Migrating to Backblaze B2

Earlier this year, my attention was drawn to alternative options to Amazon S3 for both user content storage (and delivery) and server backups. I’ve been using AWS (and S3 in particular since 2015) with great success and have continued to adopt it as my go-to object storage provider. Overall, I can count the number of issues I experienced with AWS on one hand.

Alternatives!?

I’ve been pointed to AWS alternatives plenty of times, but nothing ever seemed enticing enough to actually make the effort to switch (given my success and overall happiness with AWS). The desire to switch was lessened even more by the lack of compatibility in API calls. I noticed a lot of S3 competitors (such as Bunny) were focussing more on egress costs as well, which is important in a couple of my use-cases. These changes in the market are what finally convinced me to seriously begin researching alternatives and begin the initial decisions of whether switching is a task worth undertaking, or just moving to alternative services with new projects of mine.

This decision to seriously look into the options was solidified when I realized that most of the major object storage options out there from all the major providers offered an S3 compatible API, significantly reducing the transition time for my projects (and even requiring no end-user update to make the switch). I decided that an S3-compatible API is absolutely mandatory for me to consider the object storage offering. This would give me the opportunity to make the transition quickly and with little change to my code, which provides an easier pathway back to S3 if I deem it necessary.

Why Backblaze B2?

I reviewed offerings from across numerous providers that offered an S3-compatible API (either partial support for most functionality, or full– with an obvious preference for full). As far as cost-effectiveness goes, which was important to me, Backblaze was the clear leader in my research. Backblaze also offered relatively cost-effective egress, and great partnerships with CDN companies for those projects that do have heavy outgoing usage. As dependability goes, B2 is a relatively new product; however, Backblaze appears to have been in the backup business for quite some time with an impeccable track record and a great relationship with customers. Additionally, B2 offers redundancy solutions that would check all the boxes I need checked.

Other offerings couldn’t compete with Backblaze’s straight-forward pricing model, which is very clearly explained and doesn’t seem designed to confused, which is a nice change from the usual confusing class pricing model. Egress partnerships make this a very attractive offering for high-egress projects.

Finally, the last requirement for my decision was S3 API compatibility. Backblaze B2 seemed reluctant to offer one at first due to additional costs; however, they appear to now not just offer, but encourage the use of their S3 API over their B2 API. Backblaze’s S3 API seems to be much more complete than a lot of competing offerings. Backblaze also offers some great versioning options with great control, very similar to S3’s feature-set.

Overall, Backblaze B2 checked all the right boxes. Particularly when it came to user engagement and feedback acceptance. Backblaze seems to have a very public presence online and provides updates on upcoming roadmap items, as well as answering questions and concerns publicly and honestly. I have a high affinity for companies that take pride in their offering and actually act like customers exist and deserve to be heard. It was nice to see real responses rather than canned “create a ticket” answers.

How’d it go?

At the time of writing, I have now almost fully divested from S3 and am utilizing Backblaze B2 for most of my object storage needs. In retrospect, it was a very wise move and I was able to switch to a company that seems to care about their users (good for me and my users as well), and I was able to cut down my costs significantly while maintaining high availability and performance. While I’m still making modifications to my CDN providers for the best egress: Backblaze has proven to be a rock solid drop-in replacement for S3. Migration was also simple and quick with a relatively low startup cost for the migration (yes, my first months bill was higher than subsequent months due to transaction costs associated with the initial transfer).

Overall, I’m thrilled that companies are deciding to offer cloud services and venture into providing these on a more cost effective, customer-focussed, and innovation-driven basis. I’m happy with this switch and I cannot wait to see further innovations in this space.

Starlink for RV: Our experience

Entertainment while camping has always been at the front of our mind when considering upgrades to our motorhome. We’ve been using a few different options for RV internet, but none of them really offered a seamless experience.

I’ve been following Starlink since their announcement, since I always believed that it had the real potential to be a game changer in the RV world. Our order was finally fulfilled in February 2022 and we began using it at home prior to the camping season. Shortly before our camping season began: Starlink offered the ability to convert residential services to RV, which would allow us to pause and resume service as desired. This was a perfect fit for us!

Starlink Terminal

I was very happy to receive the rectangular Dishy (Starlink Terminal), since it meant that it was easier to store. We got our RV dealer to install an access port to a bay that would house all our networking equipment. We actually prefer the mobility of the current user terminal rather than one that is permanently mounted on the roof. A roof-mounted terminal, while convenient, will start to dictate where and how we park our RV.

