Tag Archives: MCPro Hosting

The Move to Minecraft Realms

The server move was on.

As I mentioned in the last Minecraft post, our term with MC Pro Hosting was up this past weekend and I was looking for a new home.  Performance on our server there was poor, especially at peak hours, and the only solution they had to offer was to upgrade our service.  However, given that only eight people have ever logged on to our server, and having even four of us on at once was a rare occasion, I felt that our server plan (we ended up with the Iron Plan), advertised as good to host up 40 players, should have been sufficient, especially given we were using the vanilla server with no mods.

But where to go?

Back when I was first looking at hosting plans, people had nice things to say about Minecraft Realms, which is Mojang’s own hosting service.  It was stable, safe, and easy.  It was just expensive relative to what else was out there.  However, late last year Mojang decided to fix the pricing part, dropping the rates to as low as $7.99 a month for a six month run, $8.99 a month for a three month commitment, and $9.99 for a month to month billing cycle.

And, they also offer a free two week trial.

I setup a trial server a few weeks back, and then life got in the way and I never quite got back to it until last week, after the trial had expired.  Still, I had gotten a peek and decided to commit.  That was on Thursday last week, and I had until Sunday to wrap things up with MC Pro Hosting.

Dealing with Minecraft Realms though, that is a little different than other hosting services.  Netherbyte and MC Pro Hosting were similar, if not in pricing and service, then in how you managed your server.  They both used the same third party admin tool, both gave me FTP access to our partition, and allowed me to basically tinker with all the bits and settings directly.

You don’t get any of that with Minecraft Realms.  Or the bits that you do get are not like that at all.  You do all of your server work in the Minecraft client.

Everything is under the Minecraft Realms button

Everything is under the Minecraft Realms button

For me, having used various other tools up to this point, it was a bit confusing at first.  However, if you are coming from playing on local, single player worlds, it is clearly an attempt to make a hosted world as much like a local world as possible.

So the control panel won’t overwhelm you with options.

Controlling our world

Controls for our world

You can have three different worlds on your realm, though only one may be running at a time.  You can generate them from scratch as with a local game, but to use a current world you have to have it available locally as a single player world first.

That meant making a backup of our current world, downloading it, and then converting it into something that could be accessed locally.  That generally just means putting the “world” folder in the “Saves” directory for Minecraft, but since we tried running a couple different server types over the last nine months… in search of better performance… our directory had a some extras in it, including two extra copies of the nether in their own folders, as opposed to the DIM1 (or is is the DIM-1?) directory.

I managed to get that sorted and a right items in the right place so the world appeared as a local realm that I could successfully log into.  Then I clicked on my one remaining empty world slot (the first two were test runs) where it let me select our world to upload.  Weighing in at more than 800mb, the upload took a bit of time, but it went through successfully.

(At some point I will do a post about how Minecraft was in part a success due to the fact that it was created in a world where it resources like drive space were readily available.)

That was a success.  I was able to log into our world on Minecraft Realms and everything looked good.  Now I just had to get everybody else to follow me, which primarily meant getting Aaron to come along.

Of course, there were complications.

In order to use Minecraft Realms, you have to have a Mojang account.  All of us had old school Minecraft accounts.  There is a conversion process, where you start with a Minecraft account and end up with a Mojang account.  It isn’t even particularly difficult.  It was just, like so many things, documented by somebody who already knew how to do it, so it makes assumptions that you might not at a couple of points.

I went through the process with my daughter’s, just to see how it worked.  You have to log onto the Minecraft site, go to your settings, click the link to convert your account, give it an email address (which will be your new login), click a verification link that is emailed to that address, then log in to the Mojang site using your email address, your old account name, and your password, which remains the same.

At that point you are converted and, as a side benefit, you can now change your Minecraft in-game name once every 30 days, since it is no longer your account login.

I then logged into Minecraft Realms, clicked on the Players button, and invited my daughter’s account, using her in-game name (which she can now change, so I am not sure how that will work out if she does), so that she could join the server.  Minecraft Realms servers are all by invite only, so it clearly isn’t the service for you if you want to run a public server.

