How to Switch Email and Web Hosting Companies

Are you pleased with your company’s email and web hosting company? Email is a critical business tool for many businesses, thus one should not change hosting companies on a whim or without adequate preparation. Here’s an overview of the migration process, including pre-migration planning, day-of-migration tasks and post-migration tasks.

Phase 1 – Planning for the Migration
  1. Select a new hosting company.
    It’s not easy to provide reliable and capable email and web hosting with solid customer support to Macintosh users. If you’re not satisfied with your current hosting company you might like to read the article I wrote about selecting a good hosting company.
  2. Sign-up for hosting services with the new company.
    Set up email accounts and distribution lists. Don’t forget about setting up email aliases for addresses listed on your web site like info@company.com. Set up web hosting and send the FTP login information to your web site manager. Have your web site manager install your web site and test it.
  3. Identify the registrar for your company’s domain name.
    One way to determine your registrar is to look it up on Who.is.  Make sure you can login to your account at your domain name registrar since you might need to change the name servers listed here. If you’re not sure how to change name servers, contact your registrar for support. Also, ask them how long it’ll take for this change to go live on their servers. Most companies have this change go live immediately, but it’s not uncommon for this to take up to an hour. I’ve even encountered a few registrars who only update this information every 2 or 4 hours.
  4. Identify where your company’s DNS records reside and verify that you can login to this account.
    One way to do this is click the DNS records button on Who.is. Make a copy of all of your company’s current DNS records so you can undo mistakes if you make them. If you’re only changing mail hosting companies then you won’t need to change the name servers at your registrar as described in the last step. Instead, you can simply edit the MX (Mail Exchange) records with your DNS hosting company. If you don’t know how to edit your DNS records, ask your DNS hosting company for guidance. Also, lower the TTL (Time To Live) values for your company’s MX records to the lowest value permitted by your DNS host. Five minutes (300 seconds) is ideal, but many companies won’t lower it below 60 minutes (3600 seconds). Briefly, the TTL value tells other companies’ mail servers how long to trust the information listed for how they can deliver messages to you. Since you’re going to change this information, you want other companies’ mail server to check back often to learn the new information quickly. Again, ask your DNS host how quickly changes you make will go live on their servers. Make sure that you ask them how long it takes them (the DNS hosting company) to make this change effective in their systems. DNS hosting companies’ knee-jerk reaction is to tell you that it can take 24 hours or more for the DNS changes that you will be making to propagate around the globe. While it’s important for you to be aware of this fact, you need to know how quickly they’ll make the changes on their servers so you can estimate how long your email and web site will be down (unavailable).
  5. Identify all users at your company who will be affected by this migration and collect an inventory of all of their devices that will need to be reconfigured.
    You’ll need to build a complete inventory of all user’s desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets, including the version of the operating system on the device and the email application used. Make sure you have instructions for configuring all of these devices. You can configure these devices in advance if there are a lot of them. If there are only a handful of devices then you may just want to configure them the day of the migration. Determine what email data and/or address book contacts will need to be migrated when you make the change of hosting companies. For example, if your users store their mail in IMAP folders on the mail server or contacts in an address book server then you’ll need to set aside time to move this data. Before you move this data, you should verify that all users have a current full backup of their computer.
  6. Inform all users of what to expect on the day of the migration.
    Tell the users what time of day the migration will start and how much downtime, if any, to expect. If there will be downtime of an hour or more, encourage your users to use a secondary email account for correspondence during the migration. Some users even need to notify important clients or contacts about the migration and the need to use the alternative email address.
Phase 2 – Migration Day

The big day has arrived. Change your DNS or nameserver records and wait for them to go live with your host. This commonly takes about an hour. Then expect these changes to take 24 hours to fully propogate around the globe. If you haven’t pre-configured all computers, smartphones and tablets then configure them now to access the new email accounts. Migrate the data that needs to be migrated. At the end of the hour, use Who.is to verify that the record changes have taken place. Then start to send test email messages on each device. Test your web site to make sure it’s working properly.

Inform users how to use new system. Users will want to know how to set up an Out of Office message and/or set up email forwarding. It’s useful if they know how to access their email account using webmail. You should also notify them how to contact the new hosting company for technical support.

Phase 3 – After The Migration

About 24 hours after the migration, each user should login to their email account with the previous hosting company, using webmail, to see if any messages were delivered to the old mail hosting company during the propagation period. If so, these messages can be forwarded to themselves and they will now be delivered to the new hosting company’s mail server.

A few days after the migration, contact the old hosting company to completely close your account.

Leave a Reply