So, the news is out, we’ve acquired BillMonk. As part of the process we had to go through in integrating our backend systems and assets, we had to transfer data in and out of the existing BillMonk servers. One tricky bit though, their setup was pretty secure, being behind firewalls and a VPN, and could only be accessed via a single port (SSH), from one specific IP address. Only by connecting though that would we then have access to the rest of the infrastructure (VPN).
We quickly realised that in order to extract existing BillMonk data we would have to go through a 2-hop process.
First, we would have to dump it on the gateway server (the server that allows access to the rest of the servers), then
scp it out onto the single authorised server, then
axel it onto the new database server we
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were going to set up. Well, being the hackers that we are, that was too much work. So we started devising ways to get around it.
There’s this really neat feature in SSH that allows you to establish permanent tunnels across 2 servers. And to top it off, you can ensure that it’s encrypted as well. This technique is often known as the ‘Poor man’s VPN’. We used it in our migration as described in the example below.
Let’s call the authorised server
gateway2, and the target gateway server
gateway1. Then let’s call the target server
target, and assume
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it’s listening to port
9999. Finally, our own destination database server is called
bp db. In order to expose port
target to the outside world, you’d have to type the following command on
ssh user@gateway2 -L *:8888:target:9999
What this command does is that it opens port
gateway2 that is connected to port 9999 on
gateway1. After the tunnel is set up, all you need to do is to connect to
gateway1:8888, and you’ll be connecting directly to
The SSL is provided by the database.
Effectively this manage to reduce the process down into a single hop process, and made exporting a 41GB database a lot easier and faster.