When my daughter logged back in to Minecraft, she had a notification on the main screen.

you've got mail or something...

you’ve got mail or something…

Clicking on the Minecraft Realms button revealed a pending invite for her.

Also, would you like to rent a server?

Also, would you like to rent a server?

That was the invite to join the server.  Clicking on and accepting that put our server on her list and she was able to log in.  Op success!

So I put that together in an email and sent it out to the rest of the team on our server.

And then Aaron had a problem.  He converted his account but wasn’t seeing the invite to the server.  I verified his user name on the invite list, which was suspiciously gray on a list of otherwise white shaded names.  Then Xyd chimed in that he had converted his account and had logged in just fine.

Invite success...

Invite success…

Of course, the mocking tone that might have accompanied that note might have spurred Aaron to double check his end of things, as he came back a while later and reported success as well.  Skronk followed up after that, though he reported problems with 1.8 client mods not working with 1.9, but at least a quorum seemed to have migrated to the new location.

I ran around the world, rolling down minecart rails, which is one place that performance lag was very apparent and things seemed okay.  Aaron tinkered for a bit and said things were at least as good as before.  So I cancelled the MC Pro Hosting server and that was that.  We had a new home.  I don’t have as fine a control for the moment… we’ll see what happens when the Mineserver finally ships… but that is okay for now.  I do get an activity chart for people now.

Some of us have been playing more than others...

Some of us have been playing more than others…

While I was still rolling around and finding some new things with 1.9, such as a couple of the new zombie models…

Coming to get me...

Coming to get me…

… Aaron got stuck right into the new server and spawned the Ender Dragon again, something new for 1.9.  After more than a few deaths… I was on but elsewhere for some of the fight… he brought down the beast, which spawned a new type of portal in The End.

The New Portal

The New Portal

Throwing an Ender Pearl into it… something in rich supply due to the Enderman farm pumping them out just down the path… brings you to one of the new cities in The End.

End City

End City

There he found some new treasures, new materials, a new light source (the end rod), the dragon’s head (for his collection), and more Ender men.

They are just hanging out all over

They are just hanging out all over

So there we are for now.  On a new server, exploring some of the Minecraft 1.9 features, and dealing with some of the Minecraft 1.9 bugs.

Just Another Pig in the Wall

Aaron has been busy reworking some of the automated farms in our world.  He worked out the Blaze farm in fairly short order, but the zombie pigmen turned out to be a bigger challenge.

With the 1.9 update mobs don’t seem to spawn on mine cart tracks anymore and seem reluctant to even stand on them (good news for rail travel!), so a system that was based on scooping them up in carts to dump them to their death… and the dumping bit broke as well… seemed problematic.

And then there was a lack of spawns as well.

So Aaron undertook a major redesign and construction effort.

First he needed to go higher, so the spire in the are above the nether roof grew taller.

Then he changed the harvest model, going from a passive method to one based on zombie pigman aggro.  For this he constructed, at the top of the tower, a large multi-level platform on which pigmen could spawn, wide enough to allow for the full aggro radius range.

To start the harvesting, the player stands on a spot in the center of the platform and shoots an arrow at a nearby pigman, causing all of the pigmen in the area to go aggro.  As they try to reach the player, they are channeled into a single file path that leads them to fall to the death, fooled by the presence of a trap door.

Upon seeing it for the first time, I was struck by the image of the pigmen queued up to be fed into the harvester.  It was like a scene from the Minecraft version of The Wall.

An orderly queue... of death

An orderly queue… of death

As a further benefit of this new method, as the user stands there, experience globes from the slain pigmen float up the shaft and level you up.

Leveling up on murder... as usual...

Leveling up on murder… as usual…

As a method of farming gold, it was an astonishing upgrade from Aaron’s previous system.  And when you are done you just head down the ladder and out of aggro range and soon the pigmen forget out you.  Then you can pop up and collect the loot from Aaron’s sorting machine.

Output, plus some exp globes that leaked out

Output, plus some exp globes that leaked out

The whole thing works so well that… it crashed the server a couple of times.

