Averting disaster with backups
One of the main responsibilities that any website owner has is to ensure that their site continues to exist. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to become distracted by the day-to-day minutia so much that you forget about long-term objectives.
There are generally two ways that your site can completely and suddenly collapse: your writers all walk out or you suffer catastrophic data loss. While the former might be more straightforward to anticipate, the latter is entirely unpredictable.
Imagine for a minute that you wake up and your website is gone. Years of work thrown out of the metaphorical window, with just an email from a “very sorry” host to show for it. It’s unlikely that you could ever fully recover from such an event. Even if your writers retained a copy of each article they wrote on their local machine, you’d still have to find images for each one, on top of building a new site and apologising profusely to everyone.
What can you do to avoid such a catastrophe? Backup! Doing so is not only trivial to setup, but also extremely inexpensive. You may not backup your own computer, but when it comes to your site, you’re protecting the collective work of your entire team.
Surveying your assets
While some backup is always better than none, it’s best to develop a plan that covers every component of your site. First, consider the assets that need protecting. These are generally:
- Website code
- The database
The website’s code is likely to be on your machine already, so this is usually the least of your worries. However, your images and database are probably only on the server, so if that fails, they’re gone. Any good backup plan covers all three of these, as losing any one can have almost as big an impact as losing the lot.
Principles of a good backup
When you’re planning how to backup, the two most import aspects to consider are location and timing. Some hosts offer an automatic backup service, but the backup servers are often in the same physical location as your main server; if the building burns down, your site is toast. The best type of backup, then, is a remote backup. Ideally, you should have a copy of your site in a completely different area of the country, or even world.
Another thing you should investigate is how often backups are done. Running daily backups instead of weekly ones will greatly reduce your vulnerability. However, if you are running daily backups, be sure to check how many of these are being kept at any one time and when they are deleted. If only one daily backup is kept and you take two days to notice that everything is gone, then the most recent backup will have nothing in it.
Enter Amazon S3
There are many ways to backup a site, but one of the best is using Amazon S3. This is a mass storage solution that has almost no interface or features, but which is inexpensive and reliable.
Once you’ve signed up for an account, you have to decide how you’re going to get your data into S3. If you’ve got a custom CMS as we have at Thunderbolt, then you’ll have to write a few scripts to get it to work, although much of the work can be done by code that’s already out there, such as the Amazon S3 PHP Class. However, if you’re using WordPress as many sites are these days, setting up backup to Amazon S3 is remarkably easy.
Backing up WordPress to S3
There are several backup plugins for WordPress, but one that I’ve tried and tested is Automatic WordPress Backup by Dan Coulter. This handles your themes, uploads and database at the same time. Once you’ve installed it, you simply enter your Amazon S3 access details, pick a few settings and then leave it to get on with it.
Backing up your data is extremely important, but fortunately it’s affordable for any site, straightforward to setup and rarely requires maintenance. When protecting your site against such an unpredictable and devastating threat is so simple, what excuse do you have not to?