When DIY is not the best way

1 November 2010
Categories: Self-referential

Several years ago, I started hosting my personal website kevinforsyth.net on a server in my home office. I had several reasons for doing this, but mostly they boil down to the desire to teach myself about LAMP (Linux-Apache-mySQL-PHP) platforms. It also enabled me to have full control over the system. There was also the added benefit of recycling one of my old computers, a desktop that was insufficient for my Windows needs (it failed miserably to run XP), but more than robust enough to handle Linux.

After a few years, I replaced my desktop again, which enabled a trickle-down upgrade to my web server as well. I chronicled that improvement in August 2006 as one of the earliest entries in this nascent weblog.

It was fun, and I learned a lot—and made a few painful mistakes, one of which cost me about three years worth of digital photos—but self-hosting had its inherent problems. One of the biggest was the need to support and repair all the hardware myself. That hit the hardest when my router bricked itself while I was less than twenty-four hours into a two-week vacation in China. With no means to replace it from thirteen time zones away, I had no recourse but to accept that my website would be offline until I returned home.

All that went into the category of acceptable risks and costs, outweighed by the benefits mentioned above. Nevertheless, as my Linux knowledge reached a comfortable plateau, the educational benefit of continuing to self-host started to decline. Those acceptable costs grew in relative size, until the cost/benefit balance grew close to equal. Meanwhile, the thought that a hardware failure could again take my site offline for an indefinite period was always in the back of my mind, quietly nagging.

With all that in mind, I came to the conclusion last week that I would be better off putting my site on a proper third-party hosting site, and leave all the hardware and maintenance concerns to someone else. The last year of self-hosting had resulted in a monitored uptime rate of 99.46%—fractionally better than Ivory soap, but not as good as the 99.5% minimum guaranteed by most hosting providers.

Part of that downtime was due to power outages—another accepted risk—but it was as I found myself writing yet another monthly check for expensive ComEd-supplied electrical power that I got to thinking about the hidden cost of self-hosting. Sure, the server was a free re-use, and the open-source software was free too—but the electricity to run it was not. I call it a hidden cost because it’s lumped in with what it costs to run the television, the refrigerator, the air conditioning, and all the other household appliances.

So I did the math. I assumed that my home server, a Pentium 4 computer with a pair of hard drives and doing light-to-moderate work, draws 125 watts. (This is a very rough estimate, but probably close to the ballpark.) The electricity, at ComEd’s average rate of ten cents per kilowatt-hour, will cost $110.59 per year.

A reliable third-party host may be had for about $50 per year. That’s a savings of $60 per year, possibly much more than that. And all those worries about hardware failures, network failures, power failures—those are on someone else’s mind now. (Plus my home office is no longer stiflingly warm.)

I went with HostDime, a Florida-based company that has been extraordinarily helpful and instrumental to the success of the company for which I work. They’re really stand-up guys. It was a no-brainer to throw them a small bone and purchase my hosting from them.

I had my site online with them just two days after signing up, and a couple of minor support questions I sent them have been swiftly handled. On top of that, download speeds are double what I saw with my self-hosted site—just an extra side of bacon with this breakfast of win.

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