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  • Cloud Platforms
    7 min | 12680

    #GCP: Running OpenProject almost FREE

    Cloud Platforms | 7 min | 12680

    The last days, I was looking for an online project management tool with bug tracking system. The best platform that I know is Jira from Atlassian. Jira offers a bug tracking and agile project management, however, it costs between $8.33 and $10 (annual/monthly payment) for the standard version with under 10 accounts. We use Jira in Finealyze and I am very happy with it, but I was looking for a free alternative for myself. Then, I found OpenProject, which describes itself as "the leading open source project management software".

    OpenProject is offered in three different ways: Community, Cloud and Enterprise. I was interested in the first option, because it is free and but you have to install it on premise. There is also a Dockerized version available.

    I thought, I don't want to run it on my PC, I want to run it on the Cloud. Thus, I look for free tier packages of the Cloud solutions, and I knew that Google offers $300 free credit for new customers to spend on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) products during the first 12 months. But, I've already used that free credit on the last 12 months, thus it wasn't interesting for me. However, they offer always free products too. And in there, I found the Compute Engine (last year this wasn't included in the "always free tier" for users in Europe. Now, it is! Thanks Google!) with:

    • 1 non-preemptible f1-micro VM instance per month in one of the following US regions:
      • -Oregon: us-west1
      • -Iowa: us-central1
      • -South Carolina: us-east1
    • 30 GB-months HDD
    • 5 GB-month snapshot storage in the following regions:
      • -Oregon: us-west1
      • -Iowa: us-central1
      • -South Carolina: us-east1
      • -Taiwan: asia-east1
      • -Belgium: europe-west1
    • 1 GB network egress from North America to all region destinations per month (excluding China and Australia)

    The f1-micro offers 1 virtualized CPU core (with burst capability to help with sudden load spikes) and a meagre 614MB of memory. These specs don't sound great, but reach they for my goal? Let's see!

    Creating a new VM instance on GCP

    To create a new VM instance, head on over to the Google Cloud Console and sign up. Read through the onboarding guide (if you want to) and then head on over to the Google Compute Engine control panel. Maybe you need to activate the API. Then:

    1. Click the create Instance button.
    2. Configure the VM hardware as described in Fig. 2.
      • Region: us-west1, us-central1 or us-east1
      • Generation: First
      • Machine type: f1-micro (1 vCPU, 614 memory)
    3. Configure the VM software and Firewall as described in Fig. 3.
      • Boot disk: I choose the last Debian version (v.10 - Buster)
      • Firewall: Tick allow HTTP and HTTPS traffic.
    4. Click create and wait for Google to create your VM instance.
    Fig. 2: VM hardware configuration
    Fig. 3: VM disk, OS and Firewall configuration

    As you can see on the right side of the configuration panel (see Fig. 4), it is written that "the first 744 hours of f1-micro instance usage are free this month". Thus, 744hs/24hs = 31 days. Then, this machine will cost $0 (hopefully).

    Fig. 4: VM estimate costs

    This could change quickly, thus check Google Free Tier. And the following cite could be also interesting:

    Your Always Free f1-micro instance limit is by time, not by instance. Each month, eligible use of all of your f1-micro instances and associated external IP addresses are free until you have used a number of hours equal to the total hours in the current month. Usage calculations are combined across the supported regions. GPUs and TPUs are not included in the Always Free offer. You will always be charged for GPUs and TPUS that you add to instances.

    If everything runs OK, you are going to get something like in Fig. 5.

    Fig. 5: VM f1-micro instance running

    Allocating a SWAP on VM instance

    The f1-micro has only 614MB thus, a swap space is needed. In this tutorial, I add 1G of swap, if you want to create a bigger swap, replace 1G with the size of the swap space that you need. But, this is more than enough for OpenProject and the NginX.

    Connect to the machine using the SSH button shown in figure 5 and then, the following steps show how to add a swap space on Debian 10:

    1. Start by creating a file which will be used for swap:
      sudo fallocate -l 1G /swapfile
    2. Only the root user should be able to read and write to the swap file. Issue the command below to set the correct permissions:
      sudo chmod 600 /swapfile
    3. Use the mkswap tool to set up a Linux swap area on the file and activate the swap file by typing:
      sudo mkswap /swapfile
      sudo swapon /swapfile
    4. Make the change permanent by opening the /etc/fstab file:
      sudo nano /etc/fstab

      and add the following /swapfile [...] (see below) line at the end of the file:

      # /etc/fstab: static file system information
      # [...]
      /swapfile swap swap defaults 0 0
    5. To verify that the swap is active use either the swapon or the free command as shown below:
      lemariva@docker:~$ sudo swapon --show
      /swapfile file 1024M 182.3M   -2
      lemariva@docker:~$ sudo free -h
                total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
      Mem:          583Mi       488Mi        42Mi       4.0Mi        52Mi        22Mi
      Swap:         1.0Gi       370Mi       653Mi


    After allocating the swap space, you need to install the Docker Engine and docker-compose to deploy OpenProject. I wanted to use OpenProject with SSL (self-signed from the begining - this means, the data is encrypter but the browser says that the certificate is not validated), but the Dockerized OpenProject version does not support SSL by default. Thus, I run a NginX server on a Container, with SSL configured, which I use to set up a simple "ProxyPass" rule to direct traffic to the OpenProject container.

