Did you notice that ClickGiant moved its clients to a new high-powered dedicated server. You didn’t notice? No? Good.
Business owners don’t care about server hardware or dedicated RAM allotments. They just care that their customers can access their websites and that leads continue to arrive in their inboxes. In other words, it’s up to us to plan and facilitate the switch in a way that causes the least disruption and anxiety possible.
Without a process in place to manage the migration of live websites, we would substantially increase our chances of making an error that could cost one or all of your clients time and money.
Read below to find out the decisions we made and the process we used to migrate more than 40 websites without a single complaint from a client.
Why Digital Marketing Companies Should Host
Full control over server & site configuration
- Custom performance tweaking: Web performance can vary from site to site.
- Security to meet the needs of the client
- Convenient account provisioning
Value-added for the client
Seriously. We know based on experience that the vast majority of even tech-savvy business owners don’t necessarily want to deal with DNS records and FTP transfers. Since we host and manage websites as a part of our ongoing Internet marketing services, it generally makes the most sense for the client to let us manage this portion of their marketing operations.
Less time talking, more time doing
A bottleneck occurs when lead and sales-driven agencies like ClickGiant attempt to coordinate with traditional hosting/IT companies. The time and effort required to communicate with 3rd parties for simple ongoing tasks becomes such that it can detract from the time we’re able to spend going above and beyond in our online marketing efforts.
Ongoing access enables agility in testing, monitoring & reporting
Tracking the necessary metrics needed to make key decisions requires considerable testing that’s costly to coordinate across vendors. When we have full access to your ecosystem of web assets, we can be more efficient in our implementation and more precise in our reporting.
Making the Decision to Switch Hosting Providers
There are several reasons marketing companies can benefit from moving servers.
- Resource usage caps & availability limits (exceeding RAM & CPU allotments)
- Customer service with your current host is unresponsive, slow and/or won’t serve the needs of your clients
- Poorly performing hardware and/or slow network response times
- Insufficient hardware, or the inability to maintain updated core software
- Persistent malware and spam throughout the server environment
- Network infrastructure issues such as latency that have no foreseeable timeline for resolution
Choosing a New Dedicating Hosting Provider
Whether you plan on condensing several fragmented hosting environments into a new, unified one or you’re exploring options for upgrading your dedicated machine, here are some considerations you’ll want to be aware of going forward.
- Determine current hardware requirements
- Forecast future hardware requirements based on past growth
- Explore the differences in traditional vs. cloud hosting and VPS vs. Dedicated hosting
- Get input from all stakeholders
- Cutting through the filth to find genuine evaluations of hosting options
ClickGiant’s Process for Migrating Client Sites to a New Server
Although there are automated services for migrating backups, there are often instances where you’ll want granular control over each website’s migration. Additionally, there are times when portions of the old server are compromised by malware or are inundated with outdated software and obselete backups. In both cases, it’s more time consuming but generally less frustrating to migrate each website off the server manually.
Notify the client & obtain DNS control
To get started with the whole process, we first notified affected clients of the server migration. In this email, it’s important to a) provide clients with a brief reason for the server change; b) reassure them that their best interests are in mind and c) request that they give you control over the Domain Name System (DNS).
Here’s an example of a typical email we would send to the client notifying them of the change:
Good Afternoon Client,
We’re migrating your site to a faster, more secure server.
At your earliest convenience, please provide us with the login for where you purchased/renewed your domain. We’ll be changing the nameservers so that we can more efficiently make changes in real-time. Please know that this does not affect domain ownership/renewal, and that you will still be responsible.
If you’d rather us not login for security reasons, we’ll need you or someone on your team to change the domain nameservers to the following by Friday, June 20th:
This change should allow us to more efficiently manage your site. Give us a call or send Jon an email if you have any questions or need any clarification.
Back up every piece of data you can get your hands on
Permanent data loss is a a worst-case scenario anytime you’re moving a website or asset to a new location. It’s critical to backup all the data you can before you even think about moving sites – much less before you terminate your old server instance. When ClickGiant migrated its server last month, here is the list of fallbacks we put in place to ensure that we did not lose critical data.
From the Web/Domain Hosting Panel of the Old Server:
- Created a full tar.gzip archive of the old server’s contents stored on a secure remote or cloud server
- Took screenshots of all DNS records, including MX records
- Made individual backups of each MySQL database (not necessary if using a plugin such as Duplicator to export an entire WordPress install)
- Created backup of entire MySQL database directory
- Backed up email forwarders for the handful of clients using our server to send and receive mail
- Used the Duplicator plugin to create a directory+database backup of every WordPress site to be moved to the new server.