We use the Starlink router in bypass mode and connected it to some Ubiquiti equipment using the ethernet adapter (yay dongles). Since our inverter powers all onboard outlets when shore power is gone, it means that we have Wi-Fi even during power outages.

We also grabbed Starlink’s official storage case and it’s been perfect for storing Dishy.

Performance

We camp relatively close to major cities in most cases, so we are typically using cells that are occupied by rural users living slightly outside urban centres. We’ve also camped in very urban environments. According to the capacity map from Starlink: we are almost always in “Low Capacity” areas, meaning that our expected speeds could be as low as 5Mbps download. We were okay with this, since 5Mbps should still stream HD.

We were also a little worried about tree cover, but we’ve only found one site that gave us even a slight amount of trouble with trees. Typical campsite tree obstructions don’t appear to be impactful to normal streaming. I suspect that connections that are more sensitive to hiccups or complete drops might have a bit of trouble if tree cover is extreme. In our case though, trees don’t seem to be giving us any trouble.

Full speed ahead

Starlink has outperformed our expectations during the entire camping season. It absolutely feels like our terrestrial home internet connection. Nothing about Starlink feels like a typical satellite internet experience (reminds me of when Royal Caribbean first launched Voom and it felt closer to a land-based connection). Websites load fast, videos stream immediately, and all of our Apple TV’s respond insanely fast when streaming.

Our average speed over the camping season has probably been about 125Mbps down / 8Mbps upload. We frequently see over 150Mbps download in several areas. Latency is usually ~40ms-~80ms depending on the destination. US destinations typically have much lower latency than Canadian destinations.

On several occasions, we can usually get over 200Mbps download, but our sustained download is usually around 150Mbps. I’ve downloaded (and uploaded) massive server backups, performed typical cloud operations, and did basically everything I’d do at home.

Streaming Gaming (GeForce NOW)

After streaming HD movies on our Apple TV’s in the RV and noticing the relatively low latency to US destinations: I decided that the numbers I was seeing in Speedtests were actually meeting (or exceeding) the requirements for a stable GeForce NOW session. I decided to put that 3080 tier membership to use and give it a shot.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that GeForce NOW was able to carry a 4K gaming session at 120FPS pretty much flawlessly. No disconnections and smooth gameplay. There was the occasional hiccup during my gaming session, which I attributed to slight satellite gaps or the switching between satellites (although it could just have easily been anything else like general networking hiccups).

It certainly didn’t grant me the same flawless experience that my home connection gave me; however, it was a relatively smooth experience. It’s also nice to know that I have the option to fire up a game using GeForce NOW while camping.

Final Thoughts

Starlink for RV was probably one of the best investments we’ve made for our RV. We (like most people) are heavily using internet connected services that are thirsty for a lot of data. We also like having the conveniences of home in the RV, so being able to add the Apple TV’s to each TV in the RV to just grab a remote and browse/stream is a huge benefit.

Ultimately Starlink for RV has done exactly as it has promised. Every time we setup Starlink at a new site, it performs flawlessly without any effort. We haven’t had so much as a hiccup while camping with Starlink. Our speeds constantly rise above 200Mbps and always support smooth HD streaming without buffering, despite us being inside “low capacity” areas on the map.

I’d recommend Starlink for RV any day to anyone looking for mobile internet service while camping. I’ll continue to update this blog with new posts about how the service is performing for us.

Thank you to Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX/Starlink team for creating and maintaining this service. It really is out of this world (pun-intended) and we hope to be a customer for a long time. It’s also rare that something gets announced and actually makes its way to market as fast Starlink has.

Ubiquiti AMPLIFI Alien: HomeKit bliss?

HomeKit Home with 120+ accessories
Our HomeKit home has grown to over 120 accessories and we needed a Wi-Fi router that could keep up

I’ve been a pretty big fan of Apple’s AirPort lineup since around 2008. I’ve used the 802.11n Extreme’s and I’ve had two Time Capsule’s (the 802.11n and the last model in production: the 802.11ac tower). They’ve performed flawlessly at home and even in some small business environments. I’ve always been happy with them and they were one of the first consumer routers I’ve encountered that worked reliably without the need for any reboots or weird configuration changes.

