The easy path versus the virtuous path (in system setup)
For reasons beyond the scope of this entry I've decided that it's time for me to get my own server somewhere. At one level this is easy; any number of places will give you, say, Ubuntu 12.04 machines and I'd have no problem setting up the relatively minimal web server environment I want from there.
At another level, this is not the virtuous way to set up your server today (especially if it's a virtual server). There are several tools to automatically provision virtual servers through various places' infrastructure and then all sorts of tools to customize the configuration and set up a standardized, repeatable environment. Doing it right, even for a one-off personal server, would be to use these tools instead of just trying to note down everything I did by hand. This would give me repeatable builds for recreating the server in case of a disaster, testing or moving to another provider, and upgrading the operating system (which is sure to be needed someday).
The problem with taking the virtuous path right now is that it would take me a lot more work. I could set up a virtual server by hand tomorrow (and then recreate it from scratch just to make sure that my notes were correct). Simply picking a configuration automation system could take me days of research, never mind learning my chosen system well enough to set everything up and figure out how to embody my somewhat odd requirements in it.
(If I already had a chosen automation system it would be a lot easier, of course. Then it would just be a matter of writing the necessary recipe and that should be simple.)
If I was doing this as a learning exercise it would be one thing (then I might even try out several different systems). But I'm not. My goal is to get my server up and doing something useful without leaving me with a big annoying mess that will cause me pain in the future. And for that, the virtuous path is looking awfully thorny right now.