LyonsHost Migration – The last steps

The LyonsHost migration is going. So sorry that I haven’t been writing as much recently (OK, actually I’ve been writing my hands to the point of cramping, but not in this space.) We’ve been very busy. Personally, I’ve been recovering from knee surgery, and the LyonsHost transition I wrote about has been slower than expected.

So, while everyone else is facing Snowzilla, we are pushing forward on the last leg of our journey to improved products and service. We moved two thirds of our servers successfully. We had a rough start, but the second phase went much better. Over the next few hours, we are moving all but one remaining server. If everything else goes faster than we anticipate, we have the option to complete the work tonight, otherwise we will close out the move tomorrow night, Sunday January 24.

What should you expect? If you haven’t heard from us about tonight’s move, you are already on one of our new servers! Hold tight, you will have a small interruption on Sunday, when we move our Domain Name Server (DNS), because the DNS tells the Internet where every website is located in our network by its IP address. We will have to shut the DNS down briefly and restart that server in its new home, thirty to sixty (30-60) minutes later. Depending on which server your sites reside, you may not even see us blink because of Time to Live (TTL) which tells the Internet how often to check our DNS for changes. If your provider checks DNS just before the change, TTL could mean that your site will not show any changes from where you sit. It’s a nifty trick. Of course, if your Internet provider checks our DNS during the move, you will be unable to access your sites for the entire procedure. I’m sorry, there is no way that you or we can influence that timing.

Do the new servers make any real difference? You bet. With one exception over the past couple weeks, everything on the new platform has been very stable. The servers are noticeably faster. The servers are showing fewer signs of strain in terms of load, memory use and HD access. In many cases, the load indications are 1/4 or less than our previous system.

The anomaly we experienced on Thursday was a telling example. Unlike past episodes, the problem contained itself to a single server. We contained the problem and ultimately tracked it down to software that keeps statistical data for our mail servers. That made it look like the problem was happening in whichever user account the software was examining at the time. It was frustrating, but after being fixed, every measurement shows a strong and stable system.

We have more good things to share coming up. Thank you for your hosting and email business. Oh, the knee, I’m already walking around and cycling on my indoor trainer. It’s going to be a great year.

UPDATE: There was a problem with cPanel licenses which prevented us from performing quality assurance (QA). We will pick this up again tomorrow.

New Hosting Infrastructure – Ready for Something New?

Many of you know that we have been working toward a completely new hosting infrastructure for some time. 2015 presented more than its fair share of challenges for your LyonsHost/Lyons Digital Media team, and we are looking forward to a great 2016. Some of you are already using our improved Open-Xchange, business class mail. It has really tamed the flood that is my inbox. If you are a heavy email user, I’d love to share more of my experience with you. Yes, it’s that good.

We have been working on a major refresh of our web server network. There were challenges that caused delays but we never stopped and today we are looking at fresh copies of all the servers in their new home in the cloud. It looks great and there will be benefits for our users that will be covered in future posts.

We will be executing the final steps in the migration in the next few days. If you have a website with us, you will get more specific information soon. If you don’t have your website with us yet, keep watching our posts because you’re going to see some exciting news.


CiviCRM Case Study 1 – Boy Scout Troop 115

CiviCRM is customer relationship management software for non-profit groups and associations. We use it for a range of sites from my son’s Boy Scout Troop to an International Arts organization. This is the first in a series of case studies of how we use CiviCRM.

Boy Scout Troop 115 Tallahassee

Boy Scout troops have software choices. There are a number of vertical solutions specifically for Scouting and they range from clunky to excellent. I know this because I am managing the transition from an older platform to Scoutbook, which I really like. However, Scoutbook, great as it is, doesn’t do everything. Scoutbook covers most of the bases for internal communications within a troop, but it does almost nothing outside of the troop for recruiting or fundraising.

CiviCRM for Events and Registration

I’m in a unique position, as the Camping Coordinator, and Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 115. We built our troop website on WordPress with CiviCRM. To be fair, as a professional developer and web host, I possess some tools and skills that other troops may not have available, but I will happily provide our platform and experience to any troop that has an interest in following the trail we blazed. Having built, we can easily copy what we have for any other troop. There are some unique aspects of a Boy Scout Troop, but most of what we accomplished with this website applies to many small non-profit organizations.

Our troop camps every month of the school year. The Camping Coordinator has to fill out a Tour permit with a number of specific data points gathered from Scouts and their parents. This is an ideal task for CiviCRM. I have created custom event profiles for camping trips and other events requiring sign ups. Scouts and parents can now sign up from their home computers or mobile devices up to the designated deadline, when the form automatically disappears from the website.

The Boy Scouts of America Tour Permit, serves many functions, including documentation of coverage for all attendees on a camping trip. Only completed forms are valid. With data gathered from our website, I am able to generate custom reports to answer every question required on the tour permit. In theory, I could even generate the complete tour permit itself directly from the CiviCRM reports. I also generate three other critical reports for our camping trips: Scouts attending the trip, Adults leaders with mobile phone numbers, and authorized adults to pick up Scouts.

