Dealing with #Moodle Server - VendorHosted or Self-Hosted?

Source: http://www.e-learndesign.co.uk/assets/Uploads/MoodlePartnerPostit.gif


Recently, a colleague wrote me with this scenario (modified and anonymized):
We have been running Moodle for many years now. Several years ago, we moved to a hosting service and hadn't had any problems until now. This is probably due to the fact that our Moodle has grown tremendously with the onset of our popular virtual classes we're offering. Even though our old host made every effort to move our Moodle, it took too long and now we're experiencing problems.

Do you recommend any other hosting service or ideas for handling a larger Moodle site? Right now we have approximately 800-1000 users and that number will be growing up to 5000 or so. When we tried to host this internally before, we didn't have much success due to other duties.
My response (slightly edited here) was as follows...what would you have said?


This is a tough question to answer so allow me to clarify your options:

Option #1 - Switch to another hosting service. There are various Moodle Partners in Texas, such as ClassroomRevolutionsMoodlerooms, NewSchoolLearning and Remote Learner. As great as these are for different folks, you may be talking about quite a bit of money and limited access to the MySQL databases. That is, you won't be able to easily do your own maintenance because they will probably want to nickel-and-dime you to death.

Another hosting provider--such as Rackspace or Siteground--might give you more freedom but cost will be an issue. Yet, this may be the only answer you have. I would ask for the following up front with a hosted vendor:
  • Hosting of your Moodle on its own server, not shared with other Moodles. They can do this by creating a virtualized server for you where you have admin rights.
  • PHPMyAdmin needs to be installed on your server and you need to have full rights. This allows you to run queries, update data en masse, make backups, etc.
  • FTP rights, not only to the Moodle folders where your web pages are so you can update themes and mods yourself, but also to the Moodledata folder which exists at one level up from the web pages folder (e.g. htdocs or www depending on whether they are running Apache (preferred) or IIS (Windows but not good)).
  • Full Admin rights for your Moodle. Sometimes, you only get course creator rights with hosting providers.
That, at minimum, is what you should be able to do on your hosted server. 

Account management will become a nightmare for you; with more access to the MySQL database, you can setup an external database that Moodle can authenticate to rather than juggling student accounts all the time. 

Option #2 - Set up your own server. This, by far, is your best option. The reason why is you can demand--and get--access to all the items listed above in option #1, and have control of your server (about $8K-$12K would get you a nice one). 

I would prefer to run Windows OS with Apache (web server), MySQL (database) and PHP (web pages) running on the machine. It's easier to "remote control" (IMHO) the server and login. However, setting up a GNU/Linux server IS much easier than Windows (nightmare) for production purposes.

You'll save lots of money over the long term that you can invest in training for yourself and your team.

Running updates on a GNU/Linux server isn't hard, it just takes adjustment to how it's done...again, I would make sure you get this straight with the powers that be up front. If I can be of assistance, please let me know.

Alex Buchner's Moodle Administration book is a must-read for you.

RECOMMENDATION:
Having clarified the options, my recommendation is for an internally hosted server that you get more involved in supporting. You have to learn how to do this yourself with a site your size. You can always add more servers.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Comments

Jim Walker said…
The good news bad news conundrum. Many schools deal with this every year as their Moodle site grow. We have been vendor hosting at Open Source Host for 3 years and are happy with their service and price. We recently upgraded to a VPS with 50 GB of storage and 2 gb of ram. It is essentially our server to do with what we will for $600/year. Luckily we have a network teacher who can work the MySQL and I am a self-taught Moodle admin. We are already at 47% disk capacity and looking at our next step. For us it is still cheaper to vendor host than to self-host.

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