too commie. The government knows that students blow 1/3 of their loans on iPhones and trips to Punta Cana, and that's about what the average student borrower pays back. The rest of the money goes inside the school system to grease the cogs and buy huge desks for the deans. Win-win.



  • @Ronald said:

    @morbiuswilters said:
    And if you don't qualify for free money, you will at least qualify for student loans! And those will basically never be paid back and the US now has over $1 trillion in student loans, mostly to delinquent shitheads who aren't ever going to pay them back. I mean, for many, it's actually impossible for them to pay it back. They owe $150k and their degree is in Feminist Perspectives on LOLCats and the most they can ever make is $20k /year. So, like, their monthly payment will be $50 and they'll die owing more money than they borrowed, when you take interest into account.

    Student loans in the US are simply a way to subsidize education without looking too commie. The government knows that students blow 1/3 of their loans on iPhones and trips to Punta Cana, and that's about what the average student borrower pays back. The rest of the money goes inside the school system to grease the cogs and buy huge desks for the deans. Win-win.

    Don't forget all the M.A.s in Feminist-Marxist Deconstruction Basket Weaving. Somebody needs to put the caramel drizzle on my coffee.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    Don't forget all the M.A.s in Feminist-Marxist Deconstruction Basket Weaving. Somebody needs to put the caramel drizzle on my coffee.

    Is that some kind of code for a weird, unhealthy sex act?



  • @Ronald said:

    @morbiuswilters said:
    Don't forget all the M.A.s in Feminist-Marxist Deconstruction Basket Weaving. Somebody needs to put the caramel drizzle on my coffee.

    Is that some kind of code for a weird, unhealthy sex act?

    Somebody needs to roast my beans.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    @Ronald said:
    @morbiuswilters said:
    Don't forget all the M.A.s in Feminist-Marxist Deconstruction Basket Weaving. Somebody needs to put the caramel drizzle on my coffee.

    Is that some kind of code for a weird, unhealthy sex act?

    Somebody needs to roast my beans.

    Someone needs to froth my cream.



  • @da Doctah said:

    @morbiuswilters said:

    @Ronald said:
    @morbiuswilters said:
    Don't forget all the M.A.s in Feminist-Marxist Deconstruction Basket Weaving. Somebody needs to put the caramel drizzle on my coffee.

    Is that some kind of code for a weird, unhealthy sex act?

    Somebody needs to roast my beans.

    Someone needs to froth my cream.

    Unsettling coming from someone who has a baby with liquid coming out of his mouth as his avatar.


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