There are number of options available for creating or hosting a website for your department, lab, center, course, student activity, or personal site. This page explains the various options and their pros and cons.
It is important to take some time to think carefully about your options before proceeding. The cheapest or easiest option now may end up costing you more time in the future. By the same token, the most flexible option may prove to be unmaintainable by your successors or colleagues. If you still have questions after reading this document, you'll find a link to IS&T's Web Hosting Consultation service in the last section.
|Document Your Work|
The most common problem associated with websites is when a student, faculty or staff member inherits a web site from their predecessor and has no idea how it was configured or what special restrictions or considerations are in place. Please, for the benefit of your colleagues and fellow students, document any unusual configurations, locker layouts, access controls, etc. The typical convention is a "README" file in the top level of your locker – even if that file then directs future maintainers to at other documentation.
The following table provides a side-by-side comparison of the various options for hosting at MIT and their support for various common features. For an in-depth discussion of each of the various options, please scroll down past the table.
|Service||web.mit.edu||scripts.mit.edu|| Drupal Cloud
|Stellar|| MIT Wiki Service
|IS&T-managed server||Personal or DLC-hosted server||Outsourced Hosting Provider|
|Minimum skills required||Athena command line||Athena command line||None 2||None||None||Technical project management; willingness to hire web design contractor 6|| system administration
web server configuration
|Conceptual management understanding; willingness to make support requests to vendor|
|Best suited for...||a basic website||WordPress, MediaWiki, other web frameworks||a full-featured Drupal website without the overhead of system administration||Course websites||DLC wikis; activity or personal wikis||DLC "front door" websites that are central to institute functioning||Prototypes, custom technical needs, research projects||DLC needs; flexibility to take advantage of commercial offerings|
|Cost||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free 7||(varies) 8||(varies)|
|Support provider||IS&T||SIPB Volunteers 9||IS&T 10||IS&T||IS&T||(varies) 11||None||(varies)|
|Supports hostnames 1||3||3||3|
|Supports web forms||4||n/a||n/a|
|Supports access control||MIT certificates only||MIT certificates and website-specific passwords||Touchstone||Touchstone||Touchstone||5||5||(varies)|
|Supports personal wikis||5||5|
|Supports arbitrary custom web scripts or frameworks||5||5|
|MIT Sloan faculty are encouraged to contact the Office of Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a new personal website. Or, if you have a website in the “Scripts” template and would like to move out of it, you can find more information here on your options.|
1 An MIT hostname is a name that ends in .mit.edu, such as myactivity.mit.edu or mylabgroup.mit.edu. This is distinct from a subdomain, which are generally reserved for an entire department. For example, csail.mit.edu is a subdomain, and hostnames within that subdomain might include tig.csail.mit.edu or www.csail.mit.edu.
2 Drupal Cloud sites come with a basic template and configuration, so at a minimum, you need only provide your content. Additional Drupal configuration is possible for advanced users.
3 Selecting a hostname is required to use this service.
4 web.mit.edu supports a basic comment web form that can send e-mail, which you can use for a feedback form, or a sign-up link for an event. No processing of the data can be done on the server.
5 Because this option gives you complete control over your server environment, you can choose to accept MIT certificates or integrate with Touchstone, but development/programming experience is required. Similarly, because you have full control over the environment, you may install any web script or framework, including a wiki or blog of your choice.
6 In the IS&T Managed Server program, IS&T provides an environment ready to run the required website technologies, but software maintenance of the content management system itself (eg. WordPress updates) should be done by the customer, or by a suitable web contractor hired by the customer.
7 IS&T allocates space with discretion towards institute need/official projects. Customers usually hire a suitable web development contractor to maintain the website software.
8 Consult with your DLC or contact IS&T for more information. Costs may include: installation of a new network drop, purchase of the physical server, purchase of a warranty or SLA for the server, man-hours or headcount cost associated with server maintenance overhead
9 Scripts.mit.edu uses AFS for its storage. IS&T can provide basic assistance with uploading files to your AFS locker. SIPB's student members provide best-effort volunteer support for Scripts.
