History of VectorStar

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September 1995:
    Josh Lewis, Benny Mattice and Laird Bedore had been getting into web design for some time, and had done some work with local ISPs Infinity Net-Com, followed by City-Guide Internet Services. Josh and Laird spend about 2 weeks trying to think of a catchy, snazzy, techie-sounding name for a company. After a few hundred combinations involving the word "vector", we managed to settle on VectorStar.

    VectorStar Communications was started as a web design business. We made websites for customers of City-Guide Internet Services. Our first server, Vector, was comprised of an AMD 5x86/133 with 32mb of RAM and a 1GB drive, running Windows NT server 4 and IIS.

    I think we ended up making 5 websites: VectorStar, City-Guide, one for a local Hungry Howies store, one for Josh's Dad's business, and one other which nobody can seem to remember.
March-ish 1996:
    The owners of City-Guide Internet Services sold City-Guide to a new owner. We were really bummed out, since we were friends with City-Guide's original ownership and got to learn a lot about dial-up, frame relay, servers, SCSI, web design, user management, a touch of UNIX - basically all of the fundamental stuff that made us good computer geeks.

    At this point, we gave up on a web design business, though it did last long enough to get Benny and Josh through a big school project on business.
Later in 1996:
    I was pretty stubborn, so I took the server back to City-Guide (a.k.a. Charles' garage of electromagnetic radiation and cool blinking lights), hooked it up, and tried to figure out something to do with it. I had an idea about selling MajorMUD bot scripts (compiled) for Procomm Plus, which would need to be redone everytime a character leveled up. Although I had managed to write (really bad!) scripts to run the MajorMUD characters, I didn't have the necessary skills to make a web-based configurator, script-compiler, and all that. That idea hung around, though I could never quite manage a way to pull it off.

    It sat around, sucking up 5 static IP's, doing practically nothing but being an idle NT server ("the only non-intel box in my garage!" as Charles called it), occasionally being used for test ideas.
March 1997:
    Laird met Frank Consoli at school, and started messing with computers (mostly hardware) all the time. He started 'running' VectorStar with Laird. During our semi-frequent visits to Charles' garage, Frank would always manage to play with something of Charles' and get on his nerves. :) Memory recalls upgrading Vector to 64mb RAM and a larger drive (2gb?) during this time.
Summer/Fall 1997:
    We still couldn't come up with any decent ideas, so Sometime in the latter half of 1997, We gave up and let vectorstar.com expire. In the meantime, Laird got a job doing sales for a custom computer retailer. He learned a lot more about hardware and NT server.
Spring 1998:
    Laird was intent to do something with the name of VectorStar. He wanted to do something commercial, to pay for the broadband connection he would need to run it on his own. With Frank's help, he built up VectorStar into two servers:
    • vector - p133, 64mb RAM, 4gb drive, and
    • berzerker (old vector): 586/133, 32mb RAM, 1 or 2gb drive
    Berzerker was an NT PDC which managed users and FTP while Vector did web, Quake II and mail... or something like that. Services got moved around almost daily in those days.
September 1998:
    By the time high school graduation came around, no broadband connection for the servers had appeared. Laird took these machines to college and hooked them up to the school's backbone. (He was working for the school's Tech/Computer dept, so he could get away with proverbial murder) He registered vectorstar.com again, and started making a new site. The plan was to host project websites for things that Laird, Frank, and their friends wanted to work on.

    Laird met Mike Solomon, who lived down the dorm hall from him. Mike had done some web design and knew some people looking for space to work on websites. He became a major member of the team for about a year.
Winter 1998:
    After about 3 months in, VectorStar had about a dozen web domains it hosted and about 20 email accounts for friends. We also hosted Quake II games for students on the University LAN. Also, Laird got a job working for City-Guide and its new owners. Charles was still Network Administrator/Engineer.

    Mike and Laird were sitting around, BS'ing like any typical day, when Mike mentioned the idea of making VectorStar a free service for anyone, and not just friends of ours. The idea sat well, but Laird knew that it would be completely unmanageable with the current system: Windows NT 4, IIS 4, and MailMAX mail server.

