You might not think you need a crash plan for your website, but emergencies and strange situations can crop up at any time.
Paul Capizzi, vice president of technology for SBLI USA, shared the issues his customer-facing websites faced in August 2003, during a widespread blackout.
“We had a good plan in place, but when the power is down for that long and you don’t have a redundant data center, there’s only so much you can do,” he said.
It is impossible to completely prevent an outage, but businesses should take care to have a crash plan in place. Using technology and the assistance of hosting partners, you can ensure that downtime is minimal, and unnecessary downtime is non-existent. This helps you quickly restore service, too, so your customers will not deal with connectivity issues for long. Overall, a crash plan should be in place to minimize the impact an outage will have on your business and your clients.
In Capizzi’s case, redundancy was the way to go. His company hosts its own sites and data center, has multiple ISPs, and backups for web servers and battery power. This keeps customers connected to the website and meets all of the demand on the business websites, as well as ensuring reliability and data protection.
How can you justify a crash plan, and the infrastructure needed to prevent an outage? You first must consider how much your online operations impact your business revenue. If downtime directly translates to lost sales, or lost customers, it is easy to tell that you should have a plan in place. If you aren’t sure how your website impacts your business overall, conduct a study to be able to properly value your online presence.
Options for infrastructure can be complex, like Capizzi’s, or you can simply ask your web host for a static page that will display a message indicating your site is down but will be back, branded with your company information so your users still feel connected to you instead of reaching a generic error page. This is likely a good solution if your website solely exists to generate leads and give customers basic information – if they encounter the static page they may simply try again later, or find another way to get in contact with the company.
However, if you rely on your website for business transactions, downtime will cost revenue and customers, as well as time and money spent on restoration. If this is the case for your company you will want a more robust crash plan than a static page!
Your first step should be performing regular, daily backups of the systems your website accesses. Don’t trust the backups to be safe and complete without testing them – be sure to actually check your backups to ensure they are working correctly and contain the data you need. You can do this easily, by uploading a file, deleting it, and requesting that your hosting company retrieve it. The host should be able to do this quickly, and if they cannot, you may have a problem. You should also backup your site on your own, regularly, so you have multiple options for restoring.
Be aware of what your hosting options cover and make sure you are working with a provider who has a good track record for up time. Choose a responsive, reliable host, and you will be glad you did so if you need assistance in an emergency. You will want a host that can respond to your issues as quickly as possible, and work with you to get your website up and running before it causes problems for your customers.
While choosing a hosting provider, consider whether you want shared hosting or a virtual private server – shared hosting is less expensive but poses security issues for data and customer orders. You can contract with various ISPs or hosting companies, or single-source your web host with one provider. Single-sourcing is less reliable for availability, so working with multiple vendors is a good way to protect against points of failure.
Log and monitor your data yourself, instead of simply relying on your web host. Be sure to maintain clear, comprehensive logs – note any changes to the site, who made them, and when, as you will need all of these details if you are faced with a restoration following downtime. Monitoring your data through a dedicated service is a good way to know if you are experiencing outages in certain locations.
If you do experience an outage, this is where your crash plan comes into play – don’t panic, but be sure to implement it as soon as possible. Your first contact should be your hosting company, which can look into the issue on their end and determine if it’s a hosting problem or something on your end. You can take this time to reach out to clients and other contacts and let them know that your site is down, giving them an estimated restoration time if you have that information. It’s important to continually update your customers so they know what to expect, without inundating them with information. Make your updates available to whoever wants or needs them.
You can contact IT professionals for greater assistance, if you are out of your league or have reached the end of what you can do on your own. This may cost more money, but remember that every minute your site is down translates to long-term impacts on your business. Paying for emergency services is one way to get your site restored quickly and effectively, so you can get back to work without losing your client base permanently.