With those additional reports, I can take attendance before leaving on a camping trip. Adults have a contact sheet in the event of a flat tire or an unscheduled stop (Be Prepared!). Finally, our charter organization requires that we have a list of authorized adults who can drive a Scout away from an event. This is also relevant to the two deep leadership requirements of BSA. It assures that no Scout leaves with a non-custodial parent or any other unauthorized adult.

Fundraising with CiviCRM

A key component  for many Boy Scout troops and other organizations is fundraising. CiviCRM has many options for fundraising, including online payment gateways, pricing tables for event registrations and more. In the case of our Scout troop, we have three main fundraising events per year. Our Scouts sell popcorn in the fall. We sell “Camp Cards” from the Council in the spring. However, the biggest fundraising event for Troop 115 is the Christmas tree lot.

In the past, the troop kept a spreadsheet of returning customer and sent postcards with a discount offer for returning business. Last year we collected email addresses for our customers and added those contacts to a group tagged for the Christmas tree sales. The advantages to the troop are clear, no printing or postage cost for email, we can customize the message to the recipients, and finally, we have space to explain the full benefits of this activity to the customers. We still sent the postcards, but supplemented with the email campaign.

We sent the postcards the week before Thanksgiving. The email campaign, using CiviMail, consisted of three mailings, Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Friday after Thanksgiving (opening day) and a final message a week after Thanksgiving Day. All the messages were composed in advance and programmed to be sent on their designated date and time. The troop had a few more trees than the previous year, over 400. The email message explained how this fundraiser fit into the troop’s mission and how the funds directly benefited the boys, covering camping and program expenses. The first message announced when the lot would open and the times that the lot would be open for the season. The second message was a reminder that the lot was opening that morning. The final message was a reminder that the earlybird discount was about to expire.

By all accounts, 2015 has been the briskest season in memory for Christmas tree sales. The lovely weather may have helped, but after one week, the reserve inventory of trees is already sold. The schedule of Scouts to sell trees extends for three weeks and we may have to close the lot before we complete the second week. At the current pace, we may not have enough trees to finish this week. Customers are bringing postcards and printed emails to claim their discounts. The final day of the earlybird discount exceeded all previous sales records for any shift in the history of this fundraiser. Clearly, the email campaign has been a success.

The additional value to Troop 115 is that we were able to vet our email list. We verified an open rate of over 30% of delivered emails. Fewer than 2% of recipients unsubscribed from the list. Several supporters mentioned the email when purchasing the trees or showed the promotion when completing their purchase. Most importantly, we have a verified constituent list that can be approached for other fundraising opportunities throughout the year.

A Boy Scout troop is a small organization. Yet even at this scale we see tangible benefits of using a tool like CiviCRM. The troop has barely scratched the surface of the many available modules and functions. If your organization (not only Boy Scout troops) might benefit from these kinds of tools, let us know how Lyons Digital Media/ can help you.

Update December 16, 2015:

The Troop 115 Christmas tree lot closed on December 14 due to a lack of inventory. Of course, we will be sorting through supporter data, tracking returning and new names and it looks like we will probably need more trees next year.

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LyonsHost and Installatron Makes Life Easier

LyonsHost and Installatron

You can prevent the biggest threat to your website with LyonsHost and Installatron, out of date software and failure to backup. That’s because outdated software is responsible for most of the vulnerabilities that hackers use. Fortunately LyonsHost performs daily backups automatically. As an Installatron Hosting Partner we give you easy tools for keeping your website software up to date.

You know not to leave your house or car keys out and unattended in public places. It’s just common sense. You also know safe and unsafe parts of town. It’s easy to forget that the Internet includes very rough places too. Even when you have a glimmer of how rough the Internet can be, it looks like too much work to take precautions against the lurking shadows.

Losing all the data for your website presents the worst case scenario . Years of work can disappear in an instant. Fortunately, we make backups of all of our servers daily, but Installatron gives you extra security by automatically sending a backup of your website to services like DropBox, a WebDAV server or any FTP address. You can set your preferred destination and let the software file your extra backups for you. It’s very easy.

If your website runs on a popular content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla or a number of other applications installed by Installatron, security against hackers sits at your fingertips. From your cPanel, you can tell Installatron to automatically run security and version updates for your CMS and for the plugins, themes and templates.

With powerful and easy to use tools like these from LyonsHost and Installatron, there’s no excuse to run out of date software. Finally, it’s easier to sleep at night when you know where your backups are and that you have the latest security patches for your website.

Small Biz Saturday

Today marks Small Business Saturday for the 2015 holiday season. We are big fans of small businesses of all kinds. Our friends and our client list are full of small business owners of all kinds. They all deserve a tip of the hat today and every day, from the small retail operator, to computer service technicians, and trades people. I’d include a list here, but I’m afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings by forgetting a friend, or a business name.

Of course, if you’d like to give a gift of website hosting and/or enterprise email, we will be happy to sell our services as well. We are a small business too. You can follow any sales link on our site to place an order. If your small business needs an online presence or you need to change what you are doing with your online presence, let us know. We want to be your cheerleader too.

Enjoy this weekend if you’re shopping. If you are open for business today, I hope you do very well today. If you need LyonsHost, we are always open.