    Frank had played around with Linux a little bit (Slackare 3.2 and 3.4 I believe), got rooted and fdisk'd once, but more-or-less gave up on using it for a desktop OS. Laird mentions the public free hosting idea to Frank, who thinks it's "straight". Laird tells him that they would need to redo some things to make the system manageable. Frank is really eager to try Linux (I think Slackware 4 had either just been released or was about to be released) but Laird knew they weren't ready to actually run a UNIX system that does anything that could be considered useable. Instead, he got off IIS and started using Apache (1.3.4 or 1.3.6 I think) on NT.

    We stopped using Berzerker for production, and just did testing with him.

    VectorStar started accepting new users, by email-request to Laird.
April 1999:
    From December to April, VectorStar got up to about 50 email users and 25 websites. It was still pretty unmanageable, but we managed.

    Around April 10th, Laird's dorm ethernet connection went dead. Since he no longer worked for the University, he had no protection from being shut off for totally violating school policy (running DNS servers in particular).

    VectorStar was down for about 2 weeks while Laird moved nameserver records to a few IP's he could use at work. VectorStar ran from there (multiple T3's) for about 5 months. Those were the really good days.
    Berzerker came home and became an abuse-to-death machine.
June 1999:
    Laird had been out of school since sometime in May, and had spent every waking moment away from work (which was still part-time I believe) working with Linux, particularly Debian potato (considered unstable at that point) and Slackware 4. He literally lived on Frank's couch from May through early August. Frank didn't work, so he was home messing with it about 15 hours a day.

    After 7 weeks of extremely intense installation testing, tweaking, securing, and documenting, Frank and Laird stick a new hard drive in Laird's computer and start building it to be a complete replacement for Vector's NT setup.

    After about 2 weeks of getting Slack 4 clean, tweaked, secured, and building Apache, BIND, proftpd, and qmail, we were ready to run. One Sunday evening, Frank and Laird go to Laird's work and gleefully (rather scared, actually) swapped the hard drives, copied user data, and cheered REALLY loudly when everything worked perfectly. We immediately gave all of our users shell accounts. Laird made the signup system a lot better than it was: a web form, filling in username, real name, email address. It just emailed him, because he was still pretty new at perl.

    Dave Mead was a co-worker of Laird's back in the computer retail days, and he was a major user of VectorStar. We were running everything on one Pentium 133 and 32mb RAM with a (new) 4gb drive. Although it ran ten times as efficiently as it did on NT, we knew we needed to upgrade this machine. Dave contributed a nice ATX case, a BX Pentium II motherboard, 64mb RAM, an 8gb IDE drive, and I believe a Celeron 333 (original, no cache) which Frank commandeered for his own machine (the rest of us had PII-350 workstations OC'd to 467 while frank was still pushing his p200mmx). I bought an ECC Pentium II-266 (quite a rare chip!) and we once again made a late-sunday-night upgrade party with Vector.

    VectorStar reached something like 80 users around this point in time. We had some sort of announcement when we crossed the 75-user milestone.
August/September 1999:
    City-Guide didn't want to colo Vector for free anymore, so they hooked up a 384/384 DSL circuit to Laird's parents' house for half price since he was an employee. VectorStar ran beautifully until the crack of Y2K.
    On the night of December 31, 1999, Laird quit his job because his company wanted him to work the night shift over New Years. He had worked every single holiday since he started there, covering for everyone else, not getting to spend holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family. He had already made plans for New Years, and when they called him and he said no, and they threatened to fire him, he quit. That night they shut off the DSL and removed his email account at City-Guide, which was authoritative to the domain name.

    Laird's Christmas-day publicly-posted rant about his job was the dawn of the perilous, funny, tactless, filthy messageboard of VectorStar.
February 2000:
    It took 6 weeks to get Network Solutions to move the nameserver records to IP's on Laird's promptly-ordered Business DSL connection with IntNet. At 7 times the connection price Laird was paying, VectorStar officially had bills.

