Web Hosting: Are You Ready for a VPS?

For the uninformed, A VPS has hidden dangers

You have a successful website (or blog).

Congratulations!

You installed WordPress, and found a cool theme.

You figured out plugins and widgets.

Best of all, you figured out how to bring traffic.

Take a bow and pat yourself on the back. I raise my drink to you, Rock Star of the Internet! But excess can bring a hangover…

Your site is so successful that your traffic is slowing other sites on your shared server. Your hosting company has suggested you switch to a Virtual Private Server (VPS).

You might think, “I got this far. I’ll save a few bucks and manage the VPS myself.” If you are truly a tech ninja this is fine, but there are hidden dangers with managing a VPS yourself.

PC users might appreciate an analogy.

Warning for Mac Users

Skip the bullet points ahead (you won’t believe them anyway).
Just put your dominant hand in a blender. It will be faster and will hurt less.

  • Imagine that you have a program that requires MS Access and a special framework to handle the network interface.
  • Your program won’t work with the plain vanilla version of those, it needs some add-on modules installed.
  • You have to manually install and configure the software and add-on modules.
  • In Iambic Pentameter. From a DOS prompt.
  • It’s all keyboard. No mouse. No drag-and-drop.
  • Undaunted, you search Google, but the only documentation you can find is at least 2 years old.
  • Oh, there’s no Undo button, either.
  • What about security? Or will you just leave the door to your house open with your wallet on the dining room table?

THAT is a Debian Linux VPS. I love the idea of open source software, and Linux is an incredibly powerful and adaptable system. But it’s also extremely complex and requires a lot of care and feeding, especially in the harsh environment of the Internet.

I’m new to the world of VPS, but I have a few questions I would ask before diving into it.

  1. Is your site or business bringing in enough revenue to support the higher server costs?
  2. Will they provide support (managed service), or do you do the heavy lifting yourself (unmanaged service)?
  3. Is it included with your monthly subscription, or is it by the hour?
  4. What flavor(s) of Linux do they provide?
  5. Can you find documentation for it?
  6. Do they have experience with the requirements of your platform or CMS  (Joomla!, Drupal, WordPress)?
  7. Do you have the knowledge to maintain a secure environment?
  8. Is it really worth your time (and sanity) to try administering your own server? (A: No.)

Share your experiences and other questions in the comments. I would love to learn what your experience has been.

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Three Tips for WordPress Site Maintenance

Hammer and Toolbox

Photo Credit: Ryan Hyde

As software goes, WordPress is pretty stable and reliable. However, it relies on computers and it runs in a world of people. Things can go wrong. An internet connection could fail during an update, there could be a hardware problem with your server, your site could be hacked, or you could just plain break something while playing with new features (I do this more than I care to admit).

Fortunately, you can improve your security and gain peace of mind. These easy-to-use (and free!) tools and techniques will help.

1. Back Up Your Site

Just as you have an homeowner’s insurance for your house (or renter’s insurance for your apartment), you should have a policy for your website as well. There are two pieces of a WordPress website, and they both need to be backed up: the database and the installation.

The database contains the content (posts, comments, and pages, and information about your site configuration). The installation consists of the WordPress software, themes, uploads (like pictures or mp3 files), and plugins.

A weekly backup is sufficient for many sites, but if you add content often you might want to do it daily. Some large sites with multiple authors and aggressive publishing schedules will back up hourly.

I recommend enabling the email options in the plugins below to give yourself a little extra security. If you don’t want to clutter your inbox, set up a rule or filter to move them into a separate folder. You could also create another email account (gmail is good for this) and direct your backups to that.

Back up the Database

The WP-DB-Backup plugin is a useful tool. In addition to scheduling your database backups, it lets you create a full database backup on demand and download it to your computer.  It also lets you decide whether to include additional tables (that other plugins may install).

Back up the Installation

I like the WordPress Backup tool. It lets you schedule backups on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. It guards your uploads, themes, and plugins by creating separate zip files of  each type of content and storing them in a directory on your site. Again, I suggest turning on option to email a backup to yourself. (If you have a lot of images, your uploads backup file can quickly grow too large for email.)

I always back up a client’s database and installation before I start any work. It’s cheap insurance against the little things that can go wrong.

2. Keep WordPress and Plugins Updated

WordPress is great, but it isn’t perfect. There are bugs, developers keep adding features, and hackers come up with new ways to attack your site. Updates fix bugs, patch holes in security, and add new features.

This became easy with newer versions of WordPress. If you have an older version (before WordPress 2.7) it’s more involved (you should call me, I can help).

I could go into a lot of detail about it, but I’m lazy and Wendy Cholbi just wrote about that (with a video!) last week.

3. Hide Your Dust with Maintenance Mode

Sometimes a store will put up a sign that says “Pardon Our Dust” while they are remodeling. Did you know that you can do just that with WordPress?

Adam Warner goes into detail about Maintenance Mode, a great trick that many WordPress users don’t know about. It lets you “hide” your site to visitors while you work on it. I have used the tool successfully (and probably should more often). If you are new to WordPress, that article is worth a look.

What’s the takeaway? You put a lot of time and energy into your website. These tips can help you protect your investment and reputation.

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