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Is your website backed up?

By November 17, 2016November 22nd, 2016Security

A backup is like a life-preserver for your website. Hopefully, you’ll never need it. But if something goes wrong, it can save your website.

The importance of backups

The importance of backups may seem obvious, but the devil is in the details. Let’s take a look at three important backup objectives.

1) Backups can protect against data loss.

Natural disasters happen. Everywhere. That includes the regions where your website is hosted. If you don’t keep backups outside of the region where your website is hosted, you’re at risk of losing your data.

As surprising as it may be, most hosting companies don’t make guarantees about the integrity or longevity of data. In fact, if you read the terms of service on most shared hosting policies, you’ll likely run across language to this affect: “You agree to take full responsibility for all files and data transferred and to maintain all appropriate backup files and data stored on [host company]’s servers.”

2) Backups can protect against malware.

Some disasters are man-made. If your website is compromised, it may be very costly to remove all vestiges of malware. Restoring a backup of your website may be the simplest option.

3) Backups can provide data portability.

Even if nothing bad ever happens to your website or server, backups are still a good idea. Why? Separation of powers. One entity should never have complete control over your website. This applies equally to large, “trusted” companies and to small, independent contractors.

If your host goes out of business, would you be able to take your website to another provider without the help of your original host?

Not all backups are equal

Obviously, you want your website to be protected in all of the above ways. But depending on what backup service you use, that may not be the case. Here are some different options.

1) Same server backups.

Backups that reside on the same server as the original data often come at no extra charge with your hosting plan. But the usefulness of these backups is limited. They fail to provide protection in the event of a natural disaster. And there is no guarantee of data portability.

Just this summer, we had a client come to us after their website database went missing. They were using a big name hosting company. Unfortunately, the database backups were gone too. The client’s only option was to totally rebuild their database.

2) Cloud backups.

Clouds are good, but knowing exactly where your backups are is better.

Cloud backups may seem to have an advantage over same server backups. That’s because, in general, the “cloud” refers to multiple data centers storing the same information.

Remember though, the “cloud” is just a buzzword. And different companies define “cloud” differently. There is no substitute for knowing where your backups are hosted.

3) Automated, remote backups.

For the best level of protection, your website backups should be stored in a datacenter that is far away from your production server. For the sake of portability, these backups should be maintained by a 3rd party. (Not your website host.)

It’s also very important to automate the process of taking these backups. You don’t want to rely on anyone’s (even your own) memory to backup important data.

Backup schedule and retention policy

How frequently you take backups really depends on your business. Here it pays to be a bit of a pessimist. Imagine a reasonable worst case scenario. (Now, I said reasonable. If all civilization is destroyed, you won’t care about your website.) What would the cost of the data loss be? What is the cost of more frequent backups? Weighing these factors will allow you to come up with sensible backup intervals.

Similarly, you should consider how long you’d like to retain your backups. Usually it’s not practical or worthwhile to preserve every backup forever. But are there business reasons for you to retain some old backups? In the case of litigation, would it be helpful for you to produce a copy of your website as of a certain date?

It doesn’t have to be complicated

Automated, remote backups are just one of the services included in our monthly website maintenance service. So if you’d like to adopt a new backup strategy or if you’re just not sure where you stand, we’d be happy to schedule a free consultation with you.