Tag: web hosting

Storm Season Backup Servers

backup-server

Backup your server

Storm season – time to get a backup server

The recent autumn storms that lashed the east coast of Australia are a not too subtle reminder that all businesses, large and small, should have backup servers in a separate location to their main business premises. As well as keeping a backup server, business owners should verify that backups are working successfully, or unexpected natural disasters could leave you without the necessary data you need to run your business.

The difference between the Cloud and offsite backup

Cloud does offer limited backup for companies but it is meant for small files and personal data. The major, and most important, difference between Cloud and off-site backup is ownership. When you store data on Cloud, you are a customer and as such, bound by the terms and conditions of Cloud storage. When you use an offsite backup server, you are the owner of your data, which means you can access it whenever you want. An offsite server also offers greater data protection because it can run twenty-four hours a day with scheduled backups at regular intervals.

Why is an offsite server the best option?

We live in an information age where the most valuable possession a business has is data. If your business was to lose all the company and client data, the costs involved in notifying clients and government agencies, continuing without data (if that is possible) and recreating the lost data would result in loss productivity and possibly, bankruptcy.

Off-site servers are an added layer of insurance against:

  • Natural disasters – storms, fire, floods, earthquakes and cyclones
  • Hardware failure
  • Theft
  • Malicious attack – from employees or the internet in the form of virus, worm or trojan

Having a backup server in place means you or your IT manager can travel to the off-site location and immediately retrieve an up-to-date copy of your business information.

How do I set up an offsite backup server?

The complexity and expense of an offsite server will depend on the size and nature of your business. It is best to choose a secure location, out of a flood zone, that is easily accessible. If there is no one within your business that is qualified to set up a backup server, you should seek expert advice to ensure you data is properly protected twenty four hours a day.

Every company suffers data loss at some point or another, so your best defence against the cost and stress of lost data is to commission an offsite backup server, establish a disaster and backup recovery plan, and review your data protection policies every twelve months.

If you would like to know more about our Web Hosting and Support Services you can read about them here.

 

Hosting and Maintaining WordPress

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Hosting and Maintaining WordPress

One of the great things about WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system, is the ease with which it can be hosted. The underlying technologies that it uses are among the most commonly offered by hosting providers, and the ease with which it can be deployed is one of the things that drives its popularity.

This also give you, as the site owner, a myriad of options for choosing a company to host with. Most companies offering hosting will offer a range of plans, and many of those plans appear very similar. This has lead to a race-to-the-bottom in terms of hosting costs, which often makes it tempting to just choose the cheapest provider.

Here’s a comparison of a few of the different types of hosting, and what they may mean for the performance of your WordPress site:

Classic Shared Hosting

This is usually marketed as ‘cPanel’ hosting. 95% of the time, the ‘stack’ of software that the site is based on is a variation on LAMP.  To break the acronym down, Linux is the operating system, Apache the webserver, MySQL the database, and PHP the scripting language that provides the site’s ‘smarts’.

When you buy shared hosting like this, you have little to no idea as to how many other sites there are hosted on the server. You have purchased a small slice of the total performance available on the server, but behind the scenes, your account is in a fight to the death for resources against other accounts and other customers.

The package you buy may offer the chance to host ‘subdomains’ or ‘add-on domains’ – this gives you the chance to host multiple sites under a single account, which at a glance seems attractive, but those sites will actually have to share, among themselves the single slice of resources that your account has been allocated. As such, expect performance, in terms of responsiveness, to suffer.

Things that can improve WordPress on shared hosting.

Chose a better PHP version

The first thing you can check is the version of PHP you are using. Shared hosting accounts often offer a choice of the version of PHP that you’re using. They often default to an earlier, but more compatible version. More recent version of PHP (5.6 or 7) offer substantial performance improvements, and can be selected via the ‘PHP Selector’ in the cPanel interface.

Almost all PHP scripts that operate inside WordPress are (or by now should be) compatible with these versions of PHP.

Bypass your hosting – use a Content Distribution Network

To display a  single web page, many assets are often served, each of which is a separate request. These requests are responded to by the web server program (or ‘process’), that listens for requests and generates responses, returning them to the browser requesting them. Servers most often used in shared hosting, like Apache (and, less commonly LiteSpeed) are akin to Swiss-army-knives, in that they can do a bit of everything – they serve both [tooltip title=”Static assets” content=”Static assets: files that rarely change once a site is deployed” type=”classic”]’static’ assets[/tooltip] such as images, CSS that affect the style of the site, or JavaScript files that add interactivity, and they can call and return the dynamic parts of a site, the results of PHP scripts and database queries.

One way that you can improve things is to reduce the number of requests Apache must deal with, by serving the static assets from somewhere else, to leave Apache to just serve the dynamic (PHP) parts of the site. WordPress caching plugins like W3 Total Cache allow you to serve these assets from a [tooltip title=”Content Distribution Network” content=”Content Distribution Network: a series of 3rd-party servers designed to speed up serving of your static assets” type=”classic”]CDN[/tooltip] such as MaxCDN or Amazon’s CloudFront. For sites that do not attract a lot of traffic, Cloud Front’s pay-as-you-go pricing is attractive, as it is based only on the amount of data served, but it’s not a one-click setup.

