Want more control over your Internet presence? Maybe you should consider hosting your Web site in-house. In fact, there are a number of reasons why in-house hosting makes sense. But before we discuss what you can expect when you pull your site in-house, let’s agree on a few terms:

  • Intranet—A private Web site providing access to internal content for company staff only.
  • Extranet—A private Web site providing access to internal content for a company and for specified clients, staff, and suppliers.
  • Software applications—For the sake of this article, an application constructed entirely of Web pages that require separate scripting for data processing or database connectivity.

Ask yourself these questions
There are three key issues to review before deciding whether to move forward in developing and deploying an internally hosted Web site:

  • Do you possess the necessary network infrastructure to support the required bandwidth?
  • Do you have an ISP that provides Internet services on your network?
  • Do you have resources available for developing, maintaining, and supporting the Web presence?

Network infrastructure
You may have a healthy local LAN now, but add significant Internet bandwidth from staff and incoming authenticated or public users, and it may slow to a crawl. If you’re going to the trouble of constructing a site, odds are you will be placing valuable data or tools online for your user base. This will require server processing of HTML pages, CGI scripting, connectivity to databases, and a mail server to route e-mail traffic via SMTP.

You will need to evaluate the performance of your LAN and consider the increased demand that’s sure to come from the new Web service. This may require an upgrade from 10 MB to 100 MB or even gigabit Ethernet.

Minimum necessary hardware requires a firewall for directing incoming Internet traffic, a proxy server for authenticating your internal users and external users with LAN access, and a dedicated set of servers for serving Web pages and database data, as well as an SMTP gateway. The hardware allocated for your Web hosting services should be bundled in what is often called a DMZ zone, or a subnet, of your existing LAN. The DMZ zone will require a specific route for navigating the internal LAN, as well as for transferring internal and external services. This can require TCP/IP subletting in order to allocate the correct internal and external access, while also ensuring security.

Your Internet service provider
If you are providing Internet access to your internal LAN, you are already headed one step in the right direction. However, if this is from a modem pool, think again.

You should have a minimum of a T-1 for both internal traffic requesting Internet services and external traffic coming into your Web server. T-1s range in price from $700 to $1,600 a month, based largely on your geographic location. A good starting point is to find and negotiate a package from an ISP for the T-1, Internet services, and domain name handling together. This can keep the costs manageable during your Web startup.

In addition, you will need a registered domain name to enable public access over the Internet (even if the access is authentication based). This, of course, enables your ISP to provide DNS services, route HTTP and mail requests, and assist you in “directing traffic.” The ISP can work in conjunction with you to configure your firewall and proxy server and to resolve TCP/IP issues during your setup stage.

It is recommended you conduct extensive testing from external locations to verify connectivity other than from your internal LAN at this stage. Why? Doing so ensures that your dial-up clients will get in from the outside. This is also an ideal time for a newly minted Webmaster to try and break the security. Your ISP should have some recommendations on security, and possibly software, for the job.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of identifying your Web’s scope, layout, design, operation, and support, it’s in your best interests to have, at the very least, one staff member dedicated to this task. That’s the Webmaster. If you actually choose just one individual, it is also a good idea to make sure that person possesses Web development and Internet services expertise.

Your new site, regardless of the format, will require careful development, maintenance, and support. The appearance and initial content for your site are critical.

Maintenance includes archiving, updating, and posting new content, designs, and applications, as well as evolving your site with new services (FTP access, template-driven content publishing by site visitors, new databases, and so on).

Many firms have mistakenly assumed the existing IT staff could accommodate the additional tasks at hand, only to find their site either in dire need of content development or barraged with angry callers demanding improved support. This is not to denigrate your existing technology operations, but to enforce how critical support will be to your success. Your support alone can include basic Web site comments, calls for questions on content, requests to post content, and issues with site or connectivity failure.

You can see those three issues are critical to taking any further steps toward your internal Web hosting project(s). It is not the Mount Everest of technology projects—simply one that must be planned and staffed carefully.

Remember, your site itself can be improved, re-designed, even re-invented to ensure its ongoing success. If your connectivity is no good, or your bandwidth is the equivalent of running in neutral, you have hurdles that can cause a loss of traffic on your site and a loss of faith in your firm’s ability to participate online.

Tools of the Webmaster trade
There are endless software tools for the Web developer. Consider this a short list of software I’ve used, which you can evaluate and possibly put to work in the construction and support of your Web site.

Web server software

  • Apache —A freeware Web server that is highly popular among Web developers and can be run on many platforms.
  • InternetInformation Server —Included in Microsoft’s Windows NT and Windows 2000, this software can be very friendly even for high-level configuration to the Windows administrator.

Web authoring software

  • Adobe GoLive—One of the latest tools offering a WYSIWYG interface while maintaining the ability to edit HTML source code and use dynamic HTML.
  • Allaire Home Site—An advanced authoring tool requiring an understanding of HTML but offering advanced control over integrating scripting to site pages.
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver —The multimedia firm’s Web authoring tool, it’s best integrated with the company’s additional graphics and multimedia tools. One high point: It preserves HTML as you like it rather than inserting proprietary code.
  • Microsoft Front Page—The cream of the WYSIWYG crop, it also uses some proprietary code favoring Internet Information Server. If you are running in an NT environment and using Microsoft’s Office products, this could be the ultimate publishing tool for your first endeavor into Web publishing.

Many of the authoring tools above will also assist you in maintaining your site by tracking hyperlink status, file date stamps, and site mapping. There are a number of other reputable products to consider (although I haven’t used them), including Netscape server products, Allaire Cold Fusion, and Net Objects Fusion.
Item of Interest
A new freeware, Linux-based product, called PHP, is becoming increasingly popular. It can assist you in automating content and may offer personalization features at an economical cost. My employer is currently considering evaluating PHP for its ability to allow non-technical staff to publish template-driven content and to enable site users to reorganize our start page. The product in our evaluation will run on Apache under the Linux operating system. More information on PHP is available at http://php.net.
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