Archive for 2009

Cutover!

Tuesday, December 1st, ©2009 Marcus Brooks

If all has gone well you probably haven’t noticed my website and blog are on a new server. My old web hosting provider, RoseHosting.com, disappointed me, so I went looking for a new one. I found a lot of “top ten” lists of “competing” providers that, when I looked closer, seemed to be incestuously linked “false fronts” for one big server farm. All their dirt-cheap prices turned out to be “introductory,” usually doubling after a year.

Ansel as a kitten (like Zoe, but with long hair).

Ansel as a kitten (much like Zoe, but with long hair).

Then my wife suggested Noise.org, a small marketed-by-mouth hosting service run by one of our neighbors here in nearer Northeast Austin, Texas. I’m sure the Noise.org servers are also sublet from a big server farm, but their price is competitive, and at least I know I’m dealing with a real person. (He adopted Ansel’s sister Zoe from us, that time little Pumpkin turned out to be older than we thought.)

What disappointed me most about Rosehosting.com is that their mail server started bouncing incoming spam and counting it against my bandwidth stats as sent mail. So my bandwidth usage suddenly tripled, while my HTTP traffic hardly changed at all. After a few exchanges about this with the RoseHosting.com admins, they flatly refused to change the mail server to drop, not bounce, incoming spam, even though authorities (including the Spamhaus service they use) recommend against bouncing spam (which only tells spammers they’ve hit a valid mail server).

The RoseHosting.com admins even tried to blame me (implicitly) for not using a robust enough Turing test (CAPTCHA) to hide my email address. But I guess their worst offense was to insist they have to use the misconfiguration distributed by their software provider (DirectAdmin), and I’d have to buy a more expensive self-managed account if I wanted to correct it.

I admit I could have reduced incoming spam (temporarily) by changing my email address, but having a permanent email address is why I got my own domain name in the first place. So I decided to switch web hosting providers, preferably to someone who doesn’t use DirectAdmin.

So far, I’m pleased with the change to Noise.org. Paying yearly for the cheapest plan, I’m getting a better price, more disk space, and at least comparable bandwidth (once you factor in the bounced spam issue). What’s more, Noise.org offers unlimited subdomains (versus only two for the price at RoseHosting.com), and unlimited SQL databases (also versus two). Noise.org also allows domain stacking, so I can host an abandoned site for my wife until her domain expires (or she decides to start it up again); that site had cost us the price of a second account at RoseHosting.com.

Compareed to DirectAdmin, Noise.org’s cPanel admin interface seems to be a big improvement. For example, although cPanel’s SpamAssasin setup seems less powerful at first than DirectAdmin’s, cPanel actually separates the email filtering feature so that it can be configured differently for each email account. cPanel also provides “SPF” and “DomainKeys” controls that, if generally adopted, seem likely to make spamming more difficult overall.

I decided to keep using POP mail for my wife’s and my accounts. It may be user error, but I was able to get the SMTP setup to work more sanely on the Noise.org server than it ever worked on RoseHosting.com. For online access, both Noise.org and RoseHosting.com offer the SquirrelMail web mail client, but we like Noise.org’s two alternative clients, Horde and RoundCube, much more than Rosehosting’s UebiMiau.

cPanel’s logging and statistics features seem much more robust than DirectAdmin’s, which was pretty much limited to bandwidth and disk space readouts (not always meaningful), Webalizer stats summaries, and a couple of error log displays. cPanel also provides Webalizer, but its default AWStats utility is much more informative, and it has several other log and statistics features that I have yet to explore.

I was pleased to discover that cPanel lets me backup my site directly to my Macintosh; whereas DirectAdmin required separate backup, download, and delete steps to create an off-server backup; the delete step was necessary to avoid duplicating past backup archives in new ones.

My WordPress blog is maintained in an SQL database, so I was a little worried about moving that over. Fortunately cPanel let me upload the database directly from a backup I made from the other server. For the transfer I kept all the URIs, user names, and passwords the same, so it mostly just worked, but I wasn’t able to test it for sure until after I redirected my domain DNS entries to the new server. I am having a little trouble with the media library, but I expect it’s just a version or permission issue. I can work around it.

The cPanel file manager is cleaner than DirectAdmin’s and seems to be at least as capable. The one feature I miss is a listing that shows file modification dates, but I’m not sure how necessary that is. I haven’t yet tried cPanel’s Web Disk feature, which offers drag-and drop access to server files from your computer’s desktop. If it works as claimed, I expect it will be far better than any file manager style interface.

In fact, it appears cPanel offers many more features and utilities than I’ve mentioned here. I haven’t tried most of them because, so far, I have only been making sure I can do everything with cPanel that I could do with DirectAdmin. The answer so far seems to be an emphatic yes! I consider all those as-yet untried features to be pure bonus. I’ll try them out later at my leisure, if I have any.