Top 10 Web Site Features #1

backupby Mark S. Burgess, Page Mountain LLC

“All the talk of getting my words out of mere electricity and onto sturdy disks had lulled me into the notion that the disks were actually sturdy. Now they suddenly seemed quite fragile.”
– William Zinsser
“Writing with Word Processor”

While not the sexiest and certainly not the first thing you think about when you consider a web site. This is easily the most overlooked and important part. The digital world changes fast and bits and bytes are way more ephemeral than most people think. You can have the greatest site on the planet, doing everything you want and one day you come to work and call it up and there is a skull and crossbones on the home page along with a ransom note for restoring it – or maybe you just get some form of NOT FOUND message. Suddenly, that work plan you had for the day, lunch with the boss or your spouse, that opportunity to tackle that ambitious TODO list are gone…maybe for days.

Given today’s web architectures, it’s also not a matter of making a single copy. A web site is a collection of edits – from the way it looks to the content on it – accumulated over time. Rewinding back to some past point and trying to wind it forward will cost as much and maybe more than the first time you did it. And the threat of hacking goes on top of hardware failures to drive the need for a complete backup scheme.

Web sites evolve over time so they represent a lot of decisions that get backed up along with the data.
First, make sure there is a backup made that sits on the server where your site is located. That makes it easy to do a simple restore in the case of minor issues.

Next, make sure there is a file-by-file (and if you have a database, a copy of the database) that is stored off the server. Some cloud service companies offer an “image Backup” but that means you have to restore everything to a past point when only one file was lost.

Send the file-by-file backup to DropBox or Google Drive or Microsoft’s Onedrive. And when you do that, don’t just replace a single copy. Keep multiple days, weeks and months. That might seem overkill, but you likely won’t know the date that a hacker got control of your site. Being able to pick the window to restore it is important.

It shouldn’t have to be mentioned – but here we are: make sure the computer you use to originate content is backed up. Sometimes, going back to how you assembled a blog entry or posted an image is the only sure restoration. Time Machine on the Mac is the best program I’ve ever used to backup a laptop. Where Carbonite does documents, Time Machine can do an entire laptop. I ran Carbonite to restore a failed hard drive in a laptop and it ran for three days and was incomplete. Time Machine restored the drive in a couple of hours.

If you don’t restore now and then, how do you know it’s backed up?
Lastly, and this is the part of the overlooked backup that gets overlooked yet again: Develop a restoration habit. Regularly, pick a backup to restore. If it takes time and can’t be done quickly, pick a window to announce “Maintenance” so users aren’t placing orders or making changes. Go through the same process you would if there had been damage. Make sure there is a way to tell that the data got replaced: make a trivial change before the restore and see if it’s still there afterward. After taking the steps to make sure you’re backed up, it’s a disaster if all that effort went to waste because the backup was corrupted.