3 steps to prepare for a pain-free hosting migration.

It happens to everyone, but occasionally the disaster is huge; loss of data. The most vivid memory of a customers files being lost includes a large photography firm. Their outsourced developer had gone bankrupt and left them with custom built code that required a desktop application to upload new photos for selling on their website. They had contacted us to do the hosting migration for them, because the developers server would be turned off shortly. The first step should always be to document everything that should be moved.

Burning Car

Step 1 – Collect information:

  • Domains – Domain names, path (for dedicated or VPS).
  • Databases – Databases and their associated domains, include user/password.
  • FTP Accounts – FTP accounts and their associated domains, include user/password.
  • Email Accounts – Mailboxes and their associated domains, include user/password.
  • DNS – The login information for the registrar to switch DNS Servers.
  • Extras – Name of current hosting provider and login information, etc..

We do not charge to migrate customers from existing servers hosted elsewhere. We understand that the job can be difficult and frustrating so we don’t want to add to this by charging for it. So for the photography site we had offered to do the migration for free, at that time we didn’t know about the custom desktop application but from the initial check of the customers files the application seemed very basic, custom code with application configuration file, easy.. so we thought. To avoid early trouble discuss the migration with your hosting provider, and be specific.

Step 2 – Co-ordinate the hosting migration plan:

  • Decide on dates and times that work best for you.
  • Discuss any responsibilities with your team for testing after the migration.
  • To reduce DNS propagation ask consider setting the TTL low, 3600 is 60 min.

Once we migrated over the customers code our first priority is to test ourselves. This is very basic because many times we have no experience with the application and all it’s features. Next is to have the customer test. In this case the customer also did a BRIEF check of their application, and reported back all was working. After the final switch over and shutting down of the old server the customer came back and said their files were missing. BEFORE migrating decide what needs to be tested.

Step 3 – Build a list of areas to test, ask these questions:

  • What parts of the site do we use every day?
  • What parts do customers interact with every day?
  • Are there processes that takes place in the background?

NOTE: Sites can be tested before moving them by making some small modifications on any PC or Mac to trick your computer into looking for your site on the new host. Referred to as changing the host file, here’s instructions for PC or MAC.

The photo site’s hosting migration was a bust, our migration team was completely surprised because they had followed strict rules when moving the customers files. Now there was no way to retrieve them period – server was gone and not coming back. There was about 1 weeks time between when DNS was changed and the files were reported missing. This was a great reminder to me that building a list of areas to test AND testing after migration was imperative. The last step to any migration is the final DNS switch, but don’t neglect the testing.

Running man

Finalize any DNS changes:

This can be it’s own topic so I’m not going into great detail here. There are multiple ways to handle DNS changes and there’s changing DNS SERVERS and RECORDS. I personally recommend changing DNS SERVERS first by duplicating the existing records at the new host before migrating. After migrating update the DNS RECORDS to reflect their new record.

There are horror stories galore but when handling migrations these steps will minimize your chance of a surprise. I’ve seen hundreds of methods for migrating data from spread sheets to text documents, special form with check-boxes and project planners. How someone manages a migration may be completely based on their personal organization style, which I’m not trying to change. These are tips and insights from the trenches that work based on hundreds of successful and not so successful migrations.

Download this Server_Move Excel document as a template for a hosting migration and customize as needed.