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Control panels and migration

1. Webhosting

Web hosting is the business of providing the storage, connectivity, and services necessary to server for a website.

When people choose a host for their website, they are entrusting their data, their domain name and their accessibility of the site to the host. In other words, they are putting their livelihood in the hands of the host.

The web hosts attracts their customers to business by providing attractive and user friendly interfaces for administering the web sites. These interfaces called control panels, makes the site management easier for website managers of all levels of technical sophistication.

2. Control Panels

The control panel provides the tools and utilities which give you true control over your account and web pages. There is a large selection of options available in your control panel.

With the click of a mouse, you can administer your web-space, e-mail accounts, directories, cgi-bin and all the special features offered, including the site statistics.

…And..there are a wide variety of them available!

AIso there any reason why I should choose one control panel over another..from a usability perspective..but these control panels seem to do the same things just without the command lines..

2.1. Which web hosting control panel would you choose,

…..and why?

When choosing a control panel, the first thing you should think about is if the panel is “user friendly”. The website managers will range from newbies to the more complex users, so finding a control panel that would appeal to both types of users maybe difficult.

There are many different types of control panels you can have running your web-hosting account. Depending on your provider you might have Cpanel, you might have Ensim, You might have Helm, or you might have Plesk. They all have their advantages and disadvantages.

2.2. So, which control panel is the best?

The customer looks for the following features while choosing the control panel for his accounts, or his server.

    1. User friendly interface :

The first and foremost thing that a user looks for in the Control panel he chooses is the user-friendliness. Everyone likes a control panel that is easy to navigate so they can find the information/tools they are looking for.

    1. The features offered by the control panel :

Cpanel allows for many features that any webhosting user would find powerful and very useful. Some of these include : backup and restore, mail management, statistical information, ftp tools, site additions, subdomain tools, advanced tools, pre-installed scripts, network tools and database tools.

The tools offered by the Ensim Control Panel includes Web traffic reporting, user and e-mail traffic reporting, and a general site overview. Other tools included are : tools for search engine optimization, e-mail marketing tools, merchant services and SSL certificates authorization tools.

Plesk features include : reloaded tools for speed, customizable installation options, and plug in customization. It also allows anti-virus protection, automatic upgrade and migration tools.

The choice of the Control Panel depends entirely on the type of web hosting offered, the specifications required for the sites that are being hosted.

    1. Reliability and security

There should no compromise on the security offered by the Control panel to the servers in which they are installed.

    1. The updates

There must be continuous updates of the features.The updates must be extensively tested and verified bug free before release.

    1. Active development

New features must be added not simply to please the customers, the features that are added must be accountable, and should pass the test of time.

    1. Should be as bug free as possible .
    2. Extensible plug in the control panel must be customizable to suit the needs of his site.
    3. CostThe cost is a very important factor while choosing the Control panel.
    4. Speed factor and efficiency

Fast development, great/easy to use/consistent design and easily accessible Interfaces are opted for.

  1. Customer support.
  2. Full documentation

The Control Panel should come with full documentation . The instruction manual should be fully indexed and easy to navigate. It must include easy, detailed instructions for performing every task available in you web hosting control panel.

3. Why do we need migration …. ???

3.1. What is meant by the term migration ?

Migration is the term we use to describe the process of moving websites hosted on legacy systems to more robust and feature-rich systems.

3.2. What is the migration process?

The migration process typically involves the transfer of a tremendous amount of data and the re-implementation of application and scripts on a new server.

3.3. Outline of the migration steps required:

  1. Make preparations on the destination server, including verifying that the environment is correctly set up (disk space, php.ini, etc..).
  2. Identify any environment conditions that needs to be changed prior to the move, and make the changes before moving.
  3. Identify any outages that would occur for the sites to be moved, prior to the move so that the downtime is minimized.
  4. Plan the necessary changes with DNS and zone files to allow the sites to continue operation with minimal downtime.
  5. Perform the migration of sites.
  6. Verify that everything moved correctly prior to changing the zone files and starting the DNS changes.
  7. Provide any follow -up support as required.

3.3.1. For a server to server transfer:

During most website migrations, through lack of knowledge or experience, many website owners end up loosing clients and damaging time-built company images, because their sites are unavailable for days or weeks on end. Another problem is loss of emails, some crucial, making migrations very expensive and even dangerous.

