Whitepaper: Leaving your web hosting provider.
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Cancelling your web hosting account and transferring your files to another web host.
Transferring your files to a new hosting company can be tricky business if you don't know how to do this. It's therefore better to inform yourself first about the level of difficulty of this migration process before cancelling your current web hosting account. The best move you could make is to choose a web hosting service that is willing and able to do the hard work for you. In that case you can relax and sit back until the migration has finished knowing that your work is in good hands. Most website owners look at migrating to a new host as one of the most painful processes imaginable. This fear can be paralysing, keeping them at inferior service providers far longer than they need to be. If you've been thinking about changing hosts, but were scared that the pain of moving would be worse than the pain of sitting still, this white paper is for you. Let's start with the good news: while migrating websites and content to a new host can be complicated, it doesn't have to be painful. A good new host will do the heavy lifting for you. What's more, you don't need the help of the host you're leaving in order to migrate which is good, since poor support is probably one of the reasons you want to switch. Two-thirds of hosting customers dissatisfied with their web hosts cite the difficulty of moving as the biggest factor preventing them from leaving. Migrating to a new host is also a great test of your new service provider. While the complexity and size of your sites will determine how long a migration takes, a good host will provide timely responses and frequent updates throughout the process. Unanswered tickets and unclear communication are a sign of more problems to come so if you see them, you may want to rescind your migration order. (Yes, you can do that.) So what does it take to move your site from one host to another? The simple answer is: find a web host with a good (and preferably free) migration assistance program, and let them do the work. With the right hosting company, there are only a few simple parts of the migration that rely on you. Let's look at all the steps involved in site migration to see just what it will take. There are five main steps to a migration:
- 1. Choosing a new server and bringing it online at a new host.
- 2. Moving files from the old server to the new server.
- 3. Syncing files between the servers.
- 4. Updating DNS.
- 5. Taking your old server offline.
Bringing a new server online.
This first step often takes the longest. Simply choosing a new host and a new server package can be daunting. Who has the best network? Who offers the best support? What size server do I need? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself. With the right hosting company, there are only a few simple parts of the migration that rely on you. Again, the process is likely to be much easier than you feared especially if your search centres on reputable firms at the upper end of the hosting spectrum. Any good web host will have sales engineers on hand to answer your most detailed questions. And don't worry if you're not even sure what questions to ask; these people are trained to help you through the decision process. If you don't get direct answers to your questions, move on, you can do better. Another great resource in the investigation process: web hosting forums like Webhosting Talk. If you think you've narrowed down your list to a few finalists, just search for them by name. Look at the proportion of advocates to detractors in each thread. Pay particular attention to those who bother to post positive reviews and defences. It's common for people to complain on a forum when they are upset, but proactive customers who say positive things about their hosts show a level of loyalty and trust that must be earned over time. Be careful about reading too much into customer posts on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes hosting customers will mistakenly take their technical
support questions to these arenas and become frustrated when their host
directs them to the appropriate ticketing system for follow-up. What may
appear at first blush to be a customer service misser can often turn out to be a case of the host doing the right thing by directing the customer to a more appropriate support venue. Bottom line: if customers repeatedly complain about customer support or sing its praises, you should obviously pay attention. Just make sure you do a thorough review of what's been said over a long period of time, to get an accurate big-picture view of what's going on. Once you're satisfied that your preferred vendors have a good customer service reputation, you'll need to decide what technology you need, and figure out how big a server your business requires. Your choices may seem daunting: shared hosting, VPS, dedicated, cloud, and a huge number of proprietary systems that make things even more confusing. If you don't get direct answers to your
questions, move on. Again, things are a lot simpler than you may think. No matter what your host may call them, you'll be choosing between three core server technologies: shared, virtualised, and truly private (dedicated servers). All you need to do is know the fundamental differences between them and then you can just ask your host which of these three systems they are selling. In the end, you should ask as many questions as possible. Don't be afraid to engage the sales staff of your prospective host and really test them. You shouldn't have to make this decision in the dark. And remember, you are always evaluating your prospective host. If they cannot answer your questions now, when they're trying to earn your business, how much will you be able to count on them when they know they have already got it?
Moving your files.
Once you've purchased your new server and it is online, you'll need to migrate your sites from the old host to the new host. This is the most involved part of the migration process, though using control panel software can make it significantly easier. This is one of the most complex functions of web hosting. But don't confuse complex with difficult. If you choose a host that offers migration assistance, they'll move your files for you and do all the hard work that needs to get done. Some things you'll want to consider before your migration begins: make sure your server's core software and/or control panel is up to date. Ask your new web host what OS and control panel version you should be on to make the migration as seamless as possible. They will have specific recommendations for your situation. Once you have this, request the upgrade from your current host. Completing that process before the migration begins is far preferable to doing it during the migration.
Also, be sure to let your new host know what custom software and
configurations you have on your current server. The more you can tell your new host, the better they will be able to anticipate problems and address them if they occur. Once all the preliminary work is done, you can sit back and let your new host do the hard work. Don't be afraid to engage the sales staff of your prospective host and really test them. This process may take a few hours (or longer for very large servers), and it may require a few follow-up conversations with you, but it does not have to be your burden or headache.
Syncing files between servers.
Because the data needs to be moved over to the new server in its entirety,
most hosts will ask that you make no changes to your old server during the migration process. If this is impossible (if you have an active forum on your site, for example), you can request a final sync of the data after the move. This process is very straightforward and any competent web host will take care of it for you as part of their managed migration service. If you want to do it yourself, the simplest way is to work on the command line and transfer any files created or updated after the end of your main site migration.
The hard work is now done. (And if you chose the right web host, they did most or all of the heavy lifting for you.) Now it's time to update your DNS. This will point the world to the data and files on your new server and away from the server at your old host. This is when you'll be able to make your final decision on whether or not you want to go into business with your new host. Were the migration hurdles made clear to you? Did the support staff at the new host anticipate problems before they came up and fix those no one could have predicted? Did the experience leave you feeling happy with your new hosting choice? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then it's time to move forward and update your DNS. If not, your alternative option is straightforward: just cancel your order and stay live on the server at your old host. Depending on how often the data on your sites updates, you may need to coordinate the DNS update very closely to the final sync of your data. Even if you're doing this on your own, this is something you should consult with your new host about well in advance of the final sync described in step 3. Updating DNS is as simple as configuring your name servers (or any third-party name servers you use) to your new IP address(es) at your new host. It's a little different depending on whether you run your own name service or use a third party. Your new web host should be able to offer guidance and assistance on
this task. It can take anywhere from 4 to 24 hours for changes to your DNS to propagate throughout the Internet. Basically, name servers at ISPs all over the world need to learn about your new IP address. this is an automatic process, it just takes some time. This is why we suggest that customers keep both their old and new server live and locked down from changes for the 24 hours following their DNS name server update. During this window, users in different parts of the world may be directed to either your old server or your new one. We recommend 24 hours because there is no simple way to determine when DNS propagation is complete across the entire Internet, but 24 hours is the safe outside end of the window.
Taking your old server offline.
Once the move is complete, the DNS is changed and you've tested your sites on your new server, all you have left to do is turn off your service with your old provider. Call them up and tell them it's over. It's like breaking up with somebody, but you don't have to pretend you feel bad about it. Migrating to a new web host is never simple and can take some time. But with top-tier support and some preliminary work on your part, it can be a fairly painless process that involves no site downtime or disruption for your customers.
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Author: Dick Detering.
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