Data center fire

Why having backups for your website is critical

Alex Johnson
Owner & Designer

Note: This article may hit home to hundreds who have been affected by the fire we mention, and our heart goes out to those affected. Cover photo is a still shot from news footage. Image rights remain the property of the original owners.

Many people think of a website as a set it and forget it. Once that website is online, they forget to go in and do anything with it. But having backups is extremely important to protect your website from the unknowns that can occur. Let’s look at some of the key reasons why and how you should setup your backups.

A little backstory

On March 9th 2021, a fire broke out in one of the data centers of a Cloud Services provider in France. Despite having fire protection, the system was quickly overwhelmed and even though the firefighters arrived quickly they were also unable to contain the blaze.

The fire grew and ended up overtaking a portion of a second data center as well. The third and fourth data center on the same site also got shutdown during the fire due to the increased risk. The provider who owners the data center was quick to notify everyone and instruct businesses to implement their data recovery plan.

At the time of this writing, a chunk of these services and sites have not been restored. And it is still unclear if the provider will be able to recover any data. This could mean hundreds to hundreds of thousands of websites, especially those of small companies, could have lost everything from their business online. Website, email, everything could be gone.

Server backups are important

A proper disaster recovery plan will have your website backed up both at the server level and an off-site location. Many decent hosting providers offer on-site server backups at no or little extra cost. This should always be considered your first line of defense.

Server level backups great to have. It allows you to quickly take a backup and then upgrade a plugin or make a minor change. If something goes wrong, you can easily restore the site. This can normally be done in a matter of minutes.

But what happens when your site gets a virus, and you don’t notice for 2 weeks? Many hosting providers only provide the last week worth of server level backups. These backups are only designed as a quick, short term solution.

Additionally, as my story above pointed about, the provider has no idea if or when some of these services will be restored. If you rely entirely on server backups, you may have just lost everything for who knows how long.

The power of off-site backups

An off-site backup gives you the power to move or control your site regardless of your hosting provider. Even when the host is down, you can move to any other provider. You are no longer bound in certain types of emergencies.

An ideal choice for an off-site backup provide would place your backups in another area of the country. Some of the best backup providers even have redundant locations. Our backup provider, Amazon S3, breaks the data up, stores it on multiple drives, servers and even locations if I desire.

Should the unthinkable happen, you need to have a plan in place. You cannot rely on all your information in a single location. In fact, I recommend having your website with one host, your email on another, your domain with a different provider, the DNS with one and lastly the backups on their own separate provider. The more you spread your services out, the less likely you are to be taken down when stuff hits the fan. And the faster you can recover from it when it does.

An on-site and off-site backup plan

So now you know how important backups are, does that mean you should only keep one copy? No way! You need to come up with a plan that matches your business needs. But what should that plan look like?

Let’s start with on-site backups. If your provider offers a local backup option, this should be turned on. If there is a cost, I still highly recommend it. You never know when you may need it, and sometimes a quick restore can get you out of a jam. If available, have this set for at least 7 to 14 days.

Next comes off-site backups. Just because we have server backups from above, we still need a copy of the data off-site. This copy should also include everything the server backups already have. There are however a lot more factors to consider when deciding a policy of how much data to keep for how long off-site.

How many changes?

The first factor is how often the site has changes made to it. If you are a blogger and write an article every day, would you want to lose even one of those articles? But what if you are a small business, with no blog and mostly static information? You could probably afford to lose a week of data as much of it may not have changed at all.

Files vs database?

If your website operates on any kind of content management system, it will have a database in addition to the static files such as images. This allows you to choose what things have changed and backup those sections more.

For example, on my own websites and most my client sites, I have a daily complete database backup running. But the files on these same websites do not change as often, thus we choose to only incrementally backup the files that change daily. Then each week we backup everything else. This saves space and allows for quick daily backups.

E-commerce sites will require more often and more robust backups. As the data is constantly changing, and sales are happening, you need to be able to restore those as quickly and efficiently as possible. You don’t want to lose order info and have to guess what people ordered after they paid you. That is never a good spot to be in.

Space is generally cheap

Website hosting data center

Many backup providers offer disk space at a crazy low value. I pay around $0.005 per GB of storage. With the average website being 0.5GB, I can backup that same website many times over for less than $1.00. When in doubt, back up more and save it for longer. Some companies charge more to restore, which is important to consider if you don’t have good server backups.

Our backup plan

Over time I have refined my backup process based on the clients and types of websites I have. The plan works well for each client. Remember, it is only a guide and you should evaluate and come up with your own.

Remember, you have to occasionally test your backups. If you don’t, they may not work when you actually need them to. Do a test restore to a staging site or local setup. Make sure you trust the solution that you put in place.

On-site Server Backups

I have this set to 30 days for our client sites and 14 days for my own sites. This allows me to quickly roll back and test without touching the cloud backups.

Off-site Backups

I prefer a strong and long backup policy when using off-site storage. Again, it is cheap insurance. My policy for files is a complete weekly backup, with daily incremental backups. These are retained for 8-12 weeks depending on the site. Databases are backed up daily, running overnight.

Each database backup is retained for 60 to 90 days. Based on this, I can restore a site for at least two months back from the current date. Since all the websites we manage are serviced regularly, issues that arise can be resolved long before the end of the 60 days.

Now it’s your turn

Have I convinced you of the importance of backups yet? If so, go get started on your data recovery plan. Don’t wait. To get you started, here are a few of our preferred providers.


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