    The Docker installation can be easily performed on Debian using:

    curl -sSL | sh

    Then, add your username to the Docker group using:

    sudo usermod -aG docker <username>

    After installing Docker, you need to install python3-pip to then, install docker-compose as:

    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install python3-pip
    pip3 install docker-compose

    SMTP server

    OpenProject recommend using an external SMTP server to send emails. A good choice is SendGrid, which offers a free plan with up to 100 emails per days. Just sign up on the website, and once your account is provisioned, generate a new API key and copy it somewhere (it looks like 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) you'll need inside the docker-compose.yml file.


    As I mentioned, I needed a NginX server for the SSL support. Thus, I configured the following docker-compose.yml file that starts two services: OpenProject and NginX. The NginX is exposed to the internet (ports 80 & 443) and the port 8080 of the OpenProject is only locally (Docker internal sub-networks) available. The NginX service works as a proxy and routes the OpenProject service to the Internet. The file looks like this:

    version: "3"
        image: openproject/community:latest
          SMTP_PORT: 587
          SMTP_DOMAIN: ""
          SMTP_AUTHENTICATION: login
          SMTP_USER_NAME: "apikey"
          SMTP_PASSWORD: "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"
          - ./openproject/pgdata:/var/openproject/pgdata
          - ./openproject/logs:/var/log/supervisor
          - ./openproject/static:/var/openproject/assets
          - "8080"
        # - "8080:8080"
        image: nginx:latest
          - ./nginx/nginx.conf:/etc/nginx/nginx.conf
          - ./nginx/cache/:/etc/nginx/cache
          - ./nginx/ssl:/etc/nginx/ssl
          - "80:80"
          - "443:443"
          - openproject

    Thus, you need to have the following folder structure:

    - OpenProject
        - openproject
            - pgdata
            - logs
            - static
        - nginx
            - cache
            - ssl
            - nginx.conf
        - docker-compose.yml

    The files openproject.crt and openproject.key are the SSL certificate and the corresponding private key and the nginx.conf file looks like this:

    worker_processes 1;
    events {
        worker_connections 1024;
    http {
        client_body_buffer_size 10K;
        client_header_buffer_size 1k;
        client_max_body_size 8m;
        large_client_header_buffers 2 1k;
        proxy_cache_path /etc/nginx/cache keys_zone=one:500m max_size=1000m;
        server {
            proxy_cache one;
            proxy_cache_key $request_method$request_uri;
            proxy_cache_min_uses 1;
            proxy_cache_methods GET;
            proxy_cache_valid 200 1y;
            location / {
                proxy_pass http://openproject:8080;
                proxy_set_header Host $host;
                proxy_redirect http:// https://;
            listen 80;
            listen 443 ssl;
            ssl_certificate     /etc/nginx/ssl/openproject.crt;
            ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/ssl/openproject.key;


    You can find the above files in the following GitHub repository: lemariva/openproject-docker.

    Go inside the VM instance using the SSH button (see Fig. 5) and clone the repository using:

    sudo apt-get install git  # git is usually not installed
    git clone

    Then, run the file to create the folder structure typing:

    chmod +x

    or create the folder structure described above. Then, go to nginx/ssl and create the self-signed SSL certificates using:

    openssl genrsa -out openproject.key 2048
    openssl ecparam -genkey -name secp384r1 -out openproject.key
    openssl req -new -x509 -sha256 -key openproject.key -out openproject.crt -days 3650

    If you have a domain, you can use letsencrypt to get CA valid certificates.

    Configure the SMTP_PASSWORD inside docker-compose.yml with the API key that you got from SendGrid. Do not change the SMTP_USER_NAME: "apikey". It should be "apikey". Then, use the screen to start a screen session as:

    sudo apt-get install screen

    and type the following docker-compose up inside the directory, where the docker-compose.yml to start the services. To detach from the screen, hit on Ctrl+A and then press D. To enter to the screen again, type: screen -r.

    Wait some minutes, and open a browser pointing to the external IP that your VM instance got (see Fig. 5) and log with the standard credentials: user: admin, password: admin and change them ASAP. Do this really quick, otherwise the service can be hacked! and you need to delete the database files under openproject/ to start again!. Go to https://<ip-address>/settings/edit and change the protocol from HTTP to HTTPS.


    This tutorial helps you to install OpenProject on GCP. You can run it locally or you can deploy it on a Cloud Platform. If you have some patience, the f1-micro instance of GCP is a good alternative and it is free. You'll get some/a lot of "504 Gateway Time-out" errors, but nothing that you cannot solve with a page refresh ;). Multiple users/access is beyond the limits of the VM instance.

    OpenProject is a nice project management tool, however the boards are not available in the free/community version (only on enterprise-edition). But, you can still work with work packages, gantt chars and backlogs/scrums with tasks boards too :).