    When VectorStar finally came back up, not all of its 100 users were still around. Many figured we were done for good and never came back. The task of getting new users became really difficult, since the world basically thought we were dead.

    With IntNet, we had 5 IP's to play with, so Berzerker came back with a vengeance. It was basically all of the old Vector (Pentium 133), but with one IDE 3gb and one SCSI hard drive. It ran Linux, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD and was used heavily for perl development. Laird learned MySQL.

    We also got some more servers:
    • Germany. a 40mhz SparcStation IPX running OpenBSD. It was Laird's secondary workstation as well as a firewall/NAT for other testing machines.
    • Spooky. a VERY BROKEN Pentium 75, used for Perl/MySQL development.
    The sun started to shine once again on VectorStar.
April 2000:
    Around this period of time, we were lingering very closely to 60 users. We had also done some separation of services, running web & shell on vector, FTP, SQL and webcams on Berzerker, and mail on Germany. Everything got moved around a bunch of times as we played with ways to make the service better. Vector got upgraded from Slack 4 to Slack 7.0.

    Laird had taken on a little SQL/perl development project to make money (he wasn't working since he quit City-Guide), and used/abused the oblivion out of Spooky for that project. That project paid for VectorStar's operations from about March through July. Things got tough in July, and the still very- appreciated help from Pogo and Forge kept VectorStar going.

    In this same month, Jason Daunt made his debut into the bizarre world of VectorStar. By June he was officially Staff. By October he was officially co-owner.
July/August 2000:
    Jason, for some wierd reason, had a Pentium II-400 Xeon in his closet. It just sat there, with no motherboard to call home. He really wanted to build a dual Xeon machine. The idea starts...

    Vector got upgraded to Differential Ultra SCSI. two 4gb drives, mirrored. Crappy overheating Seagate Barracudas. We also retired spooky to being a firewall for Frank's parents around this time.

    Pogo, Jason, and Laird acquired Mexicanhouseboy, a SparcStation 5/170mhz with 128mb RAM and a QuadFastEthernet card. In other words, it was a geek's dream toy. We had no idea what to do with it yet, but since Laird was familiar with Sparc hardware and OpenBSD, we made it a firewall for Jason to use.

    We were up to about 80 users.
October/November 2000:
    Jason and Laird rented a house with Jason's girlfriend and another friend. We moved VectorStar there, starting the migration into our two Sun server racks.

    Server Upgrades:
    • Berzerker got upgraded to a Pentium 200 MMX on a good board with better drives. Still doing FTP, SQL and webcams.
    • Germany became a dedicated firewall - no more workstation junk or mail.
    • mexicanhouseboy became the Debian/SPARC shell and mail server.
    • Thrall (Sparc 4/110) became the Debian/SPARC public development shell server.
    • Vector did Web, DNS, and NFS of all users' home directories. It got a new rackmount case.
    • Holocaust, the first dual PII-400 Xeon rackmount server, was born. It was used for SQL and testing for a while.
    • Parts for the second dual-xeon were coming in.
    • schlagen_sie_es_der_hinderteilen (Sparc IPC, 25mhz, Uptime server) was added to the mix. November 3rd I believe.
    That was one of the coolest periods for VectorStar. We moved almost all of our servers to rackmount cases, or, in the case of Sparc 4/5's, they fit perfectly on a rack shelf.

    We also registered "vectorstar.net" in november.
January 2001:
    We implemented our first version of Webmail, using a slightly modified AeroMail 1.30. It has received updates and more modifications as we have grown.
March 2001:
    Our previously-abused "holocaust", after fixing a CPU incompatibility issue, became Apathy, the new shell/mail/web server. It was a Dual Pentium-II Xeon 400 (512k cache), 256mb RAM and two 18gb Atlas 10K drives.

    Mexicanhouseboy was retired immediately after that migration. It just didn't have the power needed to handle the 175-and-growing userbase.

