Sat, 18 Jun 2011

Virtual Creations encourages all our clients to have backups of their websites. We can help you if you don't know how.

Last week, Distribute.IT, a major player in the Australian hosting industry, had their network attacked by hackers.  The bulk of their infrastructure was destroyed, taking with it thousands of Australian websites.  It is likely that the great majority of those websites will be brought back online, but at this time (one week later), many sites are still offline, with a chance that they'll possibly be lost permanently.  The attack is being touted as the worst incident in the Australian hosting industry's history.

Virtual Creations was actually using Distribute.IT as one of our wholesale hosting providers, but less than 4% of the websites we host were on Distribute.IT servers.  We quickly contacted the owners of each of those sites individually, and were able to get all those websites back online with a new wholesale provider in a timely manner.  Little or no data was lost, but only because we were diligent in having taken frequent backups of those sites.

Consequences of not being backed up
Some of the smaller Australian hosting companies who relied on Distribute.IT for their wholesale hosting needs are now faced with the real possibility of going out of business, mostly because they had no backup systems in place.  We were not affected like that, but the severity of this incident has required that we review our own systems for disaster recovery.  Here is a brief summary of our state of readiness:
  • About 20% of our clients pay us a nominal fee (see below) to take regular (nightly) backups of their websites.  These tend to be websites that have their own databases for membership or eCommerce functionality.  These clients are not exposed in the event of server failure.  If you are one of these clients, you need read no further.
  • A large number of the websites on our servers are simple "static" HTML websites, with content that rarely changes.  If you have one of those websites, and Virtual Creations developed it for you, then rest assured - we have an offline copy of your website on our office network.  So you are equally safe - you don't actually need a backup system for your website.  If your site is a static HTML site and Virtual Creations did not develop it for you, then in all likelihood your website developer has a copy of your site on their own office network.  We recommend that you contact them ASAP to ascertain the currency of this offline copy.
There is, however, a great number of our clients that do not fall into either of the above categories, and these clients are exposed in the event of a server attack or failure.  Specifically, your website is at risk if:
  1. You do not have a comprehensive backup strategy in place, AND
  2. Your website has dynamic content.  For example, it has its own database, or it's a blog or other content-managed site using such technologies as as WordPress, Joomla, or Virtual Creations' own content-management system "virtualCMS".
If you're not sure about your site, please contact us and we'll help you determine the state of your disaster readiness.

The Backup Solution We Offer
Naturally, you're more than welcome to set up your own backup system if you want to.  But if you would like us to provide you a comprehensive, professional and reliable backup solution for your website, we'd be happy to help.  We offer a backup solution to all our clients with the following features:
  • Your website database (if you have one) is backed up nightly.  A database (if you have one) is the most active part of a website, and changes the most frequently (the details of all your products, orders, members, events, etc).
  • Your website files are backed up monthly.  The files on your website typically don't change all that often, and it's likely that either you or Virtual Creations will have offline copies of all files anyway.
  • All backups are done to a different server, on a different network (in a different country!)
  • All historical backups are kept, meaning that you can restore data from any date in your website's history.
  • Restores are free.  If you suffer data loss (even if it's through human error, accidentally deleting files, etc), we will recover that data for you from our backups for no charge.
The cost for this service is $50 per year (plus GST for Australian customers).  If you would like us to add this system to your own website, please contact us without delay.

One-Time Backups
If your website is relatively static, and almost never changes, we can take a one-off snapshot of your entire hosting account (including your website, databases, email accounts, DNS settings, etc) for $30.  You can keep that backup on your own computer, or we'll keep it on our office network, if you prefer.

But doesn't my Virtual Creations website hosting package already come with a backup solution included?
Actually, no.  A backup solution is not included in any of the hosting packages we offer.  Having said that, we DO have a rudimentary backup system in place on our servers, taking nightly snapshots of the server files.  But we do this as a second line of defence, and ask that our customers do not rely upon it.  We may have to discontinue it one day, due to server resource constraints.

If you have any questions or comments about any of this, or would like to discuss a backup solution for your website, please contact us.