Just a few days ago one of the UK’s biggest web hosting businesses explained to irate customers that their websites had been deleted. To make matters worse, they were advised to rebuild systems from their own backup. Its not clear how many customers were affected, or the impact it will have had on their businesses. One thing is clear though – reputations have been damaged. Just imagine that you were one of the customers affected. What might be going through your mind?
What are my customers thinking?
How much business will I lose?
What are my options?
What surprises me is that we don’t hear more about this type of problem. It’s not attention grabbing. Yet it happens every day to someone, somewhere. Let’s face it, everybody makes mistakes. We should accept that and put in place procedures to deal with those mistakes.
Generally with computer systems this means making regular backups.
Still not convinced?
Here are 3 good reasons you should be in control of backing up your website
1 – Backups save money
Doing backups doesn’t cost a great deal. You might have buy a backup device, but you don’t need any expensive software. Sure you need to spend a little time either doing the backup or verifying the process. Compare that to the cost of picking up the pieces after you lose your website.
How much is each customer you lose worth?
What’s the value of the time you spend recovering your systems?
How much will you need to pay an IT expert to help you?
The irony is that once you have suffered some kind of data loss, then you will probably see the value of backups.
2 – Backups insure against cyber security threats
Every day you will see or hear a story about cyber security breaches. I won’t dwell on this topic here, suffice to say that regular backups are one of the key defences against cyber-attacks.
Backups won’t stop you leaking data, but they will help you to recover or insure you against ransomware attacks.
3 – If you can’t backup your website you can’t move it.
Web hosting providers are a mixed bunch. Most people I know initially choose a web host based on either cost or ease of use. Over time they tend to become dissatisfied with their provider, but feel locked in. I have moved provider 4 times in 10 years. In each case, my provider had either deteriorated or couldn’t provide the performance and features I needed.
Because I always back up my sites, I can move host within around 1 hour.
How to build a backup regime
So backups are important and the good news is they are really easy to build in to your routine.
Step 1 – Do some risk management
Have a quick think about your web hosting and ask yourself these questions
What if it failed?
What’s the recovery plan?
How soon can I get back on line?
How easy is it to change my provider?
Many people will use the same provider for web hosting, e-mail, DNS and domain registration. You may have more complex systems with separate providers. You may have more than one website. It helps if you can draw a picture of what you have.
Don’t worry if you can’t do this, but do find someone you trust that can.
Step 2- Have a backup plan for web hosting?
The problem is that most of us rely on promises that our data is backed up. We never question or test these assurances. You don’t have to be an expert to understand what is being backed up and who is doing it.
Why backups fail
Over the years I have seen so many backup systems fail. In each case the backup files or systems hadn’t been tested. So when your web hosting provider tells you that your data is backed up – ask them to prove it. You may have a hosting provider that does backups, but never checks to see if those backups work.
Most backup systems are automatic and not that straightforward. They need to be configured by humans and humans make mistakes. This means that a system can report that it is working each and every day, when in fact it is backing up the wrong files giving a false sense of security.
Do it yourself
Make your own backups. The chances are that your website will be running a content management system. This means that you need to backup database files and content directories. I use WordPress, so this is quite easy. I can copy all of the data I need in two operations. I then restore these files onto a new WordPress system and I’m up and going. Typically this takes an hour.
To do this you need to understand the basics of file transfer protocol (ftp) clients and databases. If you don’t there are easier but more costly solutions.
I generally do this once a month for sites that don’t change much. For a WordPress site with lots of content change e.g. posts and comments, you could back up the database more often. Some sites I back up daily and always before any configuration change.
Step 3- Test the plan
All you need is a replica system. The chances are that if you are using a shared hosting platform, you will have a number of spare systems you can use. If you have gone upmarket and have a virtual server, you may need a secondary server to test this.
Try to restore your backup onto a secondary system. What happens? If int doesn’t work – why? Answering the questions now is going to be easier than when you have a real disaster.
This may all seem a little daunting. It doesn’t matter – get an IT specialist who does understand all of this and make them show you how they would recover your system in the event of failure.
But it won’t happen to me
I really hope it doesn’t, but the fact is that it does happen. There are businesses that make good money recovering data and systems. In my working life, I have had to recover or rebuild complex systems because they weren’t backed up properly. Why take the chance?
If you want to find out more, there are lots of people that can help. If you fancy DIY then the company I use for hosting have some pretty good backup systems – take a look at wpengine. They are not the cheapest, but they make life easy.
If you want a more human approach from someone local then have a chat with James, who runs a local digital design company. He understands the need for regular website maintenance and provides this service to SMEs.