It puts such a strain on MC Pro’s system that it falls behind, eventually exceeding the maximum tick count delay of 60,000ms.

We have been with MC Pro Hosting for about six months now and, while the customer service has been better than Netherbyte, the server performance has been much worse.  Getting errors about falling behind when running a very active zombie pigman farm is one thing, but I see those sorts of errors in the log when simply riding a mine cart or when traveling on foot somewhere.

These problems are especially noticeable during prime time hours, leading me to believe that we are sharing a CPU with one or more rather active Minecraft servers.

So, as well as adapting to the 1.9, I have been looking into a new hosting solution.  My initial plan was to go with the Mineserver hardware I backed as part of their Kickstarter, however they have been having technical issues, so it isn’t ready yet.

Barring that, I am looking into Mojang’s Minecraft Realms hosting service.  Back when I was first looking for a host, they were noted for being safe and stable, but expensive.  They have since gotten serious about being competitive, so their prices are way down from before.

So that is where we stand, rich in gold thanks to Aaron, but looking for a more stable host.

The Demise of NetherByte and the Portability of Worlds

On the bright side, with the previous bit of unpleasantness with NetherByte still relatively fresh in my brain, I had already started thinking about swapping Minecraft hosting services.

I was not, however, sure I would have to do it so soon.  And then a reader posted a link to an update about NetherByte that brought things to a head.  The announcement said:

Dear whomever this may concern,

NetherByte will be shutting down due to an unexpected issue with our CEO. Unfortunately there is no capability of continuing business.

Services will gradually shut down within the next 2-4 weeks and will not return.

If you have any concerns or queries please raise a ticket at https://netherbyte.com/billing/

Our TOS at https://netherbyte.com/tos may help answer any questions, please read before contacting us.

– NetherByte team.

Well, that escalated quickly.  My immense thanks go out to Onwuka for bringing this to my attention! (And if you chose NetherByte as a hosting based on my post, I do apologize profusely!)

You see, NetherByte wasn’t sending this out to their customers.  I certainly didn’t get this statement in email.  No, this is apparently their current response to any support tickets being opened up.

Basically, if you were a happy customer experiencing no problems, you wouldn’t have known a thing until NetherByte shut down and you lost all of your data.  This is not the behavior of a business in trouble, this is the behavior of assholes.

I won’t bother linking to the statement in the post  (though it is in Onwuka’s comment if you must see it first hand) as I suspect that link will be dead soon enough.

Meanwhile, the terms of service document to which the statement links has the following “get out of responsibility free” statement:

We reserve all rights to terminate your service upon any violation of these terms of service or for any other base if deemed needed and appropriate by us. Termination of your server before the end of your billing period does not qualify you to any kind of refund.

Screw you, but all official-like!  Six month hosting plan purchased in July, gone before October.

And, as an additional kick in the nuts, there is no date on the “we’re going out of business” statement.  So the whole thing is going down 2-4 weeks from when?

It was time to get the hell out of Dodge.

So I got on the server and kicked everybody off… well, Aaron offered to log off after I gave him the situation… brought the server down and backed everything up to my local drive.

Then, as that was copying, it was time to figure out where to jump.

I went back to the providers I had looked at when I first went the hosted server route and decided, after looking through them, that I was going to take the opposite approach.  I ended up with NetherByte because I went for the absolute cheapest solution available.  That was fine for a trial run and I learned quite a bit.  This time around I would go with a premium service.

The first thought was Minecraft Realms, the official Mojang (now Microsoft) hosting service.  The problem there is that their services are very limited. (And, also, Microsoft.)

So I went back to the list and decided to go with the service I highlighted in that post, MCPro Hosting.

MCPrologo-fullThey host a lot of big realms, their press is good, and the main complaint I have seen is just value for the money compared to budget hosting services.  So I went through their setup, told them what I wanted to run… vanilla Minecraft with a maximum of 20 players which, given that we have 5 active, 4 semi-active, and a couple potential players, seemed about right…  and let them pick the hosting plan for me.  Like Santa, they chose to give me coal.

Coal is what you get!