Migration from one web host to another is not difficult. Following the steps below would allow a better chance of smooth transfer :

  1. Make sure that everything on the new server is setup and working properly. This also includes binding all necessary IP addresses and any security settings or PHP specific (ie; compiling PHP to include the desired environment, have safe mode ON, Php open-basedir Tweak ON, …).
  2. Make the clients aware of the move 7-10 days before the move.
  3. 24-48 hours before the transfer, go to Edit a DNS record” and set the main TTL to 600

in every db records for the domains for faster checks. This is a must if there are a lot of accounts with forums or using the MySQL databases.

To do this:

# Login to the server as root.

# cd /var/named/

# perl -pi.bak -e s/14400/600/g *.db

# service named restart

TTL is now every 10 minutes(600 seconds), or you can change that to 300 seconds for faster checks.

  1. Do the transfer through your control panel or manually, the transfer should be scheduled during a slow period for the server.
  2. Once the transfer is finished, verify the DNS settings are correct for each account. Change the DNS settings on old server to point to the new server and new IP addresses. First change the DNS for the accounts with the forums /or MySQL databases because the TTL has been previously changed.

So within 5 or 15 minutes, the Internet backbone checks your old server, see the new IP redirection, and start redirecting the site visitors to the new IP s.This will keep the Forums/ MySQL databases pretty much updated.

  1. After this is done, make sure to modify everything. Ask your clients to confirm all file/settings were transferred correctly, and also the procedures at the domain name registrars(only if applicable). Also, inform the clients that there are X number of days to make necessary Registrar changes. After the X number of days, delete the accounts off the old server.

3.4 Issues to be seriously considered during the migration process:

  1. Co-ordinate the DNS move :

Always set up your firewall to forward requests from your server to the new one.

DNS with no downtime :

* Change all the A records to point to the new server. Set the TTL to make faster check.

* Make sure the new server has the configuration for all the sites on the server(/var/named/).

* Change the IP s for your name server at the registrar level.

* Since the end clients will be making changes on the new servers, while using the old DNS server, they should not notice any significant difference.

    1. If mail is listed as CNAME, change it to an A record pointing to the new IP. This way you get instant propagation for all traffic and need not have to worry about checking e-mail on two servers, and also having the sites write to the wrong database.
    2. SSL has to be moved by hand.
    3. If the sites are purely static, the migration is as simple as moving files to the new server, and waiting for the DNS to switch over.

However, if the sites have dynamic parts, it becomes a difficult process. The process includes: Setting up the new server with all domain settings. Copying the files over. Temporarily turn off the dynamic parts on the old sites/Forums with a quick downtime message. Do the database dumps of all the databases, quickly transfer them to the new servers, recreate the databases using them. Change the config files in the old server to point at the new database server( via IP). Turn on the old servers dynamic parts. Switch the DNS and wait.

    1. Use the IP forwarding. It works better and more rapidly than waiting on DNS.

That should be zero public downtime, and a minor inconvenience for the clients with their administration of the sites.

  1. Instructions to the end clients after the migration is completed:
  2. Confirm that the file settings were transferred correctly.
  3. Contact the domain name registrars to update the DNS informations within the X number of days, after which the accounts from the old server will be deleted.
  4. In the event of migration, the process of copying the e-mail accounts and the aliases may not be 100percent successful. The e-mail users/accounts and the e-mail forwarders needs to be recreated on the new platform. This can be done using the account control panel.
  5. The configuration details in the FTP client must be changed. The remote host name must be changed to the domain name, and the user name and password must be updated.
  6. If there is any custom scripting on the sites, they may not copy over correctly. Once the moved site is up and running, make sure everything works correctly, recreate the custom scripts.

4. Migrating the accounts to another control panel:

If you are transferring accounts between two control panels, the best way of transfer would be:

  1. Set up an account on the new server, and transfer all the files from the old one.
  2. Remove the account from the old server.

The migration operation can be well described by considering the the migration of an Ensim server to a Cpanel server:

The first and foremost thing to be considered while planning the migration is :

“Don’t upgrade on the same server you have Ensim on.

Doing so can cause the following issues:

  1. Ensim cron jobs will still try to run.
  2. IP based sites will loose e-mail ability.
  3. Tons and tons of other issues..

