One year ago, I made a major move for my business – I moved from being hosted on a well-known WordPress host for nearly a decade to my own dedicated server. I moved for lots of reasons – but the biggest was to reduce my monthly hosting costs and gain more control of my websites. It has turned out to be one of the best business decisions I’ve made in years.
Once you go dedicated, you won’t go back.
Now that I’ve had a year of running my own dedicated server with Blacknight, I thought I’d share some thoughts about dedicated hosting and how it’s worked for me.
Moving was the hardest part
I made the mistake of starting my move from my old host while I was travelling last year. That was a mistake. Trying to sort it all out while on a laptop thousands of miles from my office (and thousands more from the server) was too difficult. I ended up finishing when I returned home.
The most challenging part was actually moving my files. My main website is 13 years old; I had hundreds of gigabytes of content that needed to be moved. Not only that, my former host had split my physical files between two locations – the hosting service itself and then hosting most of the image files with Amazon S3 on a CDN. Putting these two pieces back together was a challenge. But thankfully, I could just keep my old host alive until I was sure the move was fine.
Most of the time was spent waiting for the files to download to my computer, combining them and then uploading them to the new server. Transferring hundreds of gigabytes from a home internet connection to a datacenter took several tries to get right. I ended up doing it one website at a time, making sure that everything was transferred before moving to the next.
It was only so hard for me because one – I was learning everything along the way, and two – I prefer to learn to do things myself. Blacknight’s support team can absolutely help you with your own migration to dedicated hosting and make it go as smoothly as possible.
Saved half and more on hosting costs
I don’t want to get into specific numbers, but once I was fully moved and was able to cancel my old hosting, I ended up saving 50% on my monthly hosting costs. As the business has struggled in recent years, this was a huge savings and a huge weight off the shoulders every month trying to figure out how to pay the bill. My monthly hosting costs are now fixed – I’m never going to pay overages if I get a traffic spike, and I no longer have to pay my host AND Amazon S3 for hosting. I was also finally able to cancel a shared hosting account with Name.com that I used for smaller sites, experiments, and whatnot.
Room to experiment
I’ve also had significantly more freedom. I’m now able to run any software I like that’s compatible with my server. With my old host, I could only run WordPress, so that’s all I could build websites with. Now, I can use whatever I like, and I have expanded. While my server is optimized for WordPress, I’ve experimented with Chevereto for image galleries, played around with other Content Management Services, and installed Nextcloud for file syncing and project management. Some things have worked great; some have not. But experimenting has been fun and by far the biggest liberation of moving to dedicated beyond the cost savings. I was able to launch new projects I couldn’t before.
Able to run stuff that former host wouldn’t let me run
In addition to being able to run software other than WordPress, I’ve also been able to do what I want with WordPress. My old host wouldn’t let me run certain plugins or have it configured in a certain way because it conflicted with how they ran things. I rarely ran into the restriction, but there were a few plugins I liked that I was excited to be able to use again (like a Broken Link Checker). I control all the resources on my server, so I don’t have to worry about usage limits and overloading it.
A crash course in managing a server
My server runs cPanel as the control panel, and while I’d had experience with it, I never had experience running WHM at the root level. Learning how to do everything in the process of running my websites has been a crash course in server management. I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know how to do before (and a few things I can’t figure out yet). I’ve learned more about security, more about file management, and more about optimizing things that I ever knew before. Knowing more things is always a win.
You can ignore it most days, but some days you need to monitor it
Most days, I don’t even log in to my control panel and monitor my server. Some days I’m in there several times. I’ve set up monitoring with Jetpack and another service Updown.io, a really affordable monitoring service, so I know when the sites go down, which rarely happens. However, there have been instances where my server was under a brute force attack, bringing down my websites. I had to learn how to battle that on the spot, and that was stressful. I do like to keep an eye on the server load but don’t need to check it every day. Really, I only check it if I’m working in the WordPress admin of one of my sites and find it sluggish.
Optimization has been interesting to learn
Space is a limited resource on my server. I have plenty, don’t get me wrong. But having one website take up almost 200GB was extravagant. So, I learned how to optimize my files. I ran software to compress my images, manage caching and whatnot (and not letting backups eat all my hard drive space). In the end, I reduced the footprint of my websites by half. Not that I’m planning to move, but if I did again, it would not be nearly as hard simply because my websites are more efficient now.
I’ve made loads of mistakes
I have broken my server several times. Always by accident or simply not knowing what I was doing. Like, I thought I could just tick a box and upgrade to PHP 7.4. Nope, that broke everything, and I had to revert. I’ve started running command-line scripts that consumed the entire server resources and brought it down. I’ve had to force a reboot a few times (though that doesn’t really fix much of anything on a Linux machine, as I’ve learned). Once, my backups were misconfigured, and it ate all the empty hard drive space and brought the server down. Thankfully, when I’ve really broken things, Blacknight’s excellent support has been there to help me fix it.
Done stuff I didn’t plan to
Having a computer in a closet in a data centre that could do all kinds of web service things got me thinking about solving problems I didn’t realize I had. For example, I realized I could run my own Dropbox-like file-syncing service with Nextcloud (or Owncloud). I set this up and now saved on that monthly fee. There are actually a few things that I’ve been able to cancel because I can do them myself now. Thus adding a multiplier effect to the costs, I’m already saving with a dedicated server. I’ve been able to set up my own free Analytics service with Matomo – I don’t have to give my data to Google now to get Analytics, and for new websites, it’s all I use. I even set up my own invoicing service that hooks into Stripe, so I don’t need to pay to use an invoicing service.
Email has been fun
Also, having my own server capable of email has been nice, especially once I was able to upgrade to the latest version of RoundCube. I’ve now started running my own personal email through it and generally happy with it. It’s so easy to spin up an email box for whatever I need it for, and I don’t have to pay anyone a cent, and I control all the data. The most useful one was setting up email addresses for my kids – now that they have Steam accounts and Roblox accounts, they needed email addresses that I could monitor.
Haven’t visited it yet
One perk of working remotely for Blacknight is that I occasionally get to visit the head office and see the data centres. I’d hoped to visit the Dublin data centre, where my server is located and share a cup of tea with it and tuck it in for bed. But sadly, Covid prevented any travel to Ireland for me in 2020 and probably for most of 2021. So, I haven’t been able to see its blinky lights in person yet. Hopefully, later this year!
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