    Berzerker was replaced with Chester, a single Xeon 400 with 128mb RAM. It also took over the SQL services previously running on "holocaust".

    Our users page had historically listed every user of VectorStar. At this point, we implemented an opt-in users page.
April 2001:
    Since the migration off of Mexicanhouseboy was done, we moved free services to vectorstar.net, with a cutoff date of May 1. The plan was to free up vectorstar.com for commercial ventures. From then on, old Vector was running services for vectorstar.com.

    VectorStar Networks serviced over 200 users. We had a lot of problems with shell users, and decided to stop user signups until we could address some of the security troubles we were having.
May 2001:
    Thrall was retired from the job of bot/development server. It was getting hammered so hard that it often took 30 seconds to log into it.
July 2001:
    VectorStar Networks, due to the lack of signups for many months, dwindled down to 100 users. Usage was in a slump overall, and many of the sites that started on VectorStar (god hates me, norch, the abode) had moved off to their own providers and domains.

    On July 15th (Laird's birthday), Laird went into a perl frenzy and finished the shiny-new new user signup system he had been working on. Signups resumed on the 18th. VectorStar Networks saw 50 new users in 2 weeks.
August 2001:
    Josh and Benny (from the original days of VectorStar) started colocating Pixelusion.com with us.

    VectorStar Networks saw more users in August than it had in total. 178 new users signed up in August.
September 2001:
    VectorStar had 34 more users in 12 days. On the 13th, we disabled new user signups, as we were moving VectorStar to a T1 at the house of Jeremy Slater.

    We moved all vectorstar.net services (FTP, SQL, webcams) on Chester to Apathy. Chester got a very-needed fresh wipeout of the OS. It had been running the same botched and hacked up Slackware install that ran Berzerker in February 2000. Plans were for Chester to take over operations of VectorStar Communications (vectorstar.com) so we could prepare for some for-profit ventures.

    We moved the servers on the 23rd, and had 3 days of DNS outage due to some miscommunication with Network Solutions. Services resumed on the 26th.
October 2001:
    User signups resumed on the 11th of October. VectorStar got another 84 users.

    Both Chester and Apathy were upgraded to 512mb of Crucial ECC SDRAM. This would tide over Apathy until further upgrades were done. Chester got two brand new Pentium II Xeon-450 CPUs with 1mb cache. These upgrades were to prepare Chester to run some high-power services for VectorStar Communications.
November 2001:
    VectorStar crossed 500 users. Celebration ensues!

    Planning began for a BIG network overhaul. The overhaul should bring VectorStar Networks to the point of handling 10,000+ users, as well as new services. It would give a lot of room for VectorStar Communications to grow as well.
December 2001:
    VectorStar started having weekly staff meetings to discuss things that need to be done, write some code, and generally organize stuff. Attendance was up to 750 users.
January 2002:
    In the beginning of January (the morning of Jan 3), Apathy (vectorstar.net's main server) has some drive corruption during the backup process. Not much data was lost - about 27 users' home directories, this document, and a few other HTML documents. All the HTML documents were recovered, but the users' home directories had to be erased.

    We also crossed 1000 users. Work started to isolate and remedy some performance problems seen on the web server, due to the extremely high load.
February 2002:
    New user signups were disabled early in February, after an explosion of plainly invalid signup requests (believed to be a sort of DoS). Work on another New User signup system started. VectorStar had 1200 users by the 4th of February.
April - June 2002:
    March was an idle month. Basic version upgrades went on in April. A lot of research went into building an entirely new mail system, which was slated for implementation in May. The system was all-SSL POP3 and SMTP(Auth), more powerful anti-spam (both incoming and outgoing) facilities, and locking down local mail queue injection. The upgrade ended up being postponed.

    After 4 months of no Staff Meetings, we started meeting again and discussing all the things that needed work. The decision was made to focus first and foremost on strengthening our existing infrastructure and services before adding new services.
July - September 2002:
    One of our users sent out tons of spam mail, abusing our liberal access to mail functionality from CGIs. Mail access from CGI's went away.

