Will hosting our school's website on an external server be a bad idea?

Our technology coordinator is very very particular about how the server at our school is used. Only frontpage can be used, teachers cannot post directly, changes must be emailed to her, no blogging, no wikis, no cms, etc...

She used to manage the school's website, but I have newly been put in charge of it, but she still controls the server. It is currently a thought to host our school website on an external server to avoid hassles. Are there risks? Is there funding that will be taken away such as ERATE?

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Very interesting. Do they host it so you get a dot com? Or is it a youschoolname.schoolword.com? How good are the modules for web design?
I'm not sure there are any more risks with hosting your school's website externally than internally. For most folks from my experiences, it's an issue of geographic control. We like to be able to see our technology. I see it somewhat as being able to let go of the hardware knowing that you are still in complete control of the content and that it's just as safe (and in some cases, safer) as being co-located with the hardware.

Looking very briefly at USACs eRate eligibility information, I don't see any negative impact with external hosting. But please have this checked as I'm not involved at all in eRate these days. I'm interested to hear any other responses.

External hosting can be less headaches since there's a list of things, as you've mentioned I believe in the other conversation (post), that goes into hosting web pages. And whereas many of us don't have 99.99% levels of redundancy or SLAs, many hosting companies have quite a bit of it (geographic, power, internet access, internal network) and high SLAs.

Security is another major issue. Opening firewalls and a web server to internet traffic does add some risk to your network. Hosting companies have or should have teams of security experts who keep things pretty well locked down - at the application, server, and network levels. There's so many little things that go into keeping a network working fast and secure as software, application, and router and security vendors are commonly releasing bug fixes, fixing security vulnerabilities, and making faster/bigger/better hardware. Hosting companies should stay on top of these things.

Then there's the issue of when stuff breaks. Who fixes it? Hosting companies, with lots of redundancy, don't have a crisis when a hard drive goes out to lunch or when one internet circuit goes out. I see that as an advantage to external hosting especially if you are in smaller school/district.

I'm not sure what exact economic metrics would be used but I think it would really cool-fascinating actually-to see a comparative cost analysis between each. Also, looking at cost per web page and maybe even a cost for web hit would really interesting to see.

I hope my ramblings help.

Edwin, you and your ramblings are the man!
Is this common for school and school districts IT departments very strict?

It is a common problem in corporate infrastructure too.

Anyone played with Google Apps for your Domain education program? http://www.google.com/a/edu/

I have had great success in using for small business IT.
There are numerous advantages to hosting your site on a external server - not the least of which is that you get more control. Aside from the issues Edwin points out, many hosting companies provide excellent software through their control panels.

Here's what I suggest looking for - find a hosting company that uses cPanel with Fantastico. cPanel gives you easy access to all kinds of things (like extremely handy phpmyadmin). Fantastico is a program that automatically installs web programs on your site (like wordpress, joomla, moodle, etc.). It's great! All you need to do is click a few buttons and whatever new program you want to use/try is installed.

As for costs, I've set up sites for a number of schools using "shared hosting". It's super cheap - $100 on average for a year's hosting (including 1 free domain name). The hosting company I've been the most satisfied with is lunarpages. They're pretty basic and cheap. I believe they offer major discounts to school districts as well. (If you do some reviews on hosting companies, you get a general idea of what the good companies are vs the bad).
I would definitely suggest using an external server. Lunarpages in what our school switched to, but most providers are worthwhile. It took a year and a half for the head of the tech department to finally get the webpage up and running. Discouraged by the lack of progress, I signed up for my own site with a different provider. It was the best $4 a month I've ever spent. 99.9% uptime alone without any of the headaches is well worth the money.
Thanks for the tips.. Im going to check out the lunarpages.
Hi Scott,

My first response is to talk nice to the coordinator and try to come to an agreement that would make it possible to work together on a shared solution. He/she probably has valid concerns and they should be discussed. Find out what the concerns are, what the limitations are in the current system, and what "can" (in his/her opinion) be done.

If talking nice doesn't work......

How about going to the administration and explaining to them that the tech coordinator's approach to managing his/her area is going to cost the organization more money? I can understand looking outside if it will result in a cost savings or if it is something that cannot be done with your current system, but doing it because of a bad coordinator is ridiculous and wasteful.

While I can see both security and data integrity problems arising from poorly instituted policies/installations, if the technology coordinator is at all qualified to have this position, he/she should have no problem setting up limited shared access to networked folders based on network permissions. With this, then there is no reason to access it with FrontPage (I'm not sure how he/she forces this anyway).

I know that it is sometimes easier (less hassle) to go around the problem than it is to confront it head-on (I've certainly done this myself), However, you will continue to have problems in the future if you don't look for a solution. Either work together or go over their head.

We do this with our school website wellscsd.com. We are extremely happy with this arrangement. We can install whatever software we like. Most is free and open source. On top of that, with the control panel provided by our web host (Hostgator), they can be installed in seconds with no real technical know-how. If someone wants a blog, we put it up. Basically, we are free to do whatever we please as long as the tech committee approves (no big deal)

Our web hosting account comes with plenty of space, so we can upload plenty of multimedia: audio, video, pictures, whatever. We don't have to use YouTube or any other external solutions that come with their own problems. We can load as many software scripts as we like. We have put up Joomla, Moodle, a gallery, as well as blogs. We will also be putting up Elgg, an open source social networking platform.

Students and faculty are given accounts in Joomla and are allowed to submit content. It is then reviewed by one of our admins and published if appropriate.

It has had no impact on our erate. Additionally, it is incredibly inexpensive--under $150/year including domain registration. It can be done for even less.

The main risk is taking care of problems as they arise. You need to contact the host if it is a server issue, or go to the open source community if it is software related. The trick is deciding where you need to get your help. It certainly pays to investigate the quality of the technical support at your web host. You also need to keep your software up to date by checking for new versions and applying patches (often the upgrade can be done simply in the control panel. You should also maintain backups--again, very simple with the control panel.

Our school and community loves it and we will never go back! Feel free to contact me. I also have a rudimentary website that discusses some of the issues: openedweb.com.
:) Good timing with the "strict with stuff" comment. I just received an email from my IT person stating that my class and I may redesign the web page as we see fit.(sounds good, so far) Except I must use FrontPage 2003, No links to any site that is not on the district page(so much for useful links to resources), and they still must approve anything before it is posted to the server. Maybe you could help me appreciate that. A week ago I would have been frustrated... now I am starting to laugh about it all.
Thanks for the tips, I'll check them out. On a side note I should add that I am probably coming off as an IT basher. I promise that's not the case!
I think you need sort out the restrictions due to school policy from those imposed by the Technology Coordinator. Then you need to separate legitimate technical reasons from those of discomfort.

While we are a very small district and do not have a tech coordinator, we have technology committee including an IT person (and others) who has often been reluctant to embrace web 2.0 technologies initially, but has generally come around with examples and education.

Be prepared to demonstrate work-flows and security precautions that comply with school policies and needs in terms of student safety. Check and triple check these precautions.

In our case, it has actually helped that we used third party hosting as it takes the responsibility of any server issues that may occur as a result of our embrace of Web 2.0 technologies off her shoulders.




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