University Web Developers

University Web Developers

So I listened to the 911 Webinar on HigherEdExperts yesterday and it got me thinking. I wish there was a polling option on this site, but what percentage of campus have their Web Server on Campus vs a Hosting Plan?

Wofford has about 1,300 undergraduate students and we have our web server hosted off campus through a service provider which could potentially help us battle an emergency with an internet traffic spike. Also if something crazy disastrous (earthquake, tornado, hurricane are all possibilities) came through campus and wiped out the data center our website would still be up. Of course the exact opposite could happen and the service provider is destroyed where are campus is fine, but usually they are located in "safe" environments to reduce this risk.

So anyway I'm guessing I'm kind of asking a two part question. Is your website hosting on campus and what is the population of your institution? I'm curious how size affects hosting. Any extra thoughts you have about the situation or why your campus is a certain way would be interesting too.

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There are just too many variables to make a blanket statement. There are pros and cons to hosted/external versus on-site, and some of the pros and cons will apply to each individual situation while some will not. I'll list my favorite pros and cons here.

PROS FOR ON-SITE
------------------------------

1. Better security/performance environment for integration with security-sensitive data stores on campus. You might not want to integrate your on-campus PeopleSoft database with your external
Go Daddy server.

2. Potential for the ultimate in configuration flexibility, but this depends on your IT group--could be the opposite.

CONS FOR ON-SITE
------------------------------

1. Your IT group might stifle your progress. If you rely on a bunch of slow-moving dinosaurs with outdated skills and, even worse, some nasty political and job-protection posturing that stifles the web/marketing group's ideas, on-site could be a friggin' *NIGHTMARE*. I have no complaints about our IT group, but I know how bad it can be out there.

2. Increased maintenance and security responsibilities.

3. Performance may suffer, especially for off-campus visitors, if your network is not robust with adequate redundancy.

PROS FOR HOSTED/EXTERNAL
-------------------------------------------------

1. Cost savings. You can get a kick-arse dedicated server through Go Daddy that includes a dedicated Cisco PIX 500-series firewall for about $125 a month. So for $125, you're getting more bandwidth than you probably need, more server space than you probably need, more performance than you probably need, *AND* you're outsourcing your data center needs, maintenance, bandwidth, and *HARDWARE/SOFTWARE* for only $125 a month. That's right--no server hardware or Windows Server (or Linux) to invest in. Okay, Go Daddy has a crass name and brand, so maybe you'll want to spend another $100 a month to go with someone other than Go Daddy, but I've had nothing but excellent results with Go Daddy's dedicated server options.

2. Free yourself from your oppressive campus IT group! A savvy web developer can run circles around an old-school IT group if they can just get their meat hooks into that server so they can do their work! No more begging and politicking for basic things like PHP, MySQL, installing open source web apps, blah, blah, blah... Those are all standard development tools that should be available, but you often have to beg or politick your butt off to get them on campus, and it might take 10 years.

3. Performance! For your off-campus visitors, there's no way an on-campus solution is going to match the bandwidth and redundancy of even a $125/month dedicated server at Go Daddy.

CONS FOR HOSTED/EXTERNAL
------------------------------------------------

1. Security. You might want to integrate with on-campus systems, or store students' personal information on your server. A lot of people just are not comfortable doing that with Go Daddy hosting, for example, and I don't blame them. In fact, it may be downright irresponsible.

2. Performance. Yes, performance can be a pro, but it can also be a con if you need to integrate with on-campus systems. A web server can talk to a database server a lot faster if they're sitting in the same data center.

3. You don't have total control. Granted, I find that hosted solutions often offer better maintenance and reliability than any on-campus IT group, but the bottom line is that sometimes there is down time and Go Daddy or even the higher-tier third-party solutions are not going to cater to your schedule when they need to perform maintenance, unless you're going with a third-party data center where you have physical access to your own rack, and even then there might be rare network down time that is not convenient for you. Also, in the case of inexpensive "dedicated server" solutions, once you sign up, you're kind of locked into your hardware configuration, and it's not very convenient to upgrade. Go Daddy will let you upgrade, but you have to change plans and move to a new dedicated server. It would be nice if you could just add RAM or discs to an existing server--you usually cannot.

---
There you have it! Hope that helps. I should also mention that there is a hybrid solution. You could use a hosted/third-party solution for your marketing web presence only and then link to on-campus web servers for "student services" applications, like www.universityxyz.com for marketing and www.nameofbackendsystem.universityxyz.com for student services. But again, there are just so many variables, you really can't generalize about what is the best way to go. Nevertheless... - Kit
Wow, absolutely great response Kit. If I could spend enough time to focus and write all this out, I couldn't have come up with a better pro/con evaluation.

