Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Is Your Web Host Ready For Anything? Than Neither Is Your Web Biz!

Is Your Web Host Ready For Anything?

Just How Safe Is Your E-Business?

We’ve got drought in the midlands. We’ve got flash floods, mudslides, earthquakes and raging infernos throughout California (why don’t you people just move?). In the Northeast, there are blizzards and cold snaps that make grown men weep. Yep, you never know what to expect – but you can expect natural disasters and unnatural disasters to strike and when they do, are you out of your online business?

Web Servers – a Primer

A short lesson for those just joining the online community. Your website is delivered to the world wide web through a server owned by your web host. Now, if you have a shared hosting program (entry-level and low cost – good) you share a server with a couple of hundred other web sites.

That server, which connects your business to your customers, isn’t an abstract concept. It’s a piece of hardware. You can buy a network server from Dell for less than $1,000. No mystery. A server is just a big box with massive storage capacity that’s plugged into the web matrix so your site is visible from Singapore to Sandusky.

Small hosting companies have a few servers all chugging away. The big web hosting companies have dozens and dozens of black boxes (servers) all spewing forth the stuff we see on the W3.

Now, like all electronics gear, web servers aren’t partial to the elements. Leave one out in the rain and watch the sparks fly. Leave a network server outside overnight in International Falls, MN and you’ve turned a perfectly good server into a door stop. Get the picture? These pathways to the web are delicate, and they require protection.

What’s Your Web Host Doing to Protect Against Floods?

What’s the worst that can happen?

The building housing your server floods, cooking your site’s server in the process. Umm. You’ll be down for a while, that’s a fact. But wait, if the water cooked your server, all of the other sites on the server are in trouble. All need fixing fast.

Now, imagine the backwash from a busted water main wipes out 30 servers. Man, you are going to be down well past the holiday shopping season and you know that’s going to hurt.

A responsible web host prepares for the worst contingencies. For example, in the case of flooding, servers should be elevated at least a foot off the ground. If we’re talkin’ a Noah-sized flood, nothing is going to help, but that 12-inch buffer between your server and the raging tide may just keep you online – even during a flood at your server location.

Web Servers and Power Outages

Power outages are a commonplace annoyance but we accept them as we eat a barbequed dinner by candlelight. Tree limbs fall. But hurricanes and tornadoes also hit, uprooting trees and tearing down electrical wires in the process. Hey, if you happen to go for a low-ball web host, your server could be in a hut in Bangladesh for all you know and electricity may NOT be taken for granted.

Ask your web host how it handles power outages. Most will tell you there’s nothing they can do about the loss of power until power is restored. Ahh, but the good host is ready for any contingency. If the host loses power from the local grid, the host’s back-up generators automatically kick in without missing a beat. Online visitors won’t even see a blip.

It’s not always easy to tell where your host server is. Resellers by disk space in bulk from web hosts and sell it in smaller chunks to retail customers like you and me. So the company, our web host, may be red, white and blue and call itself The All-American Web Hosting Company, but for all you know, your host server is just west of Katmandu.

Ask your host for the physical location of your server. If it’s not at least in the U.S. keep looking for a host. Believe it or not, web hosting has become popular in Iran. Yea, that’s a good way to start your online business – with a server in Iran.

Fire! Fire!

What kind of fire suppression system does the web host have in place? Is it designed to protect non-involved servers, i.e. a smart system, or does the server room simply fill with fire-retardant foam, taking your database with it.

Don’t think it’s a problem? Servers use electricity and because they do, they create heat. Lots of it. That’s why server rooms are air conditioned. If they weren’t, there’d be so much heat build up you could cure hams in there.

Be sure to ask your web host what kind of protection they have in place to fight a small electrical fire or a catastrophic fire that melts 50 servers into plastic lumps. Hey, that’s your site on that lump!

Site Sabotage

So, okay, you’ve checked that prospective web host and found that all servers are on the 40th floor (let it rain) and the company does have back-up generators on site to cover for power outages. So far so good.

But what about the proverbial “disgruntled employee.” The tech head who was just passed over for a promotion, or the new guy who’s just testing his hacker chops at the server level. Who’s working on your server?

It’s not a common problem among well-respected, long-time hosting companies who do background tests, random drug testing and take other proactive measures to ensure all of those who have access to the server room (the Mother Lode) are properly checked and rechecked.

In addition, quality hosting companies limit access to the server room and security is reminiscent of a Level 3 Max security prison. There’s usually a keyboard or some type of biometrics device used to gain access to the server room, and the entire place is under constant video surveillance. It won’t stop the major whack job, but whack jobs are usually detected before they reach the trusted level of server technician.

Beaucop Bucks?

Hardly. You should expect this level of security and protection for pennies a day. Literally. Pennies a day.

You can purchase quality hosting from a web host that has contingency plans for everything from massive flooding (elevate the servers) to hoards of locust (Please shut the door so the locusts don’t get in. Thank you.)

Hosting is competitive. Just Google “web hosts” and you’ll get the idea. The premium web hosts have a long history (at least 10 years), near-perfect uptimes (accept nothing less than 99.9%) and both security and contingency plans in place. The small timers have a single server in Mumbai and during the annual rainy season service is…umm intermittent.

So spend a little to get a lot. A lot of protection. A lot of security. And contingency plans for any event. (Okay, maybe not a UFO attack, but if that happens, you’ll have more important things on your mind.)

When shopping around for a web host or a new web host, go with one willing to spend the time, money and effort to provide multiple layers of protection for your website. You may not need it today, but when those locusts hit, you’ll be glad you spent a little extra to get those locust-proof doors at your server site.

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