Formulate a Web Site Data Backup Plan

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In the past decade many businesses, both long established and newly formed, have made the Web a key revenue-generating channel. Billions of dollars are transacted yearly over the Web. For many, going online to make a purchase or find information that will lead to a purchase is now second nature.


A natural consequence of this situation is that enormous amounts of very valuable data are stored on computers. And as we all know, computers tend to die from time to time. For every business that uses the Web as a revenue channel, its data are an important company asset. The loss of a customer order database could be devastating, leading to unfulfilled orders, dissatisfied customers and loss of touch with thousands of clients. Depending on one computer alone, death-prone machines that they are, is a formula for disaster.


Since it is self-evident that preventing the loss of all of a business' orders and customer information is important, why is it that backup solutions are among the lowest priorities of most businesses shopping for Web hosting?


Backups could be compared to life insurance policies for your Web operation, but they are more. Quality backups are like a life insurance plan that would resurrect you if you passed away, rather than simply grant your loved ones monetary assistance.


Like a Web hosting plan, a backup solution should be chosen appropriately for what the company does on the Web. Businesses running small brochure sites need the most modest sort of backups. However, businesses collecting data from customers and prospects through the Web need very reliable backup solutions. The acid test for a backup plan is whether it provides the means to restore your site to a fully operational condition within one hour after a server crash.


A modest backup suitable for a brochure-style site can consist of simply keeping a spare copy of all of the files on a separate computer. If the site is such that visitors do not submit to any databases or add any content, then this type of backup is perfect. A basic brochure site can be restored quickly with this type of backup.


Sites that dynamically interact with visitors and constantly write new information to databases cannot rely on simply keeping spare copies of their files. Those copied files are outdated quickly. Databases that accept information online need to be backed up frequently. How frequently depends on how important the data are to the company and how unacceptable some data loss is in a disaster.


For a relatively low traffic site where the data collected isn't critical, weekly backups may suffice. For sites collecting large amounts of orders and client information every day, daily backups are a minimum requirement. The very largest e-commerce sites have been known to take backups hourly, or even have their data constantly written to backup computers in a process known as replication.


Technologies for backup solutions vary depending on the operating system platform and the type of data being backed up. In a Windows environment, Veritas' (www.veritas.com) BackupExec is a premier solution for those who cannot afford any data loss. Veritas produces special agents to work with many leading software applications to ensure data from those applications are backed up perfectly. In a Unix environment, open source backup software such as Bacula (www.bacula.org) makes for a high-quality, low-cost solution.


Along with the software products that run backups, businesses must consider what type of media they want their backup stored on. Choices include secondary hard drives in the same computer that runs the site, tape drives, separate network storage devices and CDs or DVDs.


CDs and DVDs make great portable backups, but are limited to relatively small file sizes (roughly 700MB and 4.8GB, respectively). Network storage devices can be very expensive, but can backup enormous amounts of data. Tape drives offer perhaps the best balance of cost, storage capacity, portability, security and quality. Backups done to a second hard drive are easiest on the budget and fastest in terms of restore time, but are vulnerable to corruption when the disaster is caused by a hacker.


Choosing a backup plan should be done in consultation with an experienced professional who can help you design a solution that will let you restore your site to full functionality as quickly as needed. Though often overlooked in the price-conscious shopping process, backups are critical to the long-term success of any Web operation. Computers being what they are, after a certain amount of time it is a given that your backup solution will be tested. It is just a matter of when. It is best to be prepared for this day with an appropriate backup solution.


Consider the following four things to do when administering backups:


· Have a written policy and procedures in place on how a restore from backup should be handled. In a crisis, this cuts down on confusion and lets the process move more smoothly.


· Test restores from backup. This is critical. Complex applications might require special software agents or configurations to backup and restore properly. Ensure the test restore is successfully accomplished in a time frame acceptable for a real restore. If the process takes too long, you may have to reconsider your backup strategy.


· Physically protect backup data from hackers and thieves. Someone getting an unencrypted backup is just as bad as someone breaking in.


· Keep copies of software that may need to be reinstalled along with your backups. This includes operating systems, software applications and security patches for either of those.


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