Moving to VPS hosting and dealing with email, Part 2

A while back I wrote a post about the dilemma of moving away from shared hosting to VPS (unmanaged) hosting and dealing with domain-specific email addresses. I’ve been migrating a number of web sites to a “droplet” with Digital Ocean. There are many benefits to this:

  1. Complete control over the environment - pick your own Linux distro, db engine, web server engine, PHP version, etc.
  2. Cost – For $10 on Digital Ocean, you get more RAM, CPU and storage than for most VPS servers for $30 or more.
  3. Flexibility – at Digital Ocean, you can spin up new “droplets” in about a minute, using a snapshot of a current droplet if you need to scale, etc.

But there are also some downsides:

  1. You’re on your own is something goes wrong.
  2. You need to come up with your own backup strategy.
  3. There’s no wysiwyg for creating virtualhosts, databases, etc., so you must be friends with the command line.
  4. Email. If the domains you are moving over include @mydomain.com type email, that last one can be a real problem. There are lots of horror stories about trying to setup and maintain your own email servers and I just don’t want to deal with that. Services like Rackspace offer email hosting for $2/mo., but with a minimum of 5 addresses, it’s really at least $10. Other services I looked at were often more expensive.

Solution

The simple solution I’ve found is maintaining a shared hosting account on Hostgator for email. As I migrate sites from a Hostgator reseller account to Digital Ocean, I’ve already determined that one legacy ecommerce site won’t run on PHP 5.4, so it’s moving to a shared “baby” account. On this account, I can create as many addon domains as I want, setup email addresses for those domains as needed, then in the Digital Ocean control panel, create MX records pointing back to the Hostgator where account is located (something like gatorXXXX.hostgator.com).

 The Hostgator “baby” plan is currently $7.96 month-to-month, which gives me unlimited domains, and in turn, unlimited domain email accounts. It also give me a place to put sites that don’t support PHP 5.4+ when needed. If you need to, you can also get webmail working by redirecting something like mail.{yourdomain}.com back to the hostgator webmail client.

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