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Optimise Assets

Plugins like W3 Total Cache can also concatenate and optimise static resources like CSS & JavaScript. Concatenation combines many small files into just a few much larger files, which reduces the number of requests that browser must make in order to view each page. It can also reduce their size by stripping redundant information, a process called minification. Although these techniques offer good potential for improving shared hosting performance, some care must be taken as not all of them are compatible with all plugins and themes, leading to display glitches and script errors. Some testing is required in order to make sure they do not adversely affect user experience.

Beyond shared hosting- tuned hosting for WordPress

If you are concerned with getting the best possible performance of WordPress, finding a hosting provider who offers a hosting stack that is optimised to serve it will pay big dividends. For instance, if you are selling online via an eCommerce store, then you can easily quantify the value of good quality hosting in terms of a faster user experience leading to less customer frustration, less ‘drop-offs’ on the path to purchase, and improved numbers of sales or leads.

A common means to improve performance is to remove Apache from the stack, and use a more efficient server. An example of this is NGINX – unlike Apache which is setup with a finite number of possible ‘slots’ for connections, NGINX uses a event-based queue system that can a handle a much higher number of concurrent connections. Unlike Apache, NGINX can be setup to aggressively cache dynamic pages, meaning that requests for URLs that have not changed are served without the pages having to be regenerated by PHP, offering a massive speedup. NGINX is also extremely efficient at handling static resources, the images, styles and JavaScripts that rarely ever change.

The way in which PHP is run can also radically improve performance. As a scripting language, PHP is usually read from disk as a series of text files, interpreted into a form that can be ‘run’ and then executed. WordPress uses a large number of different PHP files to serve a request. Although all systems cache to a certain extent (like recently accessed files), systems like OpCode caching, that store the interpreted PHP in memory, improve execution times massively. The trade off is that they require more memory, something which is in short supply on shared hosting.

Setting up and tuning a stack like this, is, realistically, not for mortals. If you have a the skills then you can get great performance out of a cheap server but you have to know what you’re doing, and if you’re planning to host multiple sites, then a VPS is not a practical solution unless you know exactly how to set it up.

Finding a provider who combines the ease of management of cPanel with the massive performance gains associated with servers like NGINX is rare.  Here at We Push Buttons, we employ GnuSys’ excellent XtendWeb plugin for cPanel to improve the performance of our premium VPS by using NGNIX, caching, and application specific templates to take the hassle out of tuning WordPress serving, as well as other types of web applications. Our maintenance packages also include patching of WordPress and plugins, security monitoring, and backups for disaster recovery.

back up server

How to set up Mac Mail

Using a personal email address is by far the most professional option to present your organisation in the best light. Unfortunately, setting up an email address using the in built Mac Mail can sometimes be infuriatingly difficult due to security settings that are predetermined by your Mac.

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Here’s a short how-to guide to setting up email on your Mac.

  1. Open Mac/ Apple Mail.
  2. Click on Accounts from the top menu.
  3. Click on Create a New Account or if you have changed account information select the email account from the list on the left
  4. You will see a screen that states ‘Welcome to Mail’- fill in your name (which will appear alongside your email, email address and password.
  5. Often you will see a pop-up that states ‘Mail can’t verify the identity of servername.siteportal.com.au’ and requires manual set-up. If you see this press Connect.
  6. In the next screen you will information about Incoming Mail Server.
  7. Account Type – select either IMAP or POP. We recommend using IMAP.
  8. Fill in the description field. This can be anything you like but should reflect what that the account is about such as ‘Work Email’
  9. Incoming Mail Server details will be provided by your web host company but looks something like: servername.siteportal.com.au or mail.yourdomain.com. Please ensure there is no space before or after the server address as a blank space will mean your email can’t be set up.
  10. Enter your Username. This will be your actual email address: hello@wepushbuttons.com.au and your password is your email password.
  11. MacMail by default uses SSL. This means you may receive a warning screen stating ‘do you trust and accept an SSL certificate‘. Click Yes
  12. The next screen will be about the Outgoing Mail Server. Fill the details out much like incoming mail server and ensure that the boxes for ‘Use Authentication’ and ‘Use only this server’ has been ticked.
  13. You will now have an Account Summary. Press Create.
  14. Fingers crossed you’ve set up your email address.

Common Issues with setting up your Mac Mail

A common issue that we find commonly is that people can receive emails but can’t send them. This is normally attributed to an incorrect port being selected. We are finding many ISPs (such as Telstra/ Optus) are blocking Port 25 for security reasons meaning you may have followed all the steps above but your email isn’t working because of your ISP.

If you are unable to send email but are able to receive, you may need to change your outgoing SMTP server port.

