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Website hosting? No thanks!

Wednesday, 28 July 2021
Joe CollinsContensis
Joe CollinsHosting operations engineer
Advice and expertise 6 min

After completing a PhD and a short career studying road safety at Southampton University, Joe Collins has spent the last 20 years writing and maintaining software for the likes of the Ordnance Survey, BT and IBM. Now he is part of the hosting team at Contensis and helps maintain the infrastructure that runs the platform. He would like to convince you that your life would be better without hosting your own website.

Contensis is a great platform for managing your content. The clue is in the name. But it is also flexible – you can use that content in your website how you like, building your website with whatever technology you like and host it where you like. There are a lot of options for hosting your website. Each of the “Big Three” (AWS, Google and Azure) offers solutions that can serve your needs. You can use one of those solutions to host your website and then maintain it on their infrastructure, effectively self hosting your website backed by the power of one of the big three. You can do this, but the question is: why would you want to? Hosting websites is hard, boring and probably not your thing. I should know, I work with the hosting team at Contensis.

Hosting is hard

Back in 1995, when I first started setting up websites, life was much simpler. I had a computer on my desk which had an IP address and a webserver running on it. I was young and foolish, so I didn't bother with anything like a firewall. Firewalls were available, but they hardly seemed necessary. There were no “bad actors” out there, only young and equally foolish people like me exploring the nascent world of cyberspace. If my website got one visitor a day, I would be pleasantly surprised.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, not all of it good. Cyberspace has turned from a playground into an important arena for business and public services. The stakes and the prizes are higher. Your website is now a valuable part of your operation, and taking it over or taking it down is a worthwhile investment for a bad actor. There’s a whole industry out there providing help and support for criminals intent on extorting money from you to avoid having your website defaced or broken. Defending against this modern version of a protection racket and many other more subtle attacks is now a primary task. These bad actors are working full-time and take their job very seriously. If you know where to look, they even provide 24-hour support services and performance statistics. We have to match their commitment with equal seriousness to defend against these attacks.

The other aspect of hosting that has got harder is managing all the pieces. In those early days a website was little more than 4 or 5 pages of text. Not much more than a greeting to the world at large which was left untouched for months. A modern website is a fully fledged distributed software application consisting of thousands of interacting components. Just getting all the bits in the right place at the right time is a major feat. It’s even more amazing when you consider that this process has to happen repeatedly every day, since no website can be left untouched and not considered to be abandoned.

To make managing this process easier we’ve introduced a technology we are calling Blocks. Using Blocks you will be able to work on, test, launch and preview separate pieces of your website without interfering with other parts of the site. When you are happy that everything is working as it should, you can make your Block a live part of your website. Hopefully, this will be the end of the process and you can start again, adding new Blocks and making further enhancements to your website. However, there is a slim chance that something doesn’t go entirely as planned. In this case you can roll back to the previous Block and restore your site to its previous state like nothing ever happened.

You can think of your website as constructed from a set of bricks, much like those famous Danish toy bricks which are so painful to step on. Swapping out part of your website is as easy as swapping a Lego brick. The more technically minded readers might be thinking “We can do something like that with the Google App Engine” (or some other technology from the “Big Three”). Well, the answer is “Yes, we Can!” And, I’d encourage you to look at the Google App Engine, as it’s an excellent tool and an interesting experience for those technically-inclined readers. The benefit of Blocks over a third-party platform is that it integrates directly with Contensis, so your content can be aware of which Block it is using and vice versa. So, if you want to push a new application as a Block and have it render under a particular URL or section of your site, this can all be done and managed within the Contensis CMS rather than spending time getting multiple systems to talk to each other. You could construct a similar experience with the Google App Engine, but why bother when you can use Blocks? And I’ll let you into a little secret. Under the hood both Blocks and the Google App Engine use the same container-based technology. In the technology business, we like to give the impression that we are constantly innovating. The reality is that to be successful, it is often best to use a tried and tested technology that everybody knows and understands. Dare I say it, to be a little boring.

Hosting is boring

Hosting websites is a bit like war...“long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” Well, not boredom, but there are long periods of meticulous and boring work that has to be consistently correct. If it’s not right then those “bad actors” will be on to you like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. In the Contensis hosting team we like boredom. Our goal is to have a dull and uninteresting life where all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed. To this end, we try to automate everything we do so it is always done right. Most of my own work at Contensis has been just this, automating as much as possible and living a boring life.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of sheer terror. Well, not exactly terror, but inevitably sometimes something doesn’t go to plan. If a hosting provider claims not to have any emergencies, they either are lying or have no customers. To deal with these situations, someone is always on call for emergencies. He or she may be asleep, but if the need arises they will be woken from their slumber to get on with fixing your problem. If you have seen Ed Harris playing Gene Kranz in Apollo 13 you will know exactly what the experience is like. And, if need be, everyone who can help will be woken up to “work the problem” and get it fixed. On average, critical incidents like this get responded to within 5 minutes. By managing the boredom and the terror we are able to deliver an uptime of 99.987%, which is comparable with the uptime promised by Google of 99.95%.

Hosting isn’t your thing

If you are thinking about whether or not to manage your own hosting, you probably shouldn’t. Hosting, maintaining and supporting websites is no longer the province of the happy neophyte. At Contensis hosting is our business – it’s what we do. If we need to host a website, we wouldn’t consider someone else’s infrastructure. Hosting anything else is a different matter. Hosting our mail server. Nope, we don’t do that. Hosting our file server. No, we don’t do that either. These are specialist tasks. We do website hosting – anything else just isn’t our thing. If you are considering whether or not to host your own website, it probably means that hosting your website isn’t your core skill. It’s another thing that distracts you from your core business – supporting your own customers and stakeholders.

In short, hosting websites is boring and hard. There is probably something more interesting and useful you could be doing. We like doing hard boring things, so if you want to discuss hosting your Contensis website, get in touch. You don’t have to host with us, but we can talk through the options and ensure that you get the best service you can for your Contensis website.