Coal is what you get!

We were running with 2GB at NetherByte, but that was on the assumption that would want to run some mods and such.  Knowing we are going to stick with vanilla Minecraft for the time being, going with less RAM seems okay.  Only my daughter is agitating for mods at this point.

Now we’re into monthly MMO subscription territory… as opposed to $22.50 for six months with NetherByte… but given that I haven’t been playing WoW for a bit, that is probably a fair price.  The server gets a lot of use.

So I click the button and committed to six months with MCPro Hosting… there was a price discount… and received the confirmation email right away.

Then it was time to get things setup.

I logged in and went to the hosting control panel… MCPro uses Multicraft for that, like everybody else… started a world so it would lay down all the files, then stopped it.  I then got the FTP credentials, logged in with WinSCP and renamed the key files and directories, the copied over the files and directories related to our world.

The copying of files was the longest part of the whole process.

Once that was done, I started up the server and logged in.

Everything seemed to be okay.  I went to the nether… all of our nether work had gone missing when I tried to restore our server after NetherByte wiped our partition… and that seemed to be fine as well.  All the usual structures were in place.

Some nether forts

Some of our nether infrastructure…

I sent out the new server address and got Skronk and Aaron to log on and look around.  Everything seemed fine.

So there we are.  We went back to work on things in the world, leaving NetherByte behind.

Now there is the question of what to do with the old server for the time it has left.  I thought about removing the whitelist restriction and posting the address here to let people have at it, but something about that seems wrong. (Though if you’re dying to see it, I could still hook you up I suppose, if you drop me an email.)  I might just let my daughter experiment with mods on it for a while and see what becomes of the world.   But for the moment it is down just to keep us from accidentally logging onto the wrong server and freaking out that something has gone missing.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of things I have to contend with.

I am going to try to simply ignore the fact that the control panel at MCPro says that we are using 100% of our memory allocation no matter what is going on.

One player shouldn't spike memory, right?

One player shouldn’t spike memory, right?

The IT person in the back of my brain is convinced that once you get beyond 50% of capacity you have to start planning to expand.  My gut response is to upgrade to 2GB RIGHT NOW… because that was what we had at NetherByte and I never saw the meter hit 100%.

However, we’re only a day into this, performance with three of us online together seemed fine, so I am just going to take a deep breath and leave it be unless we find that there is an issue.  I can upgrade at any time or swap over to Spigot, which as I noted previously, is supposed to be better at memory management.

I also suspect that the display is incorrect… or that I am not an expert on how the Minecraft server allocates memory… or both.  I am also leery of how much CPU we see to be using.  Sometimes I just shouldn’t be allowed to see these sorts of things.  I will only make changes if we seem to be running into performance issues.

I am also a little annoyed about the server backup scheme at MC Pro.

NetherByte didn’t do anything special on that front.  They let you use the Multicraft control panel scheduled tasks option to do a scheduled server backup if you wanted.  That would put everything in a .zip archive for you, which is handy if you want to download it regularly… and I was doing that.  They would only let you have three .zip archives on the server, but that was enough.

MCPro appears to have disabled that functionality in Multicraft.  I tried to setup up and it gets disabled when it tried to run.

Instead, MCPro has their own backup scheme and gives you 1GB of space for backups.  However, our world is already 522MB when compressed into a .zip archive, so I had to buy more space in order to have more than a single backup.

A further annoyance, is that the backup process is not automated, I have to go and press a button rather than having it run while we’re all logged off and asleep.   And I cannot access those backups directly.  So I cannot just have a script setup to download the latest backup to my local drive, which I find mildly annoying.

But I am going to try and take a deep breath and not worry too much about these things for now.  If we have problems, other hosts are available and I can always just copy the world uncompressed if required.

This, as I have said before, is why I don’t self-host the blog.  I would get wrapped up in the details of hosting rather than spewing out text on a daily basis.  (And still I find things to complain about on that front!)

Addendum: Actually, it looks like there is a way to .zip up everything and download it, but it isn’t automated and you have to use the web FTP client to do it.  Still not happy about that.