Website Hosting (Data Backup, and Redundancy) – a few tips

I was looking over one of my websites a few weeks ago on a Sunday evening, and I started getting major errors on the site. I logged into my server, and after finding nothing obviously wrong, I gave the server the command to reboot.

About 5 minutes later, after the site didn’t return, I realized that there was a real problem. I called my host and asked them to check my server out. They proceeded to reboot the server, several times, and again nothing. After several minutes of diagnostics, the cause was traced the the primary hard drive, which had failed, mechanically.

Now, I backup my sites regularly, and I backup my databases, but even so I wasn’t prepared for a mechanical failure of the server. I have a very good host, and they worked at 2AM to get my server back up by the next day. After about 6 hours they got my server back up with a new hard drive, reinstalled operating system, new control panel, and then they handed it over to me.

Even with backups of everything, it has taken several weeks to get all of the sites back up and running. The ecommerce websites were the highest priority, so they went back up first. Just Ftp’ing the data back to the server took over 24 hours because there was a lot on there and there were a lot of individual websites on there. Then there were a bunch of SSL certificates that needed to be re-created, the firewall needed to be re-configured. In all there were over 80 websites that went down with the server.

The point:
The point to this article is to remind website owners that they need to make very sure that they have a backup in the event that their website goes down. Nobody expects it to happen, and nobody wants it to happen, but it does happen.

My recommendation:
Most importantly, use a good web host. Whether they do backups for you or not, make sure that your server is monitored and manned 24 hours a day. If I didn’t have 24 hour support, I could have lost thousands of dollars in sales the next day because my website would not have been live.

Next, pay the extra money for a mirrored RAID setup with your server. Unfortunately, this server didn’t have RAID at the time, but RAID would have completely prevented this problem from becoming as bad as it did. The server would most likely have been down for a little while, but none of the data would have been lost. RAID alone would have saved hundreds of hours of work in getting all of the websites back up.

Make Daily or Weekly backups of all of your data, especially information in your database. Most websites are cached in Google which can make restoring static pages simple, but there is nothing that can restore your database. If you update your sites daily, back them up daily. If you update them weekly, then back them up weekly.

Don’t store backups on the same server as the websites. In the event of a mechanical failure, all of your data on the failed hard drive will be gone. Keep backups on a remote computer.

If you store sensitive information on your server, and you need to back it up, make sure that your backups are encrypted and not stored on a public computer or server.

Full on load balancing and redundancy:
For most websites this is a bit of overkill, but if you have the traffic volume, look into getting several servers. You can setup server clusters, use DNS balancing, or traditional load balancing. There are many ways to ensure website redundancy, so your website never goes down. These setups are very expensive, but if you have the need, then the price is probably not the issue.

If you are looking for a managed or dedicated server, I highly recommend checking out 800 hosting. They have reasonable prices and their support is excellent. Any company that drops what they are doing for 6 hours to build a server at 2AM on Monday morning, passes the good support test in my book.

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  1. An e-commerce host should mainly accomplish the following two requests: safety and functionality. Safety: the store and client data should be safe against crackers (advanced security methods) and against distruction (raid disks, store a data mirror in a different location, even at miles away). Functionality: site must be uptime almost 100% (even with higher costs to assure this), technical support mut be real 24×7 and so on.

  2. Adrian 5 Dec, 2007

    I had this problem too once and I chose to test several website backup programs. After rigurous testing I found that SiteVault (http://www.site-vault.com) is a very good and professional solution. It is a bit costly ($99) but you can use it for as many sites you wish. And the main factor that convinced me to buy it was that OCZ Technology and MemoryC uses it and they have pretty big sites and lots of visitors.

  3. atmm 17 Jul, 2008

    why don’t you use Handy Backup, it is an automatic backup of your critical data virtually to any type of storage media including CD/DVD-RW devices and remote FTP servers.

  4. Installing a backup software on remote machines is not the ideal solution. You must have heard about load balancing of websites. Keep the data base and website running on another seperate machine which should get synced automatically from the remote pc

  5. Carson Adams 9 Jun, 2009

    Website backups are very important, we had learned a hard way. Few months ago our web host has gone out of business. Our site along with the contents vanished of the Internet. We had to recreate the whole thing all over again and waste 5 weeks and almost 3k on rebuilding from scrach. I highly recommend using an automated backup solution to stay safe. We use http://www.WebsiteBackup.ca for mirroring our website on weekly basis. If you are running a web based business you should always make sure you have a backup.

  6. Jesson 14 Aug, 2009

    Very informative information in your blog. I like it very much.


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