Domains, DNS, Websites, EMail, Registrations – What a mess!

A large part of our business is creating and launching websites…updates, revamps, sites for new companies and more.  Inevitably we arrive at the point where we need to launch the website, and that’s often when we realize how difficult it is for a client to understand the mess that is Domain name ownership, DNS Settings and Hosting (yes, DNS Hosting is its own Hosting, often separate from Website Hosting), Website Hosting, and Email.  We try to get this information early in projects, but even having it and being reasonbly sure we know what to do in order to launch a site, its still a big mystery and often source of confusion and frustration for our clients.

Here is a discussion on these issues that will hopefully help make some sense of this:

  1. The Domain Name – It all starts here, we could point our clients to, but as humans we tend to understand names and words that point to the things we are trying to access, like when we want to find out what friendly martians are up to on earth.  Registering a domain name is as simple as finding a registrar, a name that nobody has bought yet, and then paying for it.  As a client, you should purchase your own domain names, and then give developers like us access to make changes only when we need to.  GoDaddy has a nice setup here and allows you to grant and remove permissions for your developers to manage your domain name settings….other registrars may not and that’s fine, making things a bit more clunky if you’re hosting your DNS settings in the same place…so, on to DNS Hosting…
  2. DNS Hosting – Owning the domain name is the first step…the next step is to point the domain’s nameservers to a DNS host.  Historically this was the ISP where one would host their website (and often bundled with email) and for the price of the website hosting, that ISP would generally provide both DNS hosting and email hosting.  Over the years, the Internet and its services have become much more specialized and we feel it makes sense to just leave the DNS hosting with the domain registrar, or find specialists like DNSimple to host your DNS settings.
  3. Web Hosting – There are many choices here, from discount providers hosting websites for a few dollars/month, to specialized Cloud Hosting systems, and Platform-As-A-Service sites we like for Drupal and WordPress projects.  When hosting Drupal and WordPress, we look to the experts at Pantheon and WPEngine respectively.  These hosts integrate well with our development workflow, make updates easy and/or automatic, and take care of so many other things on an ongoing basis that makes their extra cost well worth it.  In the long run, they may even save you money.  Forgetting (or delaying) updates to WordPress or Drupal and being hacked will cost you more to repair and deal with than the increase in cost of a specialized host…and the downtime and reputation loss of a hacked or compromised website is difficult to measure, but is certainly costly.  For our application development projects, we rely on Microsoft Azure as a flexible and poweful web host where we can create many environments or platforms easily and at a reasonable cost.
  4. EMail – In the past, especially for our small business customers we would purchase domain names, then point them to an ISP that would handle the rest (DNS Hosting, Web Hosting and EMail).  These days, we use Gmail as many of our customers do…some use other specialized hosts like Rackspace or other cloud based systems for managing this aspect of their business.

In order to keep things under control and manageable when moving services, it is important that clients of development agencies like ours retain control over these systems and accounts.  We strongly recommend breaking them into different components from different providers.  Yes, its true, your Domain Name, DNS Hosting, Web Hosting and Email can and likely should be hosted in different places.  Not only can you choose the best for each service, but you can easily move from one to the next without major disruption or confusion.  Launching sites is challenging enough, trying to talk to clients about their various accounts and systems in these areas can be very confusing and frustrating.

Clients should know what each of these components are, why they need them, and make sure they can login and have the login details stored or accessible when the time comes that they are needed.  If they don’t, one of our first discussions with a client is to document everything in this area, and in some cases move services to some of the providers we’ve noted to make things easy to deal with now and in the future.