Back That Thang Up

If you’ve never been there, you’re lucky. You sit down at your computer, pull up your website, and—it’s not there. It takes a few minutes for panic to set in, but your heart rate starts climbing immediately. Is it my Internet connection? No…Facebook works just fine. Is it my computer? You’re in denial. There’s no way your website can just disappear. But it has. And this realization sends you straight into panic-mode.

Cincinnati hosting

We recently had a client whose website was down, and upon further investigation they found that the database had just “disappeared.” (We didn’t do it, honest; they were already under contract with another company.) One might rationalize that since they had used a national hosting company, they were covered. No need to worry when the big guys have your back, right? Well, not necessarily.

So you turn to the cloud so you can sleep better, As it turns out, the recent Amazon outage affected a large percentage of their hosting customers in the Eastern half of the U.S. The “cloud” removes some of the hardware factors, like a fried hard drive on a server, but as Amazon proves, it is not a fail-safe hosting solution. If your work isn’t backed up, you run the risk of losing it all.

What most people don’t know is that backing up your work isn’t just protection from catastrophic failure. There are many more reasons one might need to access a backup:

  • A file is corrupted or overwritten
  • Someone accidentally deletes a file
  • A virus or hack takes place, and you must restore the site to a date before the occurrence
  • The hosting company goes out of business, or you can no longer access the files
  • An upgrade or patch “breaks” other aspects of the site (yes, we mean you Microsoft)

The bottom line is that, in case of situations like these, you entrust your hosting provider to supply reliable service and backup. However, there are a couple of things you should know:

  • The hosting agreement places at least a shared responsibility for backups on the customer. They will claim they are providing reliable hosting—not guaranteed backups.
  • You won’t know a backup has not worked until you need to restore something.
  • On a dynamic website, the development copy can be very outdated.

Clearly, taking the initiative to protect yourself—rather than relying on your hosting company to do it—is vital, and the best way to do this is by performing REGULAR BACKUPS! So let’s start with the most basic approaches and then move to more sophisticated alternatives.

1. Periodic manual backups: You could simply ask us to make regular backups by burning the entire website (and database) onto a CD, DVD, external hard drive, or other backup device.

Pros Cons
It’s Easy It’s a point in time, so it won’t be up to date for long.
You can store it off site It’s easy to misplace, especially in my office.
You can make multiple copies It’s manual

2. Backups using a server: You could have a second physical or virtual hard drive, or you could segregate one hard drive into multiple file directories.

Pros Cons
You can do it with your existing hardware. If the hardware fails, the backup fails.
It can be automated If the data center fails, you won’t have access to the backup.
If you’re doing full periodic backups, the storage space requirements will grow rapidly.
Set up can be complicated.

3. Remote Third Party Backups: There are dozens of third party backup services. Typically these require a script installed on your web server to synchronize files with the backup service.

Pros Cons
It may be a little more complicated to set up, but should be a snap once it’s ready to go. You trust your information with someone else.
It is automated, and can also be run manually if needed. You are relying on an Internet connection to do the synchronization.
If incremental backups are done, the storage requirements will be much less. In addition, some services will compress the information to lower the storage space. If you’re doing full periodic backups, the storage space requirements will grow rapidly.
The hardware and backup servers are located in different locations. You may not be able to run the backup script if you’re on a shared server.
Most services charge a reasonable monthly rate rather than needing to buy the hardware.
You can access the information from almost any computer with an Internet connection.
The information can be encrypted.

Some of the most notable third party backup services include:

  • Mozy (the one we use)
  • Iron Mountain
  • Carbonite
  • McAfee
  • iBackup

These services are well worth the money you spend on them. Mozy, for example, charges $6.95 per month and $0.50/GB of storage per month for server licenses. You spend thousands of dollars on insurance, so add a few more dollars a month to be sure your website and databases are reliably backed up.

And lastly, here are a few more things to consider:

  • Make sure your information is encrypted if it is of a sensitive nature.
  • Look for a service that notifies you if the backup was unsuccessful.
  • If a problem was not discovered for a while, 7 days of backups may not be enough.
  • The more critical the information is to your business, the more you should be willing to spend to ensure your data is protected.
  • While backups are important, having a restore process in place is equally important.

Trust me in saying that you want to use a third party backup service. At some point almost every hardware device is going to fail. And as Amazon learned, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Fortunately, Amazon was able to recover in a matter of a few days with minimal client data lost.

In our client’s case, their hosting provider used a backup copy from a few days earlier to restore the database. So, it ended well. We all breathed a sigh of relief, high-fived, and cheered with the excitement of a NASA control center after a successful mission (ok so this is slightly embellished). But the panic wasn’t worth it. Follow the advice of the illustrious hip hop star Juvenile, and always “back that thang up.”

US Digital Partners is a Cincinnati-based interactive marketing agency. We do website design and development, iPhone and Android app design and development, social media marketing, email marketing, plumbing and handy work, and much more for Cincinnati clients and beyond.

By Mark, Posted September 1, 2011

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