    Late in July, we started ordering new hardware for our infrastructure upgrades. After an incredible amount of trouble trying to purchase hard drives for the server, we finally got all of our orders completed.

    The SSL mail system we put together in April was found to have some serious problems. We redid the SSL mail system from the ground up with much better success.

    We discovered that the RAID cards we bought for the servers did not work with any of the BSD or Linux kernels available. We quickly wrote a patch for Linux to get the cheap FastTrak cards running. Late in the month, we finally managed to put together a working kernel patch for the SuperTrak card.

    We ran into more data corruption problems on the ext2 filesystem holding all the home directories. With some very creative work, we recovered about 75% of the data 'lost' in the filesystem.

    The NIS structure for our new servers got set in stone in September.
    At the end of the month, another user abused a perl module and completely halted our network for about 4 hours by trying to DoS an IRC server. And that was the end of letting everyone use Socket.pm.
October - December 2002:
    In short, October was the worst month ever.

    Chester's motherboard fried. The replacement board we bought was dead too. The Dual PII-266 we planned on using was officially deemed worthless, as it took way too long to boot and can't boot from CD (disaster recovery). So we've got 2 out of the 3 new servers completely dead in the water. We had to buy hardware to build two whole new servers.

    To really top things off, the main SCSI hard drive in Apathy (the only production server at the time) ground itself to a halt. However, it took 3 days to grind down, and partially corrupted our backups before we noticed that the drive was about to fail. Nonetheless, we switched to the backup drive, fixed all the corrupt file permissions we can find, and call it a loss.

    Right before the end of the month, we got all the new hardware in for the servers. Hardware was built and final buildout begins.

    RAID problems left and right. Lots of RAID problems. We didn't end up figuring out until January that we just didn't have a big enough power supply in the file/backup server.

    We also bought our first-ever piece of Cisco networking equipment. To top it off, it was a brand-new, new-model Catalyst 2950-24 switch!

    We also got all of the core systems and services running on the new servers. The new web server config (using suexec for PHP) was completed and worked exceptionally well. The new all-SSL mail server was run through full simulation testing and performed perfectly.
January - March 2003:
    Tape backup testing (with the tape drive in laird's workstation) went perfectly. The backup system looked good. Until it's plugged into the file server... All of a sudden the RAID set dies again! O, frustration!

    We go buy a new, bigger, badder power supply for the file server and magically all of our tape backup quirks and RAID array deaths go away! We were running out of power.

    On February 15th, we go live with the new servers! Finally, the new servers first dreamt of in November 2001 make it into production!

    ... And the problems started to appear quickly. First, the DNS servers didn't like the switch. Then the RAID card started acting funny, so we got a new RAID card. Turns out the RAID card wasn't the problem - the motherboard had blown its voltage-regulating capacitors. The venerable Vector, 5-year servant of VectorStar, had given up the ghost. Normally we'd rename a machine when it got a new motherboard (our server names represent the "personality" of the hardware), but since it would be such a pain in the rear to rename it, it kept the name while stepping up to a 1.2ghz Athlon.
April - August 2003:
    Things ran well through most of July... and then the problems came back again. Two dead hard drives in Vector, a dying hard drive in Chester, a tape drive caught on fire, a second tape drive wouldn't cooperate, a couple nasty power outages, a blown UPS and a ton of frustrations.

    The power outages/spikes/whatever blew up the batteries in our 3000VA UPS. Because the UPS was sitting up on its side (with the batteries on top), the battery acid trickled down on the electronics and completely ruined the UPS.

    The UPS problems smoked the board in Vector - not enough to make it outright fail, but enough that it was crashing on a near-daily basis. We ended up cannibalizing Apathy (which was a hardcore, built-up, all SCSI-RAID Dual Xeon meant for running web services) to get Vector running. Jeff & Jeremy (our very gracious colocating hosts) let us borrow their 3000, plus they hooked up a generator for good measure. Finally, stability was ours again!
Sep 2003 - May 2004:
    This period of our history should have been very busy - Laird was working very hard on new servers and finishing the Administration system, and then he was in a very serious motorcycle accident.

