What is web hosting and do I need it?

This is a common question we are asked at iTCHYROBOT when we are building and launching the iTCHYROBOT Web Platform for our school customers.

In this short article I hope to demystify some of the confusion around the components required to get your website online.

For customers of iTCHYROBOT you never need to worry about any of this as we have it all monitored and managed on your behalf.  Those who migrated from a third party provider may be asked for login information to domain control panels so we can setup the required DNS records and to the administration area of the existing content management system.

We may discuss email, Google or Office 365.  However, beyond providing login information you will probably never need to get involved with the technicalities as we undertake all the set up to make sure your website is available, secure and ready for your parents, governors, teachers and pupils to access.  We also, when needed setup any preferred mail services on your behalf.   I think it is fair to say our mail system and platform of choice is Microsoft Office 365.  When setup correctly and used to its fullest potential it provides an exceptional suite of collaboration tools.

The Short Answer…

Yes, if you want to build a website you do need web hosting.

Here are a few of the questions that are raised with us….

My IT is managed by a provider already.

No problem, if you are in the North East the chances are we probably know the IT provider and will likely have worked alongside them in some capacity.   There is no problem with your existing IT provider holding your domain name if they manage your mail and other services.  We will provide them with the necessary records when you are ready for your new site to go live and after you provide authorisation to your IT provider to accept instruction from our technical team we can get on and ensure a some process with your IT provider.

But Why?

A website without web hosting is the equivalent of wishing to build your own home.  You speak to the architect and draw up plans.  You engage a quantity surveyor who creates a bill of quantities based on the architects plans.  With your order list you go off seeking the best prices for the building materials.  Once you have the best price you order the materials required to build your dream home.  You speak to builders and you get the best price.  You are ready to start building!  But there is a critical piece missing.  Land!  You have all the components but no land to build on so cannot construct your house, register your house with the authorities to get a new address so people can find you.

Land is like hosting. Without hosting your code, images, files have nowhere to live.  To make your project visible and available for family and friends to visit you need to put it somewhere first and then register an address that allows your friends and family to come and visit.

Online your address becomes your domain name. Your domain name points to a location that is configured as your home on the internet.  Once all the components are in place your friends, family and stakeholders can come and visit your website.

That all sounds pretty easy…

It is, if you have the right team and the knowledge to pull it all together.  What do we look at when it comes to hosting that never really gets seen by our clients.

I’ll try and continue with the analogy of building or buying a home as most people are probably familiar with that as a concept.

Some decisions affect us when it comes to buying a home.  I will try and run through a few and draw some compariosons.

Size

How many people will live at the property?  This will affect the size of the property as you now need to consider your living space requirements.  Number of bedrooms and bathrooms.  Garage, no garage or double garage.

Basically, we need to scope out the current size of your website and then estimate growth so we can calculate the storage requirements to hold all your files, media, videos, text etc.

  • Location of the property.  Properties in different parts of the country vary in price.
  • Will you rent or buy?
  • Will you live in a shared building or do you want your own space?
  • If you live in a shared space will you do the maintenance yourself or has the landlord provided that service as part of the cost?

Hosting is really no different to the decisions you made when selecting a property.  When it comes to your website we look at how you want to run and manage your presence online.  Our schools in the main love publishing pictures and videos of pupil achievements.  This can lead to sites getting to substantial sizes rather quickly.  As part of our hosting provision to our customers we look at the sizing and scaling requirements over a period of time.  We don’t expect you to move when your site grows as we have solutions in place to scale your online real estate without that hassle of a move.

By using the iTCHYROBOT Schools platform you do not need to worry about selecting hosting plans and worrying about how many gigabytes of data storage you require as we have already sorted that out.  We have a highly scalable hosting platform running terabytes of data that is growing all the time.

Shared versus your own space

We are not a commercial hosting provider.  iTCHYROBOT do not sell web hosting, so don’t ask.  We provide high quality dedicated hosting only to our customers.  We do not allow third party developers to launch websites on our hosting platform for reasons of security and performance.  Working with iTCHYROBOT you get a dedicated space on the internet that is configured, monitored and managed for optimal performance of out iTCHYROBOT Schools Platform.

