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48 Hours To Web Host Administrator!



Feb 12 2006, 11:29 PM

This is the story of a small dream that came true.

For years, I'd been authoring web pages and uploading them to some server across the country, for a yearly hosting fee.

My cable company broadband forbids running servers and blocks all the common server ports. I'd been with them about four years. All of this would change after the wind storm of January the 18, 2006...

We had two back-to-back outages in which the cable was out for a week or more before they would send a repair truck. That was it. Then I got notice of a cable rate increase. The last straw. I ordered DSL service.

By Feb 1st, the line was provisioned. By the 2nd of February, I had my complex two-tier network configuration set up. I made things more complicated because I wanted to have two tiers--a router behind a router. The DSL service supplied a Gateway, containing the modem, a router and a wireless access point. On this router, I placed my content server. And my existing router's WAN port connected here too. Behind my existing router are my workstations. Protected from Tier 1, where the content servers are.

It sounds simple, but setting it all up and getting access to PCs on either side of a router is no trivial task! I struggled for two days, configuring, researching and changing settings on both router and gateway. I finally got the router behind the gateway to see the internet and learned of a method by which to see the servers as a LAN connection. Slowly, I got everything configured exactly as I had hoped would be possible.

The next step was to advance beyond my music streaming audio, to a full-blown web server and ftp server. I did some research, and ended up installing Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS). It was already part of the OS that my server runs (Windows XP Pro) and supported FrontPage extentions, a very important feature for me.

I went about setting it up and I made the discovery that moving the content folders from C: drive to D: drive broke the FP extentions, as I lost the ability to publish. It took a while, but I finally decided to remove and reinstall FP extentions. That fixed things.

Next, was to publish a test page. I was able to see it. So I began configuring the gateway firewall to forward the ports required for these services. Then I accessed my test page through the public internet. Success!

I had a hunch that I could support multiple web sites by hosting them in virtual subdirectories and pointing the URLs to the IP address and subfolder, so I created a sub-web and published my content to it. The amazing thing about publishing to your own server is the speed! A site that would take hours of uploading to a commercial host was transferred in less than a minute! Updates take just a few seconds. And the content was immediately available to the world. Great!

My next step was to migrate some of my other sites to my server, so I added more sub-webs and published to them. It was so easy.

Finally, I decided to experiment with pointing a domain name to my server IP\foldername. It worked! I contacted some friends and associates and asked them to try the domain and see if they got the new modified web page on the server. They connected easily.

That being done, I decided it was time to give my sound system's web page (Bass Pig) it's own domain name. So I registered www.basspig.com and pointed it to the appropriate folder at the IP address of the server. The domain registrar must be using a new way to propagate domains, because instead of the usual 48-hour delay, the domain worked immediately. Not just on my computer, but on a friend's as well.

So now that I have three of my web sites hosted locally, I am starting to update content and play with capabilities I could not access on commercial servers. I may soon be running a discussion forum on my site as a result.

There are still some loose ends to tie up. The DSL connection is a dynamic IP, but it has not changed since I powered up the modem, and will probably remain unchanged until it is power cycled. However, I am looking into dynamic DNS services that keep track of a changing IP and update a special URL that I can point my other URLs to. There are some options for implementing this, and I am beginning to experiment with them.

I still have to back up the server and make an image of the hard drive contents for disaster recovery, and tighten up IIS security here and there, but I have the basics down and the server is working very well.

The whole sense of freedom and a new, wider vista of capabilities is very attractive.

Okay, so why did I do this? The answer is that I look at it as both a chance to educate myself on server administration and an opportunity to both cut hosting costs and gain more control over my content and ability to rapidly update it.

I continue to be amazed a the sheer amount of features packed into Windows XP. There's a LOT of functionality crammed into what most people use for an OS just to send e-mail or write letters.

The bottom line gain? I cut my internet connection services costs in half, open the potential to save hundreds on hosting and enjoy faster upstreams than I had with my cable provider, and the big one: no restrictions on how I utilize my connection.


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