Encyclopedia of eCommerce Upgrade / Migration: Part 8
Migrating your Hosting with Zero Downtime

As pointed out in the first article of this series, no eCommerce store can afford any kind of serious outage or downtime. This leads to a significant loss of sales and even a loss of customers. Often while migrating your website, store owners prefer to migrate their hosting server too and this migration is one that can lead to a very serious amount of unexpected downtime for your site. This could happen for a number of reasons which will be pointed to below.

To avoid such downtimes, a well crafted plan is crucial for the migration. Also, it is always better to get this task done by experienced developers, who have performed such tasks before, to avoid any kind of pitfalls. Your aim should be to ensure a smooth migration without your customers even knowing that it happened.

Let’s take a look at a few tips to make sure you achieve your aim in this process.

Considerations while changing to a New Host

There could be plenty of reasons to change a web host. It could be that you found a host with a better pricing plan suitable for your business. It could also be that the support or features of your previous host were not satisfactory. Regardless of the reason of the shift, you have to make sure that the process is carried out smoothly to avoid outages. The following are a few key considerations which will help you ensure this:

1. Create a back up:
Your existing eCommerce store and all of its data is of utmost importance and you don’t want to lose it for any reason. So before you begin with anything, you should back up the website manually to ensure you don’t lose anything. Also make sure to include an ample amount of time to back up your website in your schedule and budget. Backing up your website and data is not a two minute job and can take a really long time to complete.

2. Understand your new Host well:
Your new host may or may not have the same set of features as your previous one. Either way, you could have some compatibility issues so you need to understand it well in order to know how to properly move your website. Make sure you are informed about the process they follow to upload your data files. Get the DNS information and ensure that you have the domain account information so you can change the settings whenever required. Use a temporary URL to test your website before changing the DNS. Also understand the server’s features so that you can make changes to your scripts accordingly to allow the website to run properly.

3. Do Not Cancel your Old Account Immediately:
The most common practice of websites is to cancel the old account as soon as the DNS is changed. This however is not a good practice as a lot of issues often arise a few days after your new site starts running. So make sure to maintain the old host for a good while after the site start running on the new host. Also, make sure that you do not inform your previous hosting provider about the cancellation before everything is done as they may terminate your website prematurely and cause a lot of downtime.

4. Test your Site thoroughly:
Testing is another aspect that is often ignored. When the term testing is specified, it means to visit every page of your website and ensure that they are performing well. This includes the page display, the speed of loading etc. Make sure you weight them against all parameters of performance. Only such an elaborate testing process will ensure that you site runs smoothly and efficiently on the new host.

Keeping these key considerations in mind is a simple way to ensure that your migration goes around smoothly. Although these are not the only aspects of it, they definitely top the list. These simple steps will help you better plan out for any foreseeable contingencies and will help you organize your process better.

With this thought of following a well organized plan of migration, you can initiate the process mentioned in the section below.

Migrating your Hosting
Migrating your hosting with zero downtime is most definitely a complex and tricky process. Unplanned errors, unscheduled time delays etc. are commonly occurring issues in this process. This is why, as mentioned earlier, it is advisable to have the support of developers with the right knowledge and the experience in performing this task.

The procedure of the migration will follow the steps mentioned below:

1. Setup New Hosting Account:
By this point you probably already have chosen a web host and purchased an account with it. So the first step becomes pretty obvious and it is to create and setup your new hosting account with your new web host. As mentioned earlier, do not cancel or even begin the cancellation process of your previous account. They might terminate your account prematurely and cause a tremendous downtime. At the end of this step, you should have two hosting accounts.

2. Move your Website Data:
The next step is to transfer all of your website’s data to your new account. This includes the website files and database. To migrate the files, you will have to connect to your old host’s FTP and download all the files. You then connect to the new host’s FTP and upload all the files and ensure to maintain the same structure. For the database, you have to export all the database data from the old hosting account into an SQL file. This will be the backup of your database. You then connect to the new host’s FTP and upload this backup and restore your database from this backup file using SSH or cPanel’s phpMyAdmin.

3. Test your New Site:
Before you completely shift your operations to your new site, you might want to test it initially to see if everything works as expected. As mentioned earlier, this is an incredibly important step. You might have changed your site’s design or may have included a number of new and advanced functionalities. This will help you ensure whether the new site’s performance is on point. The testing is done by using a temporary URL which can be taken from the hosting provider. Since your website is already set up with the new host, this URL will allow you to access the website like any other one.

4. Change your DNS:
Now that your website is setup and well tested, you can move to change the domain name’s DNS. Get in touch with your new host and find out the DNS settings that will be required for your domain name and get the correct name servers. Once you have the two, login to the account that you purchased the domain name from and make the necessary settings. If the domain name is purchased from the same host, then you can ask them to make these changes.

Once the changes have been made, it takes around 48 to 72 hours for your site to load from your new host. In this period of time, your DNS is propagating through the internet and users trying to access your site will be randomly directed to the old or new server. After this time period, the site will only load from the new server.

With that, the process of migrating your web hosting server concludes. If you follow these steps carefully, you can rest assured that your site won’t suffer any outage or downtime in any way. However, things can often get unpredictable so it is best to have the support of someone experienced to monitor the process. Regardless of everything, in the end, the idea of shifting to a new server shouldn’t be something daunting but just another valuable step towards a better future for your eCommerce business.

Coming up Next:
Efficient 301 Redirect Planning