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Why we moved Techzim hosting out of Zimbabwe

Moving House

Moving HouseAbout 4 weeks ago, we moved Techzim from our local web host to South Africa. The moving process wasn’t painless. It lasted some 4 days and we faced a lot of non-technical hitches that come with moving a .co.zw domain from Zimbabwe.

Moving was not an easy decision to make. Techzim reports on ICT developments in Zimbabwe and we love and try to push for Zim tech entrepreneurship. We believe there’s a lot of capacity in Zimbabwe lying idle, especially in the people. So for us to offshore our hosting and claim to be in support of Zim tech companies would make us hypocrites.

Moving was also not easy because hosting a site for Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe results in a very fast loading site. To understand what I mean, try accessing the classifieds.co.zw. It’s lightning fast, and the current SA hosted Techzim pales in comparison, speed-wise. So there’s the speed to compromise.

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Despite the compelling reasons to keep the site within our borders, we moved. Here’s why:

  • Zim hosting is expensive. Talking about Zim hosted sites here, not ‘Zim hosts’ justs reselling a UK or US hosting service. Shop around and you’ll see what I mean.
  • There’s this strange thing that happens sometimes with local ISPs where when you’re using a certain ISP’s internet service, you can’t get to sites hosted by a different local ISP. We experienced this like 5 times in a single year: we would complain that our site was down, and our host would say something like, “look, your site is up, must be something with your ISP”. And we would call up our ISP to tell them “we can access the Internet but we can’t get through to ABC hosted websites!” They’d do the typical, “It’s viruses on your end” thing that ISPs do when they can’t pinpoint the problem. Eventually they would admit and fix the problem. We were never told what this thing is but those amoung you working for ISPs probably know I mean.
  • If your site is purely hosted in Zimbabwe, international visitors will find your site extremely slow. So slow downloading a 0.6MB file will fail. This is because of Zim’s low International bandwidth capacity. There’s a huge population of Zimbabweans living outside Zimbabwe so this is a big deal.
  • Assuming your web host arranges mirroring (like they did for us) where your local site has a mirror in, say the US, the mirrors will often go out of sync when you update the local mirror and find that Zim’s International link is broken. Now assuming you’ve shared your latest update on Twitter, Digg and Facebook, your international visitors will think you’re crazy sharing a link that doesn’t exist. This happened to us a lot of times.
  • Again, assuming the host sets up this mirrored configuration, they sometimes (in our case they did) restrict granular access to the site. No direct database access, no FTP access, no control panel access to your hosting service etc… If you’re a web developer, this can slow you down significantly. To picture this, imagine having to email your web host any file you need uploaded to your site, and if you make any changes at night, having to wait for when business opens to contact them. Or worse, if it’s a big file you can’t send as an attachment, you’d have to drive to their offices to deliver it on flash drive.
  • For us the last straw was when the international site was down for a couple of days and at the same time some reader comments disappeared from the local site (some of those comments never recovered).

The new hosting is not the fastest in the world. In fact the site has noticeably added some significant load time for Zimbabwean visitors. It’s also just been 4 weeks, hardly enough time to say this particular host will be any better.

Just 2 weeks after moving, we were told by our new hosts Techzim had too much traffic (and therefore expensive) to host in SA so we had the option to either move it to the US or start paying more, a lot more.

We’re always checking local hosts to see if there’s anything available to consider. When the situation improves here we will not waste a second bringing Techzim back home. And with all the fibre talk going on, that might be very soon.

If you have experience hosting sites in Zimbabwe or went through something similar, or offer hosting locally, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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33 thoughts on “Why we moved Techzim hosting out of Zimbabwe

  1. we were hosting the techzim site in zim so we’ll respond.

    we do give normal hosting sites ftp and db access. we don’t give direct ftp and db access to mirrored hosted sites because;
    1 – due to the nature of mirrored hosting, file and db changes have to be controlled to allow replication between local and international servers to work correctly, and to keep data in sync all the time.
    2 – we can ensure higher security and reliability of mirrored websites, by restricting hard access to files and db’s.

    re: international links going down and breaking the mirroring it seems zims international is more stable in the last month and we only see that improving based on what we know.

    re: local hosting being expensive, our packages start at $75 / year, which caters for most sites. we also offer reseller hosting, and vps servers for those that want to host their own sites. i’d say all our prices are only slightly more expensive than the 1st world, and that is because our costs are higher. i think the benefits of faster speeds and local support outweigh the marginal price difference.

    where we are expensive is international bandwidth on local servers for heavy load, and that is because international bandwidth is expensive in zim. our solution to keep costs down for that is mirrored hosting.