10 IS&T provides the Drupal platform and basic site provisioning. The Drupal Cloud Community is available for best-effort peer support.
11 For managed servers, IS&T provides basic configuration and operating system installation. For co-location servers, IS&T provides co-location service only.
In many cases, you may not need to create a standalone website. MIT has two primary platforms that can host content for you without any of the hassle of maintaining your own website or software. The primary advantage of both of these platforms is that you need only create the content you want to display and set up any group membership using standard Moira lists; you don't need to worry about software configuration or maintaining another set of usernames and passwords.
- Stellar: For professors or lecturers looking to create a website for a course, consider using Stellar. Stellar is ideally suited for a course website, and makes it easy to limit parts of the website to enrolled students only, set up discussion forums, and other common course-related features.
- Wikis: The MIT Wiki service provides a hosted environment suitable for setting up a wiki for your group, lab, department, course, UROP, activity, or even for your own personal use. A wiki is a great way to make knowledge or content available in a dynamic form, and wiki pages can also contain attachments or links to any type of content (PDF, zip files, etc). Wikis support basic hierarchies and tables of contents, as well as access control.
All courses, ASA activities, living groups, departments, labs and centers at MIT are eligible for an AFS locker. (Your group may even have a locker already – contact IS&T User Accounts if you need assistance identifying your locker.) You can host static content (i.e. .html files, images, PDF files, zip files, etc) on web.mit.edu, but cannot host dynamic content (e.g. wikis, blogs, PHP scripts, CGI scripts). You can restrict access to specific directories using MIT Certificates, but cannot restrict access with a username and password.
The URL for this space will be web.mit.edu/yourlockername.
The stuff.mit.edu server, run by SIPB (a student computing group), supplements sites hosted in AFS with a few additional features, including the ability to password-protect certain sections of your site.
The IS&T-run http://drupalcloud.mit.edu service is ideal for people who want to create a dynamic website, but who do not want the hassle of maintaining their own server or software. This service integrates with the MIT Touchstone service for authentication or access control, allows the creation of different user accounts for updating portions of the site, has interoperation with the MIT Events Calendar, and offers a variety of other modules. Because Drupal is a popular content management platform, you can also take advantage of the wide range of Drupal knowledge outside the MIT Community.
Scripts, run by SIPB, allows you to host dynamic content in your AFS locker, but you must access it through a scripts.mit.edu URL, or a hostname (e.g. something.mit.edu) registered through the Scripts infrastructure. Scripts provides automatic installers for popular software packages, including WordPress and MediaWiki. You can also run virtually any web script or hosting framework on Scripts, but you must have the technical knowledge to do so. The Scripts FAQ has more information about what is and is not possible on scripts.mit.edu.
The Scripts team also provides sql.mit.edu, which allows members of the MIT community to host MySQL databases. This integrates with many of the scripts.mit.edu auto-installers.
Finally, you can choose to maintain your own web server, either hosted somewhere in your office or DLC, as a hosted or managed server in the IS&T datacenter, or in a virtual environment such as SIPB's XVM service. This is often the most costly option in terms of money, time, or both. Running your own server requires that you stay up to date on security patches, and maintain the operating system in a secure manner. It also requires someone with considerable expertise to keep everything up to date, and recover from any issues that may arise. However, it does provide the most flexibility. If you do choose this option, particularly if you are a student, visiting scientist, or other member of the community whose time at the Institute is limited, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your colleagues and ensure that there is someone else in your group who has the necessary knowledge and skills to take over maintenance of the site.
We realize all these choices may be overwhelming, but we want to ensure you find the best option that meets your needs. If you need further assistance selecting an option, please fill out our Hosting Consultation Form, and an IS&T staff member can help you find the option that meets your needs.