Well, ever since the old Rackspace server contract finished, I’ve had the www.acs-solutions.co.uk domain pointing at the most excellent new poundhost server (silly name but great value and great service) with a trivial holding page. I thought "I must do it properly. I’ll get help from a designer, create a great CSS layout, build it using the Microsoft tools – ASP.NET (+- MVC), SQL Server, and maybe a CMS like Sharepoint or DotNetNuke". But the simple facts are that ACS Solutions is a software company, not a web design company, we needed a "shop front" now, and nobody really cares how we’ve done it… So after a bit a of faffing about, I cheated.
I set up a website on http://www.officelive.com and used the passable content editing tools to enter the content and give it a basic layout. I picked a colour scheme from their palette which I hope isn’t too horrid. It was, to be honest, very easy. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to create a basic business website without support from a "computer person". The layout uses tables. which is yukky and quite a surprise in this day and age, but right now it’ll have to do.
There are some disadvantages though with OfficeLive. When you get started, it asks if you want to register a domain name. Well, we’ve had acs-solutions.co.uk for years, so for me and most established companies,the answer is going to be "no". So I got a website with the catchy and memorable url ACSSolutionscouk.Tech.officelive.com. I had expected that there’d be some simple way I could point my DNS at their servers and make it work as http://www.acs-solutions.co.uk. However, on closer inspection, the supported method is to change your domain’s DNS servers to point to the officelive DNS. Arrgghhh! I can’t hand complete control over to my domain! What about my mail with spam filtering by postini, my SPF records, my other hosts, etc? Well, the answer lay with a neat trick I learned from Matt Lee when we were at the NHS.
Being an open-source dude, Matt was fronting websites with Apache httpd, and using a module called mod_rewrite to forward requests to a remote website. The thing is, we’re a Microsoft shop and don’t want to run Apache when we’ve got IIS7. The good new is that since Windows 2008 and IIS7 were released, the IIS team have released loads of additional modules, and yep, one of them is URL Rewrite. This brings most of the power of mod_rewrite to the Microsoft webserver. We’ve used it effectively as a “404 handler”, so if a page or file exists on our hosted webserver, it’s served straight out, otherwise it’s fetched from our new OfficeLive website. All done in two simple rules.
I hope to replace the OfficeLive site with a full custom effort at some point, but frankly it’s probably not going to be for a while because it just works.