  2. Shucks the state of Zim Internet is really depressing; I guess in a sense a connected society is not in the best interests of the regime

  3. slackie chimbo nyarara vasinei nenya timboivhiya.
    Watch this space for better hosting by end of March.

  4. Please explain the process of registering/transfering and hosting a .co.zw domain outside zimbabwe. I want to know what is involved. say i had a wanted to host a site like http://www.name.co.zw in the uk for example. what would i need?

    1. Its nothing complicated per se, your DNS is handled by .co.zw, pointing to whatever the server IP address is. Its not really “moving” just changing the DNS records…

  5. Interesting article..

    I run a local & international website & software development company and we have resorted to only offering international hosting & international domains to our clients because of two reasons.

    Domain names:
    —————-
    Zispa say .co.zw domain names are free (someone correct me if I am wrong). Trying to get anything done via Zispa has proved to be a nightmare, the system is so complicated, Zispa’s site looks like it has not been updates in years, so communication is done via telephone, or email if you are luck to get a response.

    After download the forms you need to drop them off at another company, not zispa in town, then you sit and wait. When you finally get your head around the system, you need to select an local ISP to host your domain name and that adds a mouth that needs feeding along the path. So although they (Zispa) say registering a local domain name is free, you actually end up paying a local ISP yearly fees to host your domain. Some isp charge as much as $50 USD for setup and then a yearly fee. Some are much lower.

    Hosting:
    ————
    Firstly hosting in Zim is a bit of a rip off.

    Considering what it actually cost to setup and maintain. Again most clients will probably only use 1/3rd of their hosting space , so most clients end up paying way too much to host their site. When in Zim a locally hosted site is super fast, international sites have a bit of a lag. There is (or used to be) some understanding that local bandwidth is free when surfing local sistes, anyways thats for another day.

    Other Random Stuff on hosting & domain in Zim
    ——————————————–
    There also seems to be a problem with pointing your domain name to an international hosting provider, not sure why, but we have had problems with most of our local domains when trying to point out.

    Also there seems to be an issue with domain routing on most Zim domain.
    take for example axissol.com. if you type in http://www.axissol.com/ ( it all works and routes to a public site) type in http://axissol.com/ ( an you land somewhere else). I can only imagine how much traffic is lost in this trap

    Hosting in the UK or US will cost you about USD2,99 for a basic site with all the basics. $5,99 for a dynamic website with a good amount of traffic.

    Yeah so if you need some fast international hosting, feel free to get in touch.

    1. For someone who provides international hosting and international domains, you seem to lack a simple knowledge of “domain routing on most Zim domain”.

      The reason axissol.com points elsewhere is because IT POINTS ELSEWHERE. Some people only point their www record to their web server, and omit the @ record (bind-speak, that’s the base domain name).

      So no need to “imagine how much traffic is lost in this trap”, anyone either client-side or service-side who knows what they’re doing knows this isn’t some sort of national or system-wide bug, but a simple setting in the relevant DNS zone.

      1. Thanks for raising this point ‘Joe Black’.

        Quote”
        So no need to “imagine how much traffic is lost in this trap”, anyone either client-side or service-side who knows what they’re doing knows this isn’t some sort of national or system-wide bug, but a simple setting in the relevant DNS zone. ”

        Yes I may not be a guru in domain management (I design websites), but I must say that I am well clued up on domain routing. I have also been in the game long enough to know that NOT everyone client side especially your average web user knows what they are doing when they go online. 75% of all web users have no idea what routing is and why a website says ‘oops Please login when they type in http://a-domain-name.com‘ , having missed out the www.

        The main point I am making is that I found it peculair that the majority of domain names in zim hit a brick wall when you leave out the www on the domain name.

        So who’s to blame?
        1) Domain hosting ISPs that simply leave the http record hitting a brick wall,
        2) The web developer who should be clued up enough to know that average web users don’t always know how to access websites and could get caught up into thinking the website is offline when all they have done is simply missed out the www.

        Finally, I’ll backup this fact!
        My company was fortunate enough to work on a really cool website re-brand for a successful well known local company. A month after completion of the project, we started to look at the stats and noticed some interesting trends. At least 30% of all traffic to the website was hitting the ‘non www’ brick wall that had been left at default by the systems admin. In fact the http://(no www) was in the top 5 most visited pages.
        In typical Zim fashion one would think, ‘Ahhaa their website is down’. We rectified this issue and the brick wall disappeared.