Via Mail Client:
Did you know that most servers’ default webmail interfaces (SquirrelMail, Horde, Roundcube, etc.) don’t come with the ability. This is one of the major reasons we recommend that clients manage their email remotely.
- We made a list of clients using our server as the primary means of email storage storage
- We loaded every mail account into Outlook and manually placed email copies on the new functionality. (While there are plugins that will allow SquirrelMail and others to archive mail so that they can be transferred, 3 different hosting providers recommend we use the mail client method.
- We backed up all the old mail in an Outlook data file so that it could be restored should the client have any problems connecting to the new server.
More Resources on Backing Server for Migration
Use Cloudflare To Nearly Eliminate Downtime
When you update a DNS record with a traditional hosting service, it can take an hour or more (and sometimes as many as 48 hours!) for the DNS host to notify the caching servers the IP address of example.com.
When you use Cloudflare’s’s DNS service, you can centrally manage all the DNS information in one dashboard before, during and after the migration. Most importantly, when you update a DNS record, it makes it’s way through the Internet in mere seconds. That means that if you’ve made an error in configuring a certain site/domain on the new server (i.e. “This site worked on the staging domain but didn’t work on the live domain”), you can instantly revert your changes without throwing a rather large monkey wrench in the consistency of the DNS records held by caching servers throughout the world.
We updated the DNS nameservers for all of the websites we planned on moving before doing anything else. Doing so enabled us to capture DNS settings remotely and to update them as we made our way through the process.
Double Check MX & CNAME Records
The last thing we wanted after a successful website migration was to get an email from a client who is irate that their email isn’t working. This sort of snafu generally happens when you point a domain to new nameservers without ensuring that the proper MX entries are set on the new server. For clients using hosted mail service such as Google App,s Microsoft Exchange or Rackspace, we paid special attention to the box that looks like the one below in Cloudflare:
As long as these entries are preserved, you can change the A-record to reflect the IP address of the new server without worrying about any email downtime.
Configure the New Server Before Moving Files
The team decided that it would be really helpful if your new server has been configured to handle web traffic before you start moving files and changing A-records.
- Ensure that your server’s nameservers reflect the correct IP addresses
- Configure the basic security options on the server. The cPanel security set-up documentation provides the basic information you need to make this configuration
- Set up web hosting accounts using Web Host Manager
- Set up and import all databases in the appropriate web hosting account
Migrate Every File Before Changing Any DNS Records
Before changing any DNS records in Cloudflare, you should ensure that the hosting account on the new server contains every file from the old server. Using the file manager, FTP and SSH, we securely transferred all the files from the old server to their new directories on he new server.Likewise, we uploaded all databases for WordPress, Magento and other MYSQL-driven PHP applications to the corresponding hosting account where we moved the files.
We Updated Configurations Before Changing DNS Records
Most server migrations will require a change in the database credentials in order for the new site to locate and use the correct database when it loads for the first ime. For WordPress, for example, we updated he wp-config.php file in the WordPress install to map it to the correct database.
42 Live Websites Migrated
0 Down Time
0 Angry Emails or Phone Calls from Clients
Almost No One Noticed the Migration
When migrating multiple client websites to a new server in a relatively short time period, you DO NOT want to hear from the client. That usually means that their email is down and they can’t communicate with their employees and customers, or it could mean that their website is down and they’re losing sales. In this world, no news from the client is generally considered good news.
Not only did we successfully move a ton of websites without throwing any ripples in the day-to-day operations of the business, but we also successfully trans
Using Cloudflare’s Free DNS-Only Option – A Long Term Benefit?
We had initially used Cloudflare to server as a buffer between the old server and the new server. The plan was to later move all DNS to the new local server once all of the caching registries had successfully identified the new IP address of the server. That process is simply a matter of:
- Copying all DNS records from Cloudflare to the web hosting panel for that specific domain.
- Repointing the domain from the client’s DNS registrar to the local nameserver on the new server
However, after noticing the reduction in DNS lookup times and being impressed with how quickly changes propagate across the network, we’ve decided to use Cloudflare to control DNS as a possible long-term solution.
Happy Clients & a Long-Term Solution
- We have a higher capacity server that allows us to better serve the needs of our clients.
- Moving servers eliminated some of the persistent mail delivery and malware issues we suffered on our old VPS plan
- Our design and development team has more flexibility when it comes to controlling your website.