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Is Your Web Hosting Secure & Scalable? Some observations on why we’re now offering hosting services to our clients…

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“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

There’s no pretension in opening up a blog post about web hosting with a quote from Nietzsche, is there?

We recently began offering web hosting services through a Virtual Private Server provided by a company called VPS.net. For years, we have steadfastly evinced a lack of interest in offering hosting. This blog post is about the series of events which changed our minds (and, subsequently, validated the insecurity I felt about doing so because Nietzsche said its okay.)

“A client’s current web hosting solution can be reliably predicted to be predicated on a business model which is at least ten years out of date. ―
David Hitt

When we started designing web sites, the last thing we wanted to do was to offer or re-sell hosting to our clients.

When we got into the website design business seriously (in 2004 or so) we came to it by way of other marketing communications tasks we were hired to perform for our largely real estate oriented client base. Then, as now, we consider ourselves marketing and design consultants first. Any technical chops we bring to the table are offered in the service of larger communications objectives. So, why, then would we want to burden ourselves with building our own server and ensuring the sort of secure, 24/7 environment a client web host requires? It really didn’t seem to make sense then and, besides, there were plenty of hosting companies out there offering shared hosting environments which were reasonably secure and cheap. In short, we didn’t really think our clients needed or wanted us to host their websites for them, so why should we address solution in search of a problem?

But, as the years passed, the snake began to shed its skin.

As the years have rolled along, though, trends in the tech world, trends in our practice and the business practices of our clients have forced us to reconsider our original point of view. Namely, we began to notice three things:

  1. As a practical matter, the nature of our work has changed. The technology of the web has changed. In 2004, most of our client websites were not content managed. If we needed to design a content managed site, we designed it and then hired a Drupal consultant to build it. Now we almost feel like we’re doing a client a disservice if we don’t build their website off a CMS and we now have PHP/Wordpress savvy folks on staff. This trend towards content management leaves us with a need to get “under the hoods” of the websites we’ve designed, which means we’re frequently working off the site’s hosting control panel, installing or modifying databases, etc.
  2. While this doesn’t directly add up to our concluding that we need to be offering hosting services, it does mean we have developed strong preferences about what we like the control panels of our host environments to look like. We’ve hosted so many sites on Bluehost, for example, that we’re probably nearly as familiar with their control panel as some of their support personnel are. It also means we need easy, unfettered access to the database setup environment of our chosen host.
  3. Security issues and changes in hosting technology have made the webhosting decision somewhat more complicated. Hosting options these days range from the robust scalability of cloud hosts to more traditional shared hosting accounts (where your website exists on the same servers as many others and resources are shared.) Midway between these two are Virtual Private Server (VPS) networks, which offer much of the scalability of cloud-based solutions but allow your website to exist on its own virtual server partition, possess a unique IP address, etc.
    If all this is too much techspeak, here’s the takeaway concept: evolution has brought more options to the world of web hosting and some of these options offer more security and scalability, with only slightly additional cost.
  4. Many of our clients were still getting their hosting managed by a 3rd Party IT firm. Ten years ago, it was common practice for clients to secure hosting through the same 3rd party IT company that was attending to their company’s internal technical infrastructure. Back then, it might have made sense as there was a lot more “self hosting” going on by individuals and the skillsets required for web development shared some overlap with the a broader IT skill set.

    But times have changed. More times than not now – when we encounter this situation – we’re the ones who end up troubleshooting back-end problems with our clients’ sites because we’re the ones with backend web developers on our staff. Ya know: people that can speak LAMP, WAMP, BASH and all the other associated Techspeak necessary for a backend person these days.

    Here’s what we find, again and again, when we try to work on a site which is being administered by a 3rd Party:

    In the first place, the IT firm isn’t usually hosting the account themselves. They’re just reselling accounts off, usually, a well-known hosting service. So, the client really isn’t getting anything unique from the standpoint of infrastructure.

    Secondly, the biggie for us is the loss of control we have over our client’s site. As I mentioned before, we muck around in the server-side ends of our sites a lot more these days than we used to. If we have to work through a 3rd party to, say, install a database or troubleshoot a server issue, all in the middle of an eight-thirty-in-the-evening website update well, that can be very problematic.

  5. All of these led us to the conclusion that offering scalable, secure hosting gives us more control and our clients more security.

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