        So I’ll say it again, if you host or build website for sites existing on a .co.zw. Check your http:// record, some call it the ‘blank record’. If you have no access to your domain control panel, (also common with .co.zw domains) as your designated/domain hosting ISP to sort this out for you quickly. YOU OR YOUR CLIENT IS LOOSING TRAFFIC!

        1. I have experienced the same problem…repeatedly. I have to agree with Joe Black when he says its not some grand national scheme. This problem is really lack of knowledge/skills. I have dealt alot with ISPs, either to administer domains or when developing websites. Most of these ISPs have lost the staff who were very proficient and made things “tick”. The guys I used to deal with are no longer there.

          If you request for a 301, server side re-direct, a knowldgeable DNS Admin would easily effect it for you. therefore you wont encounter the dreaded brick wall you suffered

          I ditto most of the frustrations that justified the move by Techzim. The level of support can be really appalling and frustrating to say the least. In a way this greatly discourages locally generated content and innovations from within Zimbabwe.

          Having just concluded that it is a skills problem, I believe the ISPs have to make efforts to train their tech staff…though I am full aware that this will (likely) cause them to lose them. An the dismissive “its your ISP” or “its a virus” reflect just how much knowledge some of these tech support ppl have

          Some ISPs even charge for FTP access, can u imagine? International hosting can give you CPanel(for the intermediate) to SSH(for VPS) to the more advanced ‘hacker’ at no added cost. On average, one can get entry-level hosting for less than $8 with all these bells and whistles…then again, one may argue on their behalf that they have no source of income.

          Some ISPs wont even allow u to use htaccess and mod_rewrite…the heart of SEO on the LAMP stack.

          I concur with everyone who says,know your target audience. If your content is directed to a local audience, it is advisable to host the website locally. I’ve had to sweet talk my way all the top to decision makers inorder to have some small but critical feature to be kindly added. It can take a while, what can take a few moments to setup with Godaddy, Hostgator…etc.

          From my experience, the best form of hosting when you or your client are financially sound…is your own dedicated server. You install it, configure it, SSH it, format it, play with it, kiss it or pretty much anything you would do with your very own web server. unshared!!

  6. this sounds interesting…. though i still believe that zim still has the potential in terms of internet, lots of developments are still taking place the linking of fibre blah blah…

  7. These days where you host your site it immaterial. To an average user it’s the web period. Given reliable Zesa, fast and reliable bandwidth you could host your site in your bedroom if you wished. But Zimbabwe is not an option right now because Zesa is lousy and internet connectivity is still getting back to its feet. For anyone looking for reliable 24/7 hosting and have full control over the hosting platform go with cloud hosting/computing. There are many options out there on the net. The USA and Europe hosting providers are the ones attracting most of the cloud business because they are cheap, able to guarantee 24/7 reliability. I dumped shared hosting long ago for cloud hosting because of the inherent advantages it offers. Cloud computing offers virtual servers on the net which you can configure however you want. And yes it does require that you have or use somebody who knows what they are doing to bring up and configure an operating platform.

  8. There is no problem hosting a .co.zw internationally or a .com in Zimbabwe. It all comes down to your target market. If it is mostly international, host it internationally, if it is mostly local host it locally.

    If it is both and you have heavy traffic its still best to go with mirrored hosting in my opinion. Ours automatically detects if the visitor is local or international and redirects them to the fastest server for them. In addition changes made to files or the database mirror 2 ways. Obviously the mirroring breaks when the net goes down, but at least both sites are still available both locally and internationally. When the net comes back, the db and files can then be re-synced.

    it is not difficult registering a .co.zw domain to whoever said it was.

  9. Domain routing???? Where did that term ever come from? It doesn’t exist! LOL.. I’m guessing most of you are using virtual hosting on Apache servers, 2 things worth noting/correcting,

    something.co.zw and http://www.something.co.zw are 2 different things (records) from a DNS standpoint, from a user point, its one and the same thing, and obviously the user is always right so something.co.zw and http://www.something.co.zw should mean the same thing

    1 – you need configure 2 virtual hosts on Apache for both something.co.zw and http://www.something.co.zw to point to the same web directory

    2 – you need to configure 2 “A” records for something.co.zw and http://www.something.co.zw on your DNS server both should point to the same IP address where the site is being hosted. Alternatively have a “CNAME” record for http://www.something.co.zw pointing to something.co.zw

    With most international hosting, this configurations are done automatically

    1. however pointless your comments are…i believe you too need correction:

      “1 – you need configure 2 virtual hosts on Apache for both something.co.zw and http://www.something.co.zw to point to the same web directory”

      no! use apache “serveralias” directive. why create 2 virtual hosts for a single domain hosting same content???

      co.zw domains are registered by ZISPA. ISP’s like ZOL/MWEB are ZISPA members who forward their registration applications (on behalf of their client) to ZISPA who then register the domain, but delegate the domain’s DNS to the ISP’s name servers. The ISP then setup DNS records for that domain.