Changing the outgoing mail port in  Mac Mail 10.5+

  1. Open Mac Mail
  2. In the mail menu dropdown choose preferences
  3. Select the email account to modify under accounts
  4. Directly underneath the Outgoing server (SMTP) click on the drop down and choose “Edit SMTP server list…”.
  5. Click on your Outgoing server (servername.siteportal.com.au) and then click advanced.
  6. Select option for custom port and type in your new port number. Port numbers will have been emailed to you from your web host.  Common port numbers include: 25, 26, 465, 587 – contact your web host for your port numbers.
  7. Click OK
  8. Power cycle your Mac Mail (geek for close your Mac Mail and reopen it)

 

 

 

Shared Web Hosting

Shared Web Hosting vs Dedicated Hosting vs VPS Hosting

We can often become overwhelmed with the number of options available when it comes to web hosting. There are so many sellers, resellers, oversellers – how do we cut through to find out what we really need?

It all mostly comes down to three kinds of hosting option – Shared hosting, Dedicated Hosting and VPS Hosting. These all refer to the way your site is hosted physically in the host’s server itself. When considering hosting, we’re thinking not only about the amount of space our website needs, but also how many people can look at it at once, plus how much information is allowed to be downloaded from your website per month – that is, server space and bandwidth.

Shared Web Hosting

Shared hosting is the most common way to have a website hosted. The server itself is shared amongst a number of websites, relying on the fact that many smaller websites never use their full quota of space and bandwidth. Often hosts offering shared web hosting are, in fact, a reseller of server space bought elsewhere – which explains the large number of cheap hosting providers who offer very similar packages.

Shared web hosting can be a great option for personal sites and small businesses – it’s a cheap way to get your small site hosted, especially if you are looking for a web presence but don’t expect to have a lot of large files transferred (ie media streaming) or lots of people trying to access your site at the same time.

Shared web hosting is not good for larger businesses or e-commerce sites though. Larger businesses may find that they have issues with bandwidth – even though sites on shared hosts may be offered a particular bandwidth limit, in reality this is often oversold, as hosts allow for the unused amount in shared host sites. So even though you may think you have up to your limit, if all the other sites sharing your server experience a high demand at the same time, your clients may not be able to access your site when required.

The prevalence of reselling also means that you may not know the physical location of the server your website is hosted on. Because shared host sites all share the same IP address, if your site is sharing space with a disreputable site, simply sharing the same server could mean your SEO ranking is affected. It’s possible to have a site on a shared server with a unique IP, though usually costs more.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is just as it sounds – one server dedicated to one website. Dedicated hosting offers more choice regarding the operating system and management of the server, better security – both security of your data and of the physical location of your data – and is good for larger e-commerce businesses, corporations and high-bandwidth websites (such as video streaming).

VPS – Virtual Private Server

A Virtual Private Server is a server partitioned so that each partition operates as if it is a dedicated server. It’s a compromise between shared and dedicated hosting: cheaper than dedicated hosting, as the hardware is shared – yet appears to the client as a dedicated host.

VPS (and related Cloud technologies) rely, in the same way as shared hosting, on clients not using their total quota of space and bandwidth (which is predominantly the case in the real world). A good host will manage their servers to avoid traffic ‘bottlenecks’ or too much traffic for the server to handle.

VPS is good for medium to large e-commerce businesses as it combines price with private service – though not suitable for all clients as some software doesn’t run well in a virtual environment (like other virtualisers or emulators, for example).

Conclusion

As with anything: research, research, research and remember you get what you pay for!

At Explainafide we’ve used dozens of different web hosts from across the world for a variety of clients with different needs, budgets and locations. We’ve finally settled with an Australian web host company Rack Servers based in Brisbane who provide great service, technical know-how and servers that work 99% of the time.

Check Rack Servers out here…*

If you would like to get unbiased web hosting reviews then the Whirlpool forums are packed full of tech savvy people far more knowledgeable than I, all discussing the good, the bad and the downright unethical of web host companies large and small.

*I like the guys at Rack Servers so much I’ve started writing for them*

 

The world is running out of website addresses!

Stop Press!

IPV6-logo

I’m sure you’ve read the headlines- great headline, but slightly mistaken. The world is running out of IP Addresses but not domain names so you can relax. But why did so many media outlets run stories on the web running out of space?

Here’s a simplified explanation of IPv6 and the issue with IP Addresses.

Every computer, tablet, mobile and modem connected to the internet needs to have a separate IP Address. This IP Address is a unique number that sets your computer apart from any other. The only problem is with so many web enabled gadgets that the actual number of IP Addresses available is estimated to run out by the end of 2012. So the big wigs that set the rules for the Internet have introduced IPv6 to eliminate the problem before most people even know about it.

It’s basic maths really, currently each device has an IP address such as: 123.456.789.012  however, soon devices will have many this many digits 1234:5678:90ab:cdef:1234:5678:90ab:cdef as their IP Address and therefore the sheer number of devices that can have a unique IP Address will increase exponentially.

This will mean that your internet enabled Car, Mobile, PC ,TV,Radio, and even your fridge will be separated from the rest of your devices including your router so you should be able to communicate with each device independently of one another.

This will be fantastic news when you want to set your microwave to pre-cook a meal from the office, spy on your kids to see if there are doing their homework and most importantly, record that must-not-miss rerun of Judge Judy!

If you would like to know some more detail about IPv6 we’ve just written an extensive post on the Rack Servers Blog explaining the technical side of IPv6.