Breaking up is hard to do
Ending a relationship is always hard: this month, I intend to tell you how to end your relationship with your ISP and move on to a new and better one. It’s always best, if possible, to stay on speaking terms with your old partner, but if it isn’t possible expect a bumpy ride. The reasons for wanting to change ISP are many and varied, ranging from a need for technology that your old one doesn’t support (rare nowadays) right up to breakdown of confidence in the service provided.
There are four main service areas that affect a typical company’s internet presence – its website, email, domain and connectivity from the office – and I’m often asked how best to migrate these services (and getting dragged in to sort out the mess when some other consultant gets it wrong). So I’ll step you through some points to watch out for when making the changeover: given a little thought, the move to a new ISP can be made pretty seamless. I’m grateful to Richard Palmer, owner of the ISP Merula (www.merula.net), for advice while writing this article and also for his “top tip”; namely, that before you transfer from one ISP to another “check the cancellation terms with the old ISP before starting the process; some will need notice and if you get it wrong you can end up paying for two services at the same time”.
Transferring the hosting of your domain and its DNS records is something that requires great care: if done incorrectly it can not only break everything, but because changes to DNS take a few days to replicate around the internet it can cause a long break in service if you’re not careful. Transferring a domain from one ISP to another varies with the kind of domain – the easiest kind being .co.uk domains, as with them all that’s required is to transfer the IPS tag from old ISP to new. Since transferring the IPS tag changes only the “technical control”, the gaining ISP needs to set up the DNS records as soon as possible, even though the releasing ISP will hold the old records for a few days of overlap; once the new DNS records are set up, it’s important to instruct the old ISP to remove the old ones, or else there will be confusion caused by any differences between them. Make sure that the DNS records are all set up correctly before this occurs, or everything (and I mean everything) will get broken. This is just what happened to one client of mine, who was so concerned about moving their web hosting to a new ISP that their “expert” didn’t even stop to think of the ramifications for email, which stayed down for a couple of days!
So how should you do it? If all you want is to move your web hosting then there are several options. A web server, like any internet server, is normally referenced via an IP address (and if you can’t reference your new ISP’s web server via an IP address then you should consider a different ISP). Once you have all the files that make up your website put onto the new server, you can ask your old ISP to make the changes to your DNS to point it to the new web server. Before you make this DNS change you can simply redirect traffic to your new website, which is handy during that period where the DNS is updating across the internet, or if your old ISP is reluctant to make the DNS changes for some reason. Redirection can be done either by reconfiguring the old web server, or by putting a chunk of script onto each page of the old site that redirects requests to the new one. Or you can use a metatag to achieve this in a normal static HTML page.