      1. No, no, no! You don’t have to use serveralias, you use mod_rewrite to reroute requests to made to something.co.zw to http://www.something.co.zw </sarcasm>

        There are many ways to skin a cat. Really, it’s not a correction (because OP was not ‘wrong’). All 3 ways work, but yours is probably most efficient. I’ll actually try and look into the best practice.

        Awesome to see this site switched to Disqus commenting system… I’m conflicted though, I was used to commenting using a less anonymous username here.

  10. As for domain registration, I do want to register a .co.zw domain, and I have heard that the process is painful because it is done by all these other companies (ZOL, MWEB etc), on the contrary, registering a .org.zw is a breeze, free and fast, recently did a website http://www.ratz.org.zw and the Telone guys are amazing at the least, everything was done via email and it took less than a day. An ac.zw shouldn’t take long as well, the University does that free the last time I checked

    1. That sounds interesting, what were the requirements for registering a .org.zw? where can I find info? do you have to be a registerd non profit organization?

  11. below are some of the sites that webdev hosts on its mirrored platform. we still feel that it was a mistake for techzim to have moved their hosting away from webdev’s mirrored hosting platform. if they kept it on mirrored it would be fast for local and international visitors, and when the international link goes down, both their local and international visitors would still be able to see the site.

    http://www.classifieds.co.zw
    http://www.zse.co.zw
    http://www.cvpeopleafrica.com
    http://www.theindependent.co.zw
    http://www.thestandard.co.zw
    http://www.fingaz.co.zw
    http://www.zbc.co.zw
    http://www.zimpapers.co.zw
    http://www.zimra.co.zw
    http://www.seeff.co.zw
    http://www.robertroot.com

    1. “and when the international link goes down, both their local and international visitors would still be able to see the site.”

      except that when Techzim updates either mirror, visitors to the other mirror would not see it. And if the updated link is shared on Facebook, twitter, linkedin etc… all visitors to the un-updated mirror just wonder what’s going on.

      Take for example PowerTel’s and Liquid’s downtime early this week which lasted more than a day: http://www.techzim.co.zw/2011/02/zim-fibre-outage

      1. when both international links went down this week, almost no-one in zimbabwe could see techzim. if it had been hosted on mirrored both local and international visitors could have seen it.

        updating when international links are down when techzim is hosted internationally is not possible anyway unless the updater then uses vsat. the same goes for updating facebook and twitter.

        1. When International links went down this week, all Zimbabweans on ZOL, Telecel and other users on VSATs could access the site.

          Updating international site is always never a problem coz of VSAT like you say.

          It’s really not an all or nothing affair. Both scenarios (local & international hosting) have pros and cons. Right now, we’re still feeling we made the right decision. But it’s just been a month soo…

  12. Techzim moved because of the challenges faced by webdev and which may have hard to resolve. maybe it was beyond your control but the client was not happy. face it webdev and other will lose business due to telecom challenges in zim. untill that is resolved expect more clients moving their businesses to SA or other countries. Here in SA, I can register a domain and get it up and running with a website in under 20mins.

    1. Its worth remembering that South Africa HAS the infrastructure needed to provide world class internet connectivity in the country… Zimbabwe on the other hand is still developing that due to the many years of ‘fun & games’. Also in SA, their laws and policies favour growth in IT … whereas here it is extremely restrictive.

      Thats funny, here in Zimbabwe we can register a non .zw TLD, setup the DNS and full cms website (on our own in-house DNS and Web servers, just to mention) in under 10 minutes 🙂

  13. Moving your domain was the right thing to do! It was so slow for some of us reading techzim and so we only read it once a week or even twice a week. I do agree that you should support local businesses but reading webhosts responses to this post makes me think you made the right decision. I dont know why suppliers insist on arguing with their customers! Zim hosting and bandwidth still sucks so they really should bend over backwards to accommodate you- not tell you “look at our other clients they are happy why arent you?” This is the internet its not a cookie cutter business!

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