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Unmanaged web hosting delights

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Server RackPhoto credit: Mr. Muskrat (Flickr)

I’ve had one or more web sites or domains for over twelve years now. When I first started out I was completely wet behind the ears and didn’t really know what I was doing.  In was an era when web sites were designed in HTML, often using FrontPage if you couldn’t interpret the code, or notepad if you were a power user. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since those early days; my skills / knowledge have come a long way and I’m delighted to have recently taken a huge leap forward by moving into the world of unmanaged hosting.

What is unmanaged hosting?

When you buy web hosting there are many suppliers vying for your business. In most cases, you choose a supplier, order services from them and then get a web based control panel which allows you to undertake basic configuration of your product. The supplier sets up the server, supports the operating system installed upon it and all of the necessary components that make the provision happen; your responsibility is to build a website and copy the files on to the server so people can see it.

The key difference between a managed solution and an unmanaged solution is simple. A managed server is what I’ve just described, an unmanaged server requires a much greater degree of involvement i.e. it needs to be fully administered and set-up before you can copy a web site to it for publication. Essentially, when you order unmanaged services you typically get access to a server and then how it’s configured is down to you to get it up and running in a manner best suited to your needs. In some cases this is achieved through the utilisation of a web based control panel, but in other cases, like the realms of what I’ve just moved into, everything is done via a command line interface (CLI) in text form.

Pros and Cons

Of course, there are pros and cons to both managed and unmanaged solutions.

If you want a service that you just use and can refer to another when things aren’t as you’d expect, then a managed service is most suitable. It takes out all the painful sides to running a web server; however on the flip side, such servers are mostly bloated and the technologies running on them out of date. This leads to typically sluggish performance and an inability to embrace newer technologies and services as they are released or produced.

I’ve plumped for an unmanaged service because I want to be able to configure a server in a manner best suited to my needs rather than use a generic one size fits all setup. I’ve long out grown the vanilla / cookie-cutter server builds. To run lots of sites, in a fast and reliable fashion, whilst retaining the ability to have a scalable platform for growth, I’ve had no choice but to spend the time learning and training myself about unmanaged services.

Choosing a provider

Prior to entering this world of uber geeky server administration, I did have a little experience of using *nix based platforms. It’s some years ago, but it meant I was familiar with the interface already. I spent a great deal of time comparing offerings for unmanaged services around the web before settling with Linode.

I chose them for two key reasons:

  1. I got in contact with one of the WordPress Developers on Twitter and asked them what they use. The developer in question is very approachable and writes a wonderful caching plugin for WordPress that saves even more server overheads. He recommended Linode, but I was initially scared by the prospect of how to set-up and administer a server properly.
  2. When browsing the Linode site I came across a link in their support forums. It directed me to the VPS Bible. I wonderful site created by a Linode user. It’s sole purpose being a simple, but very effective guide, for how to set-up a fully functional, but lightening fast VPS in very little time.

With both these firmly lodged in my psyche, I spoke with Sam and took the plunge by ordering Linode’s smallest offering, mainly so I could test it out under their 7 day money back scheme. The added bonus being that if I went over the 7 days, it was a month to month contract anyway and all for the small cost of $20pcm and £15 for a year’s subsciption to VPS Bible.

Domain registration mistakes

I’ve been making a school boy error for years. I’ve always moved my domain names to wherever my web host is. This makes the web host a lot of money since they invariably aren’t the cheapest supplier for domain names. When you have 30+ domains (like me) then this can stack up to a lot of cash!

I’ve learnt my lesson and I now register some domains with GoDaddy and others with 123-REG. I’m in the process of transferring all of my domains from my old web host to these providers and am saving a packet in the process. The added bonus is if I decide I want to move on from Linode at a later date, it’s very quick and painless to point my domain names to another provider.

Help for server noobs (VPS Bible)

I briefly touched on this earlier, but I can wholly recommend that any VPS owner should refer to this site. It’s helped me enourmously and through the usage of videos on the site as well as easy to follow and interpret notes, I’ve found that I’ve very quickly become adept at building and managing my VPS solution. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it probably knocks the socks off of a managed dedicated server with more hardware at it’s disposal.

Your turn

If you’re reading this because you’ve stumbled upon it via a Google search, or perhaps because you’re a regular reader of this site, and you’re fed up with your own web host not giving you enough bang for your buck, I can wholly recommend Linode and going it alone with your provisions. Yes, it’s scary at first not having the comfort of a management panel, or the continual support of a team who are there specifically to administer your server for you; however once you get over that it’s a lot of fun and really easy to do. Linode’s support is excellent – we’ve seen tickets raised answered in less than three minutes! I mentioned earlier  how I bought their lowest offering initially, well at the time of writing I’ve got a dozen sites running on the box and it’s more than happy, so why should I pay out more for larger product when I don’t need to.  The service sells itself.

Questions / Comments

If you’ve any questions, then please feel free to ask below. Comments also very welcome.  I would like to add that this is NOT a sponsored post, it is entirely my opinion and personal findings.

  • Hey Rob! This is an eye-opener for me, thanks for the lesson on hosts. With so many sites to manage it's a wonder you even have time to share such useful information. I'll pass it along.

  • Rob

    Thanks – that's very kind of you to say. It's why I've not been putting time into BlogEngage and the others at the moment, I've been spending time getting this all set-up and running so I can migrate services before then sharing my findings.

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  • With Godaddy they do some of the configuration. They installed my e-mail and Apache as well as myswql. All I had to do was create my databases and set up my domain names.

    I had some errors over the past two weeks stating to many connections and form what I read is it's to much traffic. I have to find out of this is true or if there's another issue. From what I read the default max concurrent connections is 100. The guys at the Linux forums think it may be a different issue and perhaps they are right.

    This is far over my head I seriously don't have a clue what I'm doing. I'm just some guy that made a popular website and now I have a dedicated server I know nothing about lol

  • Rob

    Ah, you're in the same boat I was about two months ago (other than I had a sluggish server as opposed to SQL errors).

    I'd encourage you to have a look at the Linode offering, in particular their support forums and that VPSBible I mention. Yes, it's scary at first, but my server will probably knock the socks off your dedicated offering and it's cheaper too simply because it's set up properly rather than as an off the peg, one size fits all solution.

    Will offer any help I can if you decide to go that route. If I had the spare time this month I'd even set the damn thing up for you as a way of giving back to the community! (But I think you'd benefit and learn a lot more from doing it yourself. I know I did).

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