As I added HomeKit devices to the network, the 802.11ac Time Capsule handled everything like a champ. All devices stayed connected and were rock solid (and fast)… However, I had noticed that one of my IoT devices was showing a Wi-Fi issue. It only connects periodically, so I figured it was some interference at the moment it tried to connect. It wasn’t able to connect when I tried to manually connect it. I tried to reset it and input the Wi-Fi information again (thinking it was some sort of bug on the IoT device) to no avail. Then I realized that the number of devices on the 2.4GHz band was likely approaching some limit. I opened AirPort Utility and counted the 2.4GHz devices and sure enough: 32 devices on the 2.4GHz band. The 2013 AirPort Time Capsule must have a 32 device limit per band. This is when I made the decision to finally retire the AirPort in favour of a more modern router.

Hunting for a replacement

The criteria for my replacement would be pretty simple:

  • Consumer router with high performance. If I could not find a decent consumer router, then I was not against using an enterprise setup or prosumer setup. I really wanted a set and forget sort of system for my smart home.
  • Most Important: High 2.4GHz simultaneous client count.
  • Reputable company
  • Newer standards (Wi-Fi 5 at minimum to match the AirPort it was replacing or Wi-Fi 6).

The Options
Netgear
– This one was ruled out almost immediately as their only official documentation on the website stated a 32 client limit per band across their entire lineup. I believe that this has changed recently, but it was still concerning to see it in the knowledgebase.

Synology
The RT2600AC and MR2200AC seemed like good candidates. Their website explicitly stated that they tested simultaneous client counts in the 100’s on each access point. I emailed them and received a response that there is no per-band limitation (I’m guessing 128 would likely be the line). Very impressed with their response time and that they explicitly stated their simultaneous client count tests (as a high number of simultaneous clients on the 2.4GHz band was the most important factor for me)

AMPLIFI
I am a huge fan of Ubiquiti and their consumer lineup interested me. I didn’t want to maintain controller software, AP software, and gateway software. This meant the AMPLIFI line was my best bet. They don’t list simultaneous client specs anywhere and seem hesitant to give any concrete numbers; however, anecdotal evidence on the internet had many users with 70+ Wi-Fi clients on the AMPLIFI Alien.

The First Choice

I originally chose the Synology RT2600ac. It was shipped by Amazon from their US warehouse (since I don’t believe the RT2600ac has Industry Canada certification, which I discovered a little later). It wasn’t the prettiest router, but it ran a familiar Linux OS with their SRM software on top of it. Upon initial setup, it worked well and I was very happy. Most importantly: connected over 32 clients to the 2.4GHz band. Success!

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I was having some issues with some VOCOlinc light bulbs and devices. I couldn’t get them to remain connected and had trouble identifying the cause. Wi-Fi standards implementations are never 100%, especially in IoT devices and this was likely the cause of what I was seeing.

I could get a ton of clients connected to the 2.4GHz, but some devices had some weird connectivity problems with no discernible pattern. Ultimately after a lot of troubleshooting and configuration changes, I ended up returning the router to Amazon in favour of an AMPLIFI Alien.

AMPLIFI Alien

I had the AMPLIFI Alien set up in no time (what a great little app) and was able to get all my devices connected to it over Wi-Fi (well over 32 clients on the 2.4GHz). As of writing, I have about 70+ clients connected to the AMPLIFI Alien and the connections are rock solid. My smart home network has continued to grow with the AMPLIFI Alien as the sole router solution and has handled the growth flawlessly. The ability to block IoT devices from the internet with a simple interface is an added bonus (since I exclusively use HomeKit cameras and products and don’t want the devices to be able to directly access the internet).

Very rarely do I find a product that really gives me the confidence to recommend it without hesitation, but the AMPLIFI Alien really is one. It has turned my HomeKit home into a rock solid smart automation paradise. The router has great aesthetics and just looks cool. It’s managed by an app that exposes most settings you’d ever want to mess with in a consumer router. It plays really well with Apple devices and scales well with a large number of clients. It can also be meshed with additional AMPLIFI Alien units.

If you’re looking for a reliable, simple, and powerful router for your HomeKit home: the AMPLIFI Alien may be a great fit. I’ve been using it for a little over a year now and it’s been rock solid while I continue to throw more devices at its 2.4GHz band.