    We experienced plenty of hard drives dying in Vector, and intermittent, unexplainable crashes of Chester. Aside from that, everything went on smoothly and quietly.
June - July 2004:
    6 weeks of downtime. We just vanished from the internet one day in mid-June and didn't make it back until July 29. Our very gracious network provider for almost 3 years found it was time to move, and they had set us up with a very nice hosting deal.. Unfortunately the third party taking up the hosting deal let the plan fall out from under us, leaving us with no network, no home, and no notice.

    After lots of searching for a colocation provider, we got a fantastically generous offer to let us host VectorStar in the corner of a room at one of our users' houses.
August - October 2004:
    The worst hurricane season in recorded history.
    That's all that needs to be said. If you weren't watching the news, well, let's just say that Florida got royally smacked around by the forces of nature. We had some downtime due to massive power outages. Two more drives failed in Vector. We were down to about 230 users.
November 2004 - January 2005:
    Finally Laird got the time and concentration to hammer out some of the finishing touches on the new administration system. It got rolled out on the 29th of December. For the first time in three years, VectorStar started accepting new user signups again! By the end of January, VectorStar was back up to 450 users - 220 users in the first month!
February - April 2005:
    We finished getting our mits on some new hardware for VectorStar. In the process of installing the first new server, Vector (the file server) started behaving very strangely. By the end of that night, it never booted again. Although very depressing and quite stressful, the unfortunate loss of the file server was really an unexpected blessing: Ever since we started using a dedicated file server (3 years prior), that file server would give us lots of problems. This was the ideal opportunity to redesign the network and come up with a more resilient design. We started work on new servers implementing the CODA filesystem, providing resiliency and redundancy.

    On April 17th, VectorStar once again reached 1000 users!
May - November 2005:
    Work on new servers ground to a halt due to hardware problems and limited resources. Laird had plans of buying a house and moving VectorStar there, but that fell through.

    In June we had to kill new user signups again, due to rampant abuse. People were using VectorStar webspace to host virus payloads that were being retrieved by viruses! Our webspace was also used in phishing scams against a major bank. That kind of notoriety does NOT sit well with us.

    At the end of October, angstful (web/file/ftp server) died. It was replaced by a rejuvinated Apathy (still dual Xeon) with Apache 2.0 and PHP 5.
December 2005 - March 2006:
    We moved our datacenter, replaced mhb, retired ns1 and ns2, installed dedicated air conditioning, upgraded our bandwidth to 7M/768k, and implemented a revised new user signup system. All news users must be referred by an existing member of VectorStar who has been using the service for at least a year.

    Work on the new servers resumed, CODA was cancelled, and an old staff member re-joined the ranks.
April 2006 - July 2006:
    The new servers (deuce and bulldog) were completed. Website stats and bandwidth management returned and were improved. Auto-notification emails are sent when an account has run out of disk space.
    A MASSIVE overhaul of the email system took place. The new email system does a lot of anti-spoofing checks and is better behaved overall. SpamAssassin was introduced, doing both automatic system-wide filtering and optional per-user bayesian filtering. Our custom-written mailfilter was also simplified and improved and automatically runs for all user accounts. Users now have the ability to configure what happens to spam messages - they can deliver them to the folder of their choice, bounce them back to the sender, delete them, or any combination. By default all spam is delivered to the user's "spam" folder, instead of their INBOX.
August 2006 - April 2007:
    Work began to move VectorStar into VMWare. With the help of some custom scripts, this will provide VectorStar with nearly full hardware redundancy.

    In February, early development started on a potential IP Telephony service.

    In March, VectorStar moved to a new, probably permanent home.
September 2007:
    After a number of troubling months, Laird decides to shut down VectorStar Networks. It has outlived its usefulness, and the online community dreams it intended to fulfill have been met by others in different ways. The official shutdown was on September 30, 2007.
Last Updated 9-11-2007.