Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hosting websites as cheap as possible (my diluted process)

Over the past years in trying to keep our technology up and running I have spent considerable time in trying to make the idea of creating a in-depth web presence while remaining financially responsible.  Lets face it, the technology expenses in districts is going to continue to rise over the years and any place that I can make an positive impact on the bottom line while not effecting the user experience is a win-win in my opinion.

Thanks to be quite overly obsessed at times, I have developed a few little tricks to keep the district web presence in that boat.  Now the thing to preface this with is that if you are looking for a web site that is going to be under heavy load at a consistent basis, I am talking 500+ concurrent users, than you may need to invest in some beefier hardware and then look at some mirroring.

I started down this path when I saw how much we were paying for web-hosting and email services.  Thanks to Google Apps for Education the email problem was an easy fix.  The website was not, at the time, HTML pretty much the standard and if you wanted anything super fancy you would have to use a million tables and frames to make everything work.  Which did not make me happy, I was well versed in HTML, and knew what I could do and what I wanted to do was to create an environment that allow others the opportunity to contribute materials and info.

The problem was that apart from 1 other person, no one knew HTML and the idea of teaching HTML to people who don't want to learn was a form of torture that I didn't want to encounter.  I searched the web and found a little gem of a website called Open Source CMS and discovered Joomla.

Joomla was great, it eliminated any need for any HTML prowess and allowed the use of a WYSIWYG(What You See Is What You Get) Editor to create the content.  On the front end, the layout of the site would be the same regardless of the page you were on.  A unified template look with the ability to have users add content.  I was in heaven.  After some CSS tutorials I had decided I wanted to use Joomla for the district website.

I soon found myself sitting down on my server 2003 box hacking and slashing it getting PHP and MySQL installed and running which was relatively simple when I found a video at Video Tutorial Zone that laid out the step for installing and configuring with such ease.

I am sad to say that the site appears to be broken or you may need an account because all the links appear broken.  Which is a shame, I am trying to keep this cheap!

As the years progressed we geared toward out 1:1 Macbook rollout and we purchased a Mac Server.  I still had our 2003 server but its need was becoming lessened and even more so with the purchase of a 2008 server the only use of the 2003 server was for the website that I decided it was time to switch and move stuff over to Mac.

I dreaded the idea, I had become so comfortable with my setup on the 2003 box after all.  However, my  prayers were answered when I discovered that MySQL was built into and installing PHP was a simple enough task.  I was not looking to do anything crazy, I wanted simple functionality that allowed me to install Joomla, Moodle, and OS Ticket.

OS Ticket
As I was ready to start tweaking on my Mac Server, I got to thinking I did not want to have my website on the same server that was doing my DNS, DHCP, File Serving, and OD/AD Integration.  I didn't like the idea of that server doing all those 4 processes and then adding the web hosting was just one more thing to put more work on the server and also make the unit vulnerable to compromise or failure.

What to do, I did't want to drop another $4,000 on a server, against my goal of keeping this cheap!  The year before we had purchased some Mac Mini's to fill in a couple computer short classrooms.  The following year we purchased new iMacs to replace the Mini's for all the rooms, so I had 10 Mac Mini's that were stacked in a corner collecting dust.  Not anymore, I pulled one out and did a clean install.

Installed PHP and also had to install MySQL as I couldn't get the packaged version to work just right, but at this point they had an nice and clean installed package so it was easy enough to do.  Installed my 3 websites and using MySQL dumps was able to copy the websites from the Windows Server to the Mac server with ease.

The only downside was with those three items resting on one Mac Mini the instances of server latency was quite high.  If we had a class accessing Moodle, the school website would take very long to load or even time out.  It was universal to all three websites, Mac Mini's in all honesty are very weak machines,  but at $600.00 a unit, I could buy 7 webservers for the prices of 1 server.  So thats what I did, I went and got another Mini off my stack and installed Moodle on that one and then got another and installed OS Ticket on that one.  I purchased 3 250gb external drives and configured them with Time Machine to create the backups and I had a website solution that was user friendly and most importantly, cheap.

Next time, I discover XAMPP and life gets even easier...

1 comment:

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