Our Platform is based on the WordPress framework and we have spent 10 years building expertise in creating scalable, fast, feature rich solutions for our schools.  If you want a Joomla, Django or DotNetNuke Content Management Systems there are plenty of companies out there who can help but it is not us.

If you want a feature rich website with dedicated features for your school that includes;

  • Digital policy signing for your staff
  • Digital letters home signing
  • Parents Evening Booking System

Come and speak to us and compare our solution to what else is on offer any you may be pleasantly surprised.

Address

You acquire some land and build your property.  The next thing you need is an address and postcode to share with friends and family to enable them to find and visit you.  The process requires the address to be registered with the council planning office and with the post office.  Once systems catch up with the real world Sat Nav etc will enable friends and family to find you.  Updating records and navigation systems takes time.

Similarly, when you setup your web space and upload your files, media, pages, text and other assets you are only at the first part of the journey.

The next step is to pick an internet domain name registrar and pay the fee for your domain name for your chosen length of time.  This can be anything from 1 to 10 years plus depending on your needs.  At this point the domain name knows nothing about the physical location of your website on the internet.  The next step involves setting up the domain name to direct your visitors to your website.

With an iTCHYROBOT Schools Platform you do not need to worry if you do not know a A record from a CNAME or an MX record.  We sort all this out on your behalf.

A brief explanation for those the want to know

  • A Records are use to configure primary locations on the Internet.  These point to IP addresses generally public servers on the internet.  This is what you will use to point your domain to your website.
  • CNAME records are used to configure sub elements of the domain name.  CNAME records can be configured if necessary to get the www part of your domain name operational.
  • MX records or Mail Exchange Records are used to enable mail to flow from your mail client to those who you need to communicate with.

These are the basic records and a lot more exists besides these.  But do not worry we scope out your needs, setup and manage the records your require to get everything working.

For those who have built their own house or bought a new build you will know how log it can take for the post code to known by Sat Nav systems or the post-office!  When you launch a new website we publish information (sitemaps) to Google to make sure they know the structure of your site.  While we would love to get everyone on page 1 right away the Google algorithms are complex.  I have had quotes from Search Engine Optimisation Experts that it takes anything from 9 to 18 months for Google to fully start to catalogue and rank your site highly.  Traditional marketing can compliment digital strategies.  Let your friends, family and contacts know you have a website.  Tell your social media followers and get them to visit and give you feedback.  Publish more content and keep your website up to date and fresh so visitors have a reason to return.

Security

It doesn’t end there.  You have you new house and you want to make sure your property is protected.  You install locks on doors and then a burglar alarm, CCTV, perimeter wall, buy a guard dog or hire a security guard.  OK, I may have gone too far there but the principal is no different online.

Security basics are important;

  1. Use secure passwords (Upper lower case, numbers, letters etc) We all know the score.
  2. Change your password regularly
  3. Don’t use the same password across multiple systems
  4. Don’t share your password with others (There is no need our iTCHYROBOT Schools Platform can have as many accounts as your school needs at no extra costs)

Beyond the basic security principals we employ a lot of server side technologies;

  • Secure Socket Layer Certificates (SSL)
  • WordPress Application Firewall
  • CloudFlare Application Firewall
  • Fail2Ban
  • MalDet
  • AntiVirus Detection
  • ModSecurity with industry standard rule sets that scan all inbound traffic.
  • Backups on backups on backups.   Who knows when something might break!

We take our hosting seriously.  Our data centres are located in the UK and managed by iTCHYROBOT experts who have intimate knowledge of WordPress and how our platform is crafted.  With that knowledge they can optimise the hosting environment for optimum security and performance.

Fancy a chat about any of the points raised or want to know more about a specific solution we use to secure our systems?

Join me on Facebook or LinkedIn and send me a message and I will make some time to create more technical posts if there is some interest.

Rob Adams, Technical Director, iTCHYROBOT UK Ltd