Having no doubt signed (and hopefully read) a contract at some point in time, the words "force majeure" are most likely familiar to you. Literally, it’s fancy talk for "greater force." Mother Nature. Acts of God. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Collapsing powergrids. Given the undeniable existence of forces majeure, imagine every cent of every financial transaction processed through your site and upon which your entire livelihood rests passed through a single payment processor. Imagine if that copy of your website — with all its pages and files and every ounce of data available upon it — was the only copy in existence. Now, imagine if that sole payment processor went down for an entire day, weekend or week. Think how horrible it would be if that lone copy of your website residing on and accessed from that single server were to disappear.
Such things have been known to happen. As great and wonderful as the Internet is, and amidst all the amazing things such brilliant bits of technology have empowered us to do, it’s vital we remind ourselves that we’re always at the mercy of force majeure. The world isn’t perfect, and the technology we apply to make our sites available is about as far from perfect as possible. How, then, do we protect ourselves and ensure that the infinite technological elements upon which our sites and businesses exist don’t become our undoing? We don’t. We can never completely and fully eliminate our vulnerability to forces beyond our control. We can, however, minimize not only the extent to which we’re exposed to forces beyond our control, but just how much they affect us when they are manifest.
First and foremost, ask questions. Ask your hosting company how often they back up their servers. Ask them if they have technicians on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week to reboot that server when it inevitably needs rebooting. Ask your hosting company if they have redundant server setups and, if so, whether or not those redundant servers are located remotely to their main rack facility. After all, it does little good when your host’s main server facility is wiped out when the backups exist in that same structure.
Further, your site’s financial transactions are processed through your payment processor’s servers, and so continuity and redundancy as it relates to your own hosting applies to theirs as well. Ask what kind of backup or contingency systems they have in place for when their main systems falter. Ask your processor how it is they plan to ensure that transactions and data transfer take place consistently and without interruption — always. With many webmasters generating four-figures and above in transactions daily, even a few