This is the 2nd part in a 4part series about website system administration. On Friday I explained that website security, data backup, server monitoring, and domain name management are all common tasks for the everyday average System Administrator. These topics are meant to enlighten you to the important background tasks that make your website run, and so you can appreciate the work that your IT staff does to keep your online business running.
I covered website security in detail on Friday. Today's topic is Data Backup.
There's nothing glamorous about backing up your website. It's a tedious process and someone has to do it. Your website hosting service will not include any type of backup plan unless you are paying extra for it. Website hosting less than $20 per month usually doesn't include a backup plan.
Anything can go wrong with your website at any time. As the system administrator for many jewelry stores, I've seen my share of catastrophes over the last 15 years. We get through most years without problems, but the last 6 months have seen several power failure, hard drive crash, bad storms, floods, and simple human error. Although you might not realize it, each of these situations can destroy your website in seconds.
When that happens you have no choice but to find the latest backup copy and get your website running with another web host. Not all website backups are created equally, and as far as I'm concerned there is only 1 perfect form of backup that I rely on, but before I explain it, I'll first explain the more common choices you have.
First, your web host probably offers a standard backup service that will keep copies for minimum of 1 day or maximum of 30 days. The cost of the backup service depends on how many days you want to save copies. This type of backup is usually stored on the same server hard drive that your website is on. This type of backup is good to protect against human error or website hacking, but it won't protect you from power failures or physical catastrophes.
The next type of backup service would be referred to as a remote backup. With this service a full copy of your website is usually zipped into a single file and then stored on another computer somewhere else. Depending on the level of service that remote location could be on another server in the same room, or it could be in a different building, even across the country.
Both of these backup services require some type of software to copy your website. If your web server crashes you can usually transfer the remote backup to a new web server hosted with the same company and get your site back online in only a few hours. Your hosting company should be using the same backup software on all there servers, making the restore process simple.
But in the extreme recovery situations those backup copies often become useless because the backup software is unavailable. I'd like to say that extreme recovery situations do not exist very often, but in fact they seem to be common enough that you should plan for it.
At my New Jersey office we've seen blizzards, hurricanes, and nor'easters that have knocked out communication and power for days. Hurricane Sandy even reshaped much of the New Jersey coastline when it hit in October 2012. There are many large hosting companies with data centers around NJ, and especially close to New York City; all of which are effected by big storms. Other areas of the country might worry about earthquakes or tsunamis.
Extreme recovery events are usually local or regional. During Hurricane Sandy most of the eastern coast of the United States was dealing with loss of power, loss of communication, loss of running water, and even complete loss of homes. Meanwhile, life continued as usual on the west coast of the United States. From the outsider's point of view all those websites knocked out by the storm seemed to be offline without any reason, which means a loss of business for yourself if your hosting company happened to be in the disaster area.
When it comes to extreme recovery events, the only 100% fool proof method of backup is to have all your website files copied individually to a storage location. You could have all the files copied to your personal hard drive too. No software is needed to read this backup copy because it's not zipped or compressed in any way. This is the 1 form of backup copy that I rely on. It is my personal choice because I can move a website to any hosting company in the time it takes to upload the site. There are no worries of incompatible software, but you would need someone to custom program a script to create this type of backup for you.
Another handy use of the individual file backup is that you can restore single website files when they are lost, or accidentally deleted.
After reading this I hope you look review your website's current backup plan, or create a new one. Again, this is not a service that is typically included n web hosting. You have to pay extra for peace of mind.