Doing it yourself

How difficult is it to set up your own web and email space? Well…

My service provider has been annoying me recently.

It’s not wholly their fault, but they do want to charge quite a bit for me to take out an SSL certificate. As the Internet moves closer to https by default, there’s money to be made by everyone involved in issuing the security certificates, and it may be that there’s a cost to them in return.

But they also have a ‘cloud computing’ option on their website. It doesn’t make clear exactly how much I would pay for my needs, so I asked them. The reply was “look on the website” which, as people who know me well will attest, just gets my goat. I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t obvious. Not that I can see the difference between cloud hosting a website remotely and hosting it on a website remotely – that’s all ‘cloud’ computing is in this context (and most contexts).

Ideally, I’d like to junk them entirely and host everything myself. How difficult can it be? Well…

First of all, you need a permanently-on machine. The good news is that these no longer need to be the large machines of my (relative) youth. You could get away with a Raspberry Pi or similar, and use an SD card to store the software you’ll need, with plenty of space for websites, emails, etc.

You’ll need some software to run everything. A typical setup involves a LAMP environment: Linux (operating system), Apache (web server), MySQL (databases) and PHP (programming language).

You’d also need an email server. No idea, would have to do some research on that one!

Then it starts to get tricky. You’ll need to protect your new server from malicious attacks and, most importantly of all, you’ll need a dedicated, static IP address. And they cost, even if you can get one easily. But you need a static, unchanging IP address so that browsers and email services can find you at the same address every time. Most access to the Internet now is via a third party, such as Virgin, who allocate addresses as and when to balance load across their systems. If your IP address changes, you can’t be found.

But when my unemployment was dragging on, I did honestly think about it. The equipment and software costs would be between £50 and £100 – most of the software is open source and free to install. Then it’s all about setting up and getting that static IP address.

Now, I don’t have time. But I will have a week off between Christmas and New Year. Never say “never”.