Planning A Server Migration

What do you need to take care of when you’re planning a server migration? Over the course of my next few blog posts, I’ll talk about the key considerations we address in our server support activity when it’s time to migrate servers. Your specific migration plan will largely depend on your individual needs and your organization’s resources, but a lot of the general advice we’re going to provide here should be helpful during any server move.

Cleaning Up Your Server

Migration is an excellent excuse to do some housecleaning on your server. Identify any data on your current server that’s no longer in use: deactivated websites, unused email accounts, obsolete backups, and so on. Archive anything you feel you might use again later, but clean the active server down to just those contents that are currently in use. Leaner servers make for easier migrations. These are the benefits of a thorough pre-migration cleaning:

  • Less data to move
  • Shorter migration window
  • Fewer issues to handle after migration

A lot of the integrated migration tools on popular server management packages (e.g. cPanel, Plesk) will speed up the migration process considerably by allowing you to handle your server as a whole. It’s a lot faster than selecting individual accounts to move. Check out these details from Capita IT professional services to get some more insight into the process.

Do An Inventory

A server inventory will be a lot easier to complete after you’ve cleaned out the unwanted data. If your server hosts a single site, inventory is probably going to be a very simple process. It’s when you’re managing a multi-site server that things complicated. If you have end users adding their own sub-domains, databases, and email accounts, you may not know exactly what is on your server now.

Inventory all of your domains, databases, and email accounts before migrating your server. Collect lower level identification like sub-domains and aliases, too. Once you’ve completed an inventory, you’ll know:

  • No user data has been missed in the migration
  • No accounts have been skipped
  • DNS is handled correctly for all of your domains

Once you have your inventory, you’re ready to start the server migration proper.

DNS Strategy For Server Migrations

From what I’ve seen, failure to handle DNS properly is responsible for most of the migration headaches people experience with their servers. DNS errors become more likely if you’re hosting multiple sites for multiple clients (i.e. running a shared hosting service). In such situations, the registrar information may be out of your hands.

The odds of completing a successful migration without accounting for DNS changes are very slim. You need to have the following data ready in advance:

  • Every site’s registrar
  • Every site’s nameserver
  • IP addresses (both old and new) for every site.

Personally, I like to collect all of this information onto one spreadsheet prior to a migration. Updating registrars with new IP addresses is very easy if you happen to be using your own nameservers. Be alert for more complicated scenarios that require diligence. Managers with multiple domain registrations procedures — or those whose clients control registration — have to take special care.

Make sure you have your necessary DNS updates integrated into your migration schedule. Poorly-timed DNS updates can cause delays, interrupt service, and even lose data as traffic gets routed to both the new server and the old. If you take away one piece of advice from these posts, let it be this: DNS planning should be your top priority for server migration.

Doublecheck Your Server Specifications

This is a very simple consideration, but some managers overlook it in the hustle and the bustle of moving. Check your new server to confirm that it offers:

  • Enough IP addresses
  • Enough control panel licenses to match your domains
  • High network speeds (100-1,000 Mbit/sec)
  • Plenty of disk space (migration will require a 30-40 percent overhead)

Neglecting any of these necessities can bring your migration to a grinding halt. These are embarrassing issues to get hung up on; you can avoid them by building a simple checklist into your migration plan. Don’t neglect the importance of network speed, either. A 10Mbit connection may serve you well from day to day, but if you need to move 20GB of data it’ll take over five hours to finish.

More Migration Planning Issues

We’re about out of time for this installment, so I’ll save my other migration advice for our next post. Come back to learn more about testing, client relations, and how to manage downtime during a migration. Remember, if migration is starting to sound overwhelming, you can always entrust the job to a professional service.

Charles Y.

Charles has been working as a webmaster since 1998. Since then, he has had his hands in thousands of websites and has helped millions get online through a company he partially owns called Web Host Pro.

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