Anyway, these issues can be avoided if you get a plain RH server, install Cpanel and then transfer from the old machine to the new one, and then take the original server offline. In the new server, setup the Cpanel, and finally transfer the sites over.

4.1. Features required in the copy script :

  1. Accounts should be transferred with their quotas, package and the ownership set.
  2. MySQL databases should be transferred with all the privileges.
  3. The transfer of the mail accounts, mailing lists, and the forwarders for the accounts.
  4. The FTP users for the accounts, with the password files preserved.
  5. The transfer of sub-domains, add-ons and the parked domains with the account migration.
  6. Transfer of SSL certificates.
  7. The transfer should copy the private DNS entries.
  8. Transfer of shared IP assignments.
  9. Move all reseller accounts to resellers shared IP.
  10. The transfer of services like Urchin, Miva, Cron services, JSP and Coldfusion, and addition of Counters.
  11. The transfer of SSH and telnet user details.
  12. The Frontpage server extensions must be copied.

4.2. Brief description of the migration scripts operation:

  1. Export script (install this component in the ensim server, install this component along with the parser and the simple perl modules, which will produce the data files for each site. This script will package the account, and create a backup file, this constitutes the datafile for the account.
  2. FTP the datafile to the target Cpanel server.
  3. Import script( install this component in the Cpanel server along with the parser and the and simple perl modules). This will create the domains and populate the site data based on the data file.
  4. The import script will create a site administrator user for the domain.
  5. The import script will create all e-mail users, FTP users, transfer their passwords and also recreate the mailing lists, e-mail aliases, mysql databases, etc..
  6. However, there are limitations to the migration scripts, and therefore, cent percent successful migrations are not possible.
  7. Moving the SSL certificates to Cpanel from Ensim has to be done manually.
  8. Bug moving the add-on domains:

The process that takes most of the time during the account migration is the copying of Parked and Addon domains.Every account that has these need to have them recreated by hand, otherwise there’s a risk that they won’t work for mail, won’t work for web. Addition of a serveralias instead of a different virtualhost might sometimes cause these domains to disappear from the users control panel but still ‘work’.

  1. The mailing lists created on a parked domain does not get copied.
  2. The MySQL databases are sometimes copied twice. Say, you had domain_com ensim database with nick username. It will copy the database as nick_domain_com and again as nick_nick_domain_com. Both databases are 100 percent identical, and from the Cpanel, both these databases cannot be deleted.
  3. Cpanel allows for the admin username to be 8 digits only. Otherwise, it will not copy the account over.
  4. The Frontpage server extensions may not work, if the clients have subwebs, and permissions.

4.4. Other suggested improvements that are needed in the copy scripts:

  1. Increase the size of split archives. It would consume quite a bit of time to create each split archive, and transfer each one separately.
  2. Implementation of priority queuing to reduce run time load level. The copy script may cause the server load to rise during the backup process, that makes the server virtually unusable, and makes the transfer take much longer than it should.

The web hosting business will continue to expand the number of servers to manage the communications and applications that can be integrated to the sites. Their core processes will be driven by software that needs to manage this both efficiently and effectively. Control panel softwares continue their journey to progress, setting new mile stones of performance to the web hosting business.

Articles by Jisha

About the author
Jisha has worked in Bobcares for the last 2.5 years. She is a cPanel specialist and has worked in a team providing tech support to over 10 clients and over 100 servers.





  1. Hello,

    I get error while copying accounts from Plesk to Cpanel and hence the emails are not copied though the data is copied. The error goes like this

    pXa Copying Mail files….ERROR 1064 at line 1: You have an error in your SQL syntax near ‘SELECT cl_id FROM domains WHERE id = 1018
    )’ at line 1

    I am running Plesk 8.01 and the latest stable release of Cpanel. Is it because of the Plesk version I have? If yes, then what should be the Plesk version?

  2. Seems great stuff.. But still the main stuff is missing … method of migration is missing here….. The above procedure is followed in RSYNC method…

    Show some light on DRABACKS of this method’s as well….

  3. Hi Nitesh,

    Please follow the control panel options while migrating account from diff control panels…. Cpanel provides option to migrate stuff from most of the popular control panels like PLESK, DA, Ensim.. and much more..

    DA : Document root as /home/user/domains/
    PLESK : /var/www/vhost/
    Ensim : /home/user/sites/….
    and so on…

    Better to follow the control panel options….

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