I tend to stay away from GoDaddy for anything beyond buying Domain names. I think you are also the first person I've heard truly endorse their hosting options too.
I know exactly what you mean. People tend to poo-poo Go Daddy as a hosting option. The truth? They rock. Their tech support (which I rarely need) is in Arizona, they are very responsive and knowledgeable, and they all speak excellent English as a first language. They also seem to have all the flexibility I ever need that allows me to install any web application I need to without running into limitations due to the hosting environment. I've never found a web app that I couldn't install, and I've never had problems with my own PHP/MySQL development. It is amazing what they give you for the price. Another nice thing about a Go Daddy-like environment is that if you work within the boundaries of their hosting (which is very flexible), then you have a fairly portable web presence that can easily be moved to a new environment. There are a lot of "hosting snobs" out there that like to use Go Daddy as an easy target to trash talk an incumbent developer, but the truth is that they rock. Their admin interfaces are very easy to use. I welcome suggestions for alternatives that provide more options, performance, and flexibility, and that's not even mentioning price. I just wish they didn't have such a goofy name--something more serious so people don't laugh me out of the conference room when I recommend them. :-)
Kit,

I think a lot of the criticism with GoDaddy has been around them pulling sites that exceed bandwidth (especially those that experience the Digg or Reddit effect). For instance, they pulled RateMyCop after it got a lot of hits after being posted to the aforementioned websites. However, if they had purchased a plan with their own server and not a shared hosting solution this probably wouldn't have happened.

There have been other less thrilling aspects though, such as inserting advertisements into pages, overly marketing useless 'features' with high margins while hiding or obfuscating features that are already present. Also, thinking they were 'exempt from the DST time switch' cause they were in Arizona and thus their DNS servers going down.

But yeah, most of the problems amount to people paying for the lowest priced hosting and expecting premium service.
Excellent post, and what I meant to propose is exactly what you stated, a hybrid solution, which gets most of the pros of going hosted, but not many of the cons because you are still holding on to your sensitive data and extensive web applications. Unfortunately, where I work and elsewhere too there is a "nightmare" exactly as you stated.
After listening to Virginia Tech's story at CASE this year, I started talking with our IT department about having an off-site solution. We currently do all of our hosting on-campus (which is nice in my opinion), but we are looking at having our entire site mirrored at an off-site facility just in case something happens. I would not be opposed to having our entire web site hosted off-campus as long as I have a nice and fast connection to the server.

As for Go Daddy, I use them exclusively for all of my freelancing. I know some people don't like them, but they have excellent customer support and have all of the options and packages that I require.
As a large state U, luckily our IT folks have "redundancy" as their middle name/mantra - so we have internal hosting with two mirrored data-centers. A primary on campus, and secondary about 5-10 miles away. This is done to mitigate server-load and provide backup in case one or the other fails.

They throw in other words like load-balancing and firewalled - to seemly appeased our doomsday scenerio public relations groups. Obviously a luxury if your U can afford it, then again never know how well it holds up until your tested.
We have about 2500 students and are totally in-house. The Web office is within IT, so there has never been any noise made about outsourcing. We like the total control & flexibility, being able to install & configure whatever we need on the server whenever we want.

The public site is on its own server, separate from the sensitive internal applications, so security is not really the issue. Having a synchronized backup server somewhere else is a great idea, but our administration doesn't think the risk is high enough to justify the expense. I hear things like "if our campus is destroyed to the point where our servers are down, then we have bigger things to worry about than our web presence." I think this is simplistic and shortsighted, so I go argue the point periodically - so far to no avail.
We host everything ourselves (1200 students). Our web people are part of IT and as such, we get to manage our own servers. We are in the process of moving most of our servers to a vmware setup which will allow us more redundancy in case of hardware failures, but if the campus were to suddenly disappear, we would go down.

There is a definite hardware cost to hosting yourself...servers are ~$3500 each, plus licensing software, bandwidth, staff time, etc. But in our case, I would estimate that our costs are about equal to leasing a dedicated server from most companies.

Our key reason to keep things on campus: bandwidth constraints. About 2/3 of our website traffic is from students/faculty/staff who are on campus. Having the site on campus means they can get information/files from our site at our network speed instead of our internet speed.
I wanted to follow up that I have observed that the smaller sized campuses tend to lean towards in house solutions. That seems reasonable, based on the idea that a few fairly competent technical people can manage most of the logistics.

The problem is with a large campus like mine, specialized roles get created for every function and of course this comes with the added cost of healthcare and benefits and whatnot for each. That is great if you are trying to run a job-creation machine, but if you are trying to serve students, then perhaps the IT budget could be used better and more efficiently via hosted solutions.

Personally, I am quite frustrated at my campus's complete objection to a hosted solution, despite the fact that the head of the department has stated he sees everyone moving towards hosted solutions in the next 5 to 10 years...so what that means is money will be spent on new hardware for projects and then 5 or 10 years down the road we might abandon it...at the same time as a budget crises faces the state and students are getting turned away due to lack of funding.
We've got about 9,800 students and our primary server is on campus. But our sites are spread across several different servers. Someone once suggested that there were over 500, though I expect that would include some student projects. Our IT group is looking to host a mirror somewhere on the other side of the planet to deal with emergency situations. Alas that hasn't happened yet so we're anticipating some downtime next week due to construction that will power off the data center for several hours.
Population: 4500 to 5000
Current Hosting Type: On Campus

How would I like our network to exist?
All depends on which application you're referring to:
Public Website: Hybrid (Load Balanced)
Private/Backend Website: On-Site
Media Servers: Off-Site
Other: All depends

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