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Webhosting on a dime

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cloudfareSnail paced servers are one of the many reasons for a website to suck and shared hosting is so 2005. Since IT departments have to compete with other departments for financial resources cost is  one of the causes why IT administrators settle for poor hosting deals. Today I look at how a company or any individual can build an ultrafast safe website for under $10 a month.

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Every school boy knows that the more outlets a product is sold in the cheaper it becomes. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country with limited access to international bandwidth which is understandably much more expensive than in developed countries. Naturally therefore the first step is to obtain access to this market. If you do not already have a credit card you can obtain one from FBC Center branch along Nelson Mandela Avenue close to the intersection with Angwa Street. All they need is a copy of your ID and a minimum $50 deposit.

As soon as your card is loaded (which is instantly) $10 is deducted as payment towards your MasterCard card fee. In case you are a little short on cash here is a free tip: It is possible to obtain the MasterCard for less than $50. All you have to do is make the $50 deposit and withdraw some of the money at FBC, Kingdom and Barclays ATMS. Please note never use a credit card that is linked to your bank account for online transactions.

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The second step is obtain a Virtual Private server. Low end servers can be obtained for as little as $1.99. I would recommend VPSCheap.NET. Their servers are little slow since they are hosted on 10mbs links but that can be rectified later in step four.  More deals from various providers can be obtained at www.lowendbox.com. Again I should reiterate a VPS is to be preferred over shared hosting.

Once you have signed up for a VPS you can speed up your website using a Content Delivery Network.  A CDN is a vast distributed collection of servers deployed in multiple data centers in the Internet that act as multi-node points of presence to serve content. The goal of a CDN is to serve content to end-users with high availability and high performance. This is achieved by redirecting the user to the most geographically close server. For example if a person types www.google.com in Zimbabwe they are redirected to www.google.co.zw in South Africa www.google.co.za and in the United Kingdom www.google.co.uk .

Cloud Flare offers free CDN services. Setting up CDN with Cloud Flare is easy; you enter the domain name that you want to be accelerated as part of the sign up process. CloudFlare then scans the current effective Domain Name Service records for your domain. Once you have confirmed them you are required to change Name servers to hugh.ns.cloudflare.com and pam.ns.cloudflare.com

Once your website is a part of the Cloud Flare community, its web traffic is routed through their intelligent global network. They automatically optimize the delivery of your web pages so your visitors get the fastest page load times and best performance.

This service in addition to accelerating your website offers protection against spam as well as an easy to use Domain Name Service control panel. Cloud Flare block threats and limits Denial of Service attacks and aggressive crawlers from wasting your bandwidth and server resources. The result: Cloud Flare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks. Their method can be a little heavy handed though. They have a host of honeypots and once a certain IP is detected as being compromised the entire range of IPs by that ISP may be blocked. Visitors may not be able access your website then. For example the beleaguered Powertel Network is a favorite amongst spammers who routinely hijack it. As a result Powertel is a semi-permanent member on CloudFlare’s black list.

Please note you can also use Cloud Flare to speed up your existing websites but as noted above you need to have administrator privileges to your Name records. This can be a little difficult in Zimbabwe where transferring a domain name is takes longer than sending a Rover to Mars. One way to counter this is to register your own domain with ZISPA.

If you have any other great ideas to reduce the cost of webhosting please leave them in the comment section.


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15 thoughts on “Webhosting on a dime

  1. its worth mentioning that cloudflare services are only really suitable for websites that are hosted overseas. if you host your website in zimbabwe or even south africa.. you may find that because of random internet traffic/connectivity issues.. the cloudflare cache servers wont be able to reach the primary webserver fast enough..or consistently… and you will get errors on the main page of the site that end users will see.

    cloudflare as well, wont really make much of a speed difference to local zimbabwean users either.. as they will still have to connect to an internationally hosted webserver to get to the site…so while in theory, your site should get good performance with cloudflare.. end users in zimbabwe will access it at the same speed as other international sites in general. other then that… good article 🙂

    1. What’s the current status on ISP peering/ZINX? Who is (not/) peering with who? A few years back, I knew for a fact that if the website was hosted with the ‘wrong’ ISP, your page would do a Zim->EU/UK->Zim round-trip , taking twice as long as internationally hosted website. So hosting locally wasn’t too much of an advantage.

      I feel speed is a little emphasised in the article: it’s only really noticeable on the first visit or if your site is under heavy load. If the website has decent caching. I think caching has more of an impact on perceived speed that where you host your site. CloudFlare is probably an unnecessary expense if your site is targeted locally and/or your site is not under heavy load (thumb-suck: more than 30 hits per second). I am not aware of a .zw website that is that popular.

      1. from what i know, all zim isp’s now peer at zinx.. including powertel and telone/comone as of end of last year… so local hosting is still quite relevant i would think..with regards to website access speed. the way i see it.. the faster the site responds.. the more hits you get…and people enjoy using your website much more. that being said.. ISP’s and your internet connection can change that experience for the end user..but from the website side of things.. you should do as much as possible to optimise your site for speed.

        the thing is.. generally speaking.. browser caching mostly addresses end users with speed for site access.. and most people in zim are okay with waiting 30 seconds for a page to load.. so things like cloudflare and other specialised caching servers only really become relevant when the site is getting huge traffic… and the current hardware cant scale with that demand. i.e your site runs fast when theres not many hits.. but when the hits come.. then its very slow and unresponsive. its a complicated thing..but really just depends on your requirements for your website.

  2. …This can be a little difficult in Zimbabwe where transferring a domain name is takes longer than sending a Rover to Mars….

    Disagree. Domain transfer and registering is now quick. Jim is doing a great job at ZISPA. I once transferred a domain in under 5 hours. And most new domain registration take less than 8 working hours.

    1. Thanx 4 the update. ZISPA really needs to be complimented for that development and it compares well to the international standard transfer time but I still feel they need to create an dns admin panel which administrators can use to update their servers.

  3. Step 0 is register your domain

    Free hosting with Amazon EC2 (free for 1 year)
    1. Sign up for the free tier of AWS (Micro Instance) http://aws.amazon.com/free/
    2. Learn enough Linux to be able to deploy your site
    3. Setup your instance to serve your website, with script to update DNS records on start up
    4.Transfer your DNS to DynDNS /afraid.org/any dynamic dns service provider ($30/yr roughly)

    Free hosting with Google
    1. Sign up for google App Engine https://developers.google.com/appengine/
    2. Learn Python, Go or Java. Or just enough to deploy a CMS on AppEngine
    3. Deploy your CMS on your custom domain
    4. Change your DNS CNAME record to point to Google’s servers
    * As a bonus, you get to use Google’s global CDN for free.

    Both these have resource usage limits, so if your website exceeds them (by being very popular), then you would have to pay. But that’s a good problem to have, and the free usage caps are quite generous

  4. “Please note never use a credit card that is linked to your bank account for online transactions.”

    I think that statement is unnecessary as if you take the relevant precautions and common sense there should be no problem with using your bank linked card. I use my Standard bank Gold card online and in retail stores everywhere I go and so far no problems.

    Rather say “it is advisable to use an unlinked card should you wish to reduce the risk of online fraud”. However, in the developed countries I travel too virtually every card is linked to a bank account and those that easily fall for the phishing scams and fraud are the ones caught out as they fail to take the most basic of precautions (e.g. upto date internet security suite) but those you have done their due dilligence see no hassle.

    1. if paypal is not restricted where u r are,then link your card numbers on paypal and make all your online purchases via paypal. its safer, protects u against sniffers or man-in-the-middles attacks.

  5. shared hosting is so 2005. lol. Still need to figure out what that statements means.

    It’s even hard for a normal human being to follow and understand three-quarters of this article unless you transfer and configure domains more often than other human beings.

    Put your site on shared hosting, the servers are up 99% of the time and you have a piece of mind. If you cannot afford the hosting fees then rethink the whole idea of having your own website.

  6. Self hosting a website is more than just paying the $2 for a VPS. The stakes are higher than that.

    1. Time – when self hosting you have to set aside time everyday to check the server is up, healthy and secure. This is an everyday task, you cant just assume all is well and ignore the server. And remember time is an expense!

    2. 3rd party tools – more often, u gonna need a couple of PAID 3rd party tools to enhance your server security and usability. Think of things like cPanel ($22/m), antivirus, anti spam, mail scanners etc….some come for free but we all know what u get for free.

    3. Server Admin – you might need some server admin expertise once in a while to fix those unwelcome, unexpected problems. Imagine if u wake up one day and your server is not sending emails and you don’t know how to fix it. We all know how expensive hired short time labor is! If you are already an expert in server admin, refer to point 1.

    4. Uptime – your website has to be up and running 247 so self-hosting will definitely eat a sizeable percentage of your time. And this becomes tricky in cases where u have to be “offline” for a few days or even weeks! Will u sleep at night not knowing if your website is up? Imagine u go to rural Mwenezi for one of those annual family gatherings and you are “stuck” there for a week, with no ZESA or Internet access.

    5. Backup – most of these VPS guys don’t offer any backup whatsoever. So what happens if your server goes boom and u r left with egg on ur face? So to be safe, u now need a backup VPS owned by a difference company, in a different geographic location. More expense…

    i could go on and on here. Lets not get carried away guys. unless your website is just one of those online pages that rarely generate important traffic and u don’t have any customers, then you can self host and experiment for all you care! if you are in serious business then get a proper web hosting company to host for u and concentrate on sweet-talking clients.

  7. Nice write-up. There’s also PAAS providers Heroku & AppFog. Totally free start-up packages. Then you can pay when your app really scales. Used by a lot of techies i know for their blogs.

  8. shared hosting is so 2005. lol. Still need to figure out what that statements means.

    It’s even hard for a normal human being to follow and understand
    three-quarters of this article unless you transfer and configure domains
    more often than other human beings.

    Put your site on shared hosting, the servers are up 99% of the time
    and you have a piece of mind. If you cannot afford the hosting fees then
    rethink the whole idea of having your own website.

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