Pulling the Plug

Almost two years ago, I decided to get my own virtual server to host websites. At that time, shared hosting was OK for certain clients, but other clients were having some issues that are common with shared hosting – emails being blacklisted and slow website loading times, to name two. I did a good bit of research and decided to rent a “managed” virtual server. This server would be located in Texas and be managed for me, but what I thought “managed” meant and what it actually meant lead to a good deal of frustration and stress on my end. I didn’t know that at the time, though, so I plunged ahead, set up the server, then started migrating clients to my server. Over the next year, I’d migrate about 40 websites to my server.

Things were going relatively smoothly, until I had my first issue and my server went down. There was a brute-force attack on my server (a group of computers just banged on the “door” of my server trying to hack into it and, while they didn’t succeed in breaking into my server, they hogged all of the resources and effectively shut my server down). This wasn’t a targeted attack on my server, specifically; it happens all the time in the website world. But the difference was that I was the one responsible for dealing with these attacks and getting my server back online after it went down. This attack happened late at night and I was up late working with the company that hosts my server to fix the issue. This was just the beginning. Because I hosted email on my server, I’d get requests to reduce spam, fix email issues, reset passwords, etc. None of these requests are abnormal, but I hadn’t thought about this kind of thing when I decided to host websites.

Running a server basically meant that I was doing way more tech support-type things than I wanted to. I love to develop websites and I thought offering hosting would be an easy way to help my clients get their businesses online without having to deal with a third party hosting company. It turns out hosting a website is way more involved than I ever thought. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

As time went on, not only was I spending a lot of [unpaid] time on my server, but I found it was a huge source of anxiety for me. I was constantly thinking about security. I usually don’t have a problem falling asleep, but this was one thing that was keeping me up at night. As I worked on new website projects, I started putting new hosting accounts on third party servers and I stopped offering my hosting services to new clients. I think this was the beginning of the end for me. While I hadn’t consciously decided to pull the plug on my server, I think I knew that this was not the direction I wanted my business to go in.

Eventually, that inkling of uncertainty about hosting websites grew into full-blown awareness that I did not want to host websites anymore. It was a constant source of anxiety for me and it also required a lot more time sensitive work than I’m used to: if someone’s website goes down, they want it back up and running immediately. The problem was that I had 40 websites on my server. The thought of migrating each one of those websites to a new host was mind-boggling and produced its own share of anxiety. Then Thanksgiving came. I spent the long weekend with my family, disconnected from the internet. Until I got a text from a client saying that their website was down. Immediately, I got a horrible feeling in my stomach and I spent the next day and a half trying to figure out the issues by phone with my hosting company and using the barely usable 3G signal my iPad was getting in the mountains. To put it simply, this was not the way I wanted to spend my Thanksgiving holiday.

And that was the final straw. I decided that I needed to pull the plug on this portion of my business. Yes, it would be a lot of work to migrate 40 websites to new hosts. Yes, it would be take place at a busy time of year (I began migrations on December 4, just three weeks before Christmas). But, when I finally made that decision, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I remember composing those first emails to my clients letting them know of my decision and I actually felt giddy with excitement. Now, I have three sites left to migrate and I can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This decision was a long time coming. It’s hard to know when to call it quits with anything. It’s sad to dismantle something I spent a year and a half building. But, the alternative isn’t really an option for me. Plus, now, I’ll be able to focus my attention back on what I love, and that’s building beautiful websites for smart, creative business owners. The thought of that makes me feel really good and I’m excited to start 2015 with one less thing to worry about.

Image by Samuel M. Livingston (CC BY 2.0) via flickr

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