Moving Your Virtual Space

So you’re savvy with moving your office from one building to another – even from one city to another. In fact, you’re proud to say that you know what relocation is all about!

But wait – what about your website? That’s right, your online presence, your spot in cyberspace, your patch of alien green grass. You may well ask, “Well, what about it?” Here’s what: moving your virtual space can be every bit as daunting as moving your brick-and-mortar premises.

From transferring domain names to moving websites and email, things can quickly begin to resemble the Weber Brothers Circus if you aren’t forearmed with knowledge.

Before you can be forearmed, though, we need to clarify some fundamental concepts. “Fundamental concepts” sounds ominous, but we’ll keep it simple, I promise. If you already know all this, feel free to skip through to the juicy bits.

Once upon a time, there was a domain name

If you have owned a website for many years – or inherited one – chances are that you may have forgotten you own a domain name and a website. So what’s the difference? Simply put, a domain name is akin to an empty brick-and-mortar office that you lease for a certain period of time.

So where does my website come in?

A website consists of various types of files. Just as you would add furniture and fittings to your office to make it usable, you would add your website to your domain name.

The website (that is, your website files) is placed on a Web Server, a computer specifically designed to allow the general Net-going public to view your website files as “pages”. These website files are associated with your domain name, so that when Jane Bloggs types in into her browser (such as Firefox or Internet Explorer), she can view the associated website file as a web page.

Many of the larger companies own and maintain their own Web Server for this purpose and, thus, host their own website. This could involve considerable time, expertise and expense. Therefore, the vast majority of New Zealand businesses pay a web hosting company to host their website. Let’s assume that you belong to the latter group. The web hosting company, or web host, owns and runs the Web Server on which you rent some space to save your website’s files. Typically, this involves a monthly “hosting” or rental cost that can vary, depending on the space and hosting services provided.

What does all this have to do with moving?

The question is, what happens when you decide to move from one web host to another? First off, let’s break down the process of moving your virtual space:

  1. Domain: You need to transfer your domain name from your existing web host (let’s call them Old_Web_Host) to a new web host (let’s call them New_Web_Host) This transfer is required in order to keep your domain name and your website files on the same page of the book, as it were, and associate them correctly.
  2. Website: You need to transfer the website files from the Old_Web_Host to the New_Web_Host.
  3. Email: Assuming that you don’t have your own in-house Mail Server, you also need to transfer all the virtual mailboxes, e-mail and e-mail addresses associated with your domain name from the Old_Web_Host to the New_Web_Host.
The virtual transfer mantra

Domain, website, email (in that order)

The virtual transfer checklist

To make the move with as little disruption as possible to your website and email, here’s a handy checklist of
5 12 items (yeah, real short, I know):

  1. Gather required information: Plan well ahead – at least a week in advance. You may want to start even earlier, if you need to gather these vital pieces of information:
    1. Your Domain ID and Password: required to transfer the domain
    2. For .nz domains you may also require a UDAI (Unique Domain Authentication Identifier).
    3. FTP username and password: This is the username and password you need in order to upload (add) your website files to the New_Web_Host’s Web Server. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, the method commonly used to upload files.
    4. The usernames and passwords for each of the mailboxes associated with your domain, as well as the email addresses associated with each mailbox. Remember that mailbox names need not necessarily be the same as the first part of an email address. In fact, the name of the mailbox and the associated email address may be entirely different, just as the number on your PO Box and the name of your business are associated, but entirely different. Also, there can be more than one email address associated with a single mailbox. The potential complexity of email configuration is an important reason to give yourself plenty of time to sort things out in advance.

    If you don’t have the above information, and don’t know where to get it, start by contacting your Old_Web_Host, your web designer, your IT administrator – or all three. Gathering all the information you require can often take time because of the number of different people and providers who may be involved.

  2. Open a new web hosting account: Open your new account with the New_Web_Host at least a few days in advance. The couple of extra dollars you’ll pay for the extra days of hosting will be worth every penny. It gives you time to get organised and ask the New_Web_Host any questions you may have about their processes.
  3. Plan the move on a Friday: Planning the virtual move on a Friday, preferably late afternoon (or even evening, if you can) creates less hassle. The reason is that web hosts take time to update their Servers – usually at least several hours. So, while your records on the Old_Web_Host’s Server have been deleted, they may not as yet have been updated on the New_Web_Host’s Server. This means there is an outside chance that some email sent to you or your staff in the interim can bounce back to the sender, or worse still, “die in cyberspace”.
  4. Download all email: Just to be doubly sure, before you actually transfer your domain name, make sure that you and your staff download email one last time from the Old_Web_Host’s Mail Server so that all the mailboxes are very likely to be empty when you “close” the old mailboxes.
  5. Upload your website: After you’ve transferred your domain to the New_Web_Host, upload your website files to the New_Web_Host as soon as possible. If you’re unsure about how to upload your website, don’t hesitate to ask your web designer or web host provider in advance, or employ the services of someone you trust to get the job done with minimum fuss. Keep in mind that your website will be unreachable (“down”) on the Internet for at least a short while – not a good look, especially if the website generates significant revenue for your business.

That’s it, pretty much. Watch out if you’re following this article to a T, because there are many different ways to set up domains, websites and emails. But this article may give you a good starting point to look at your own set up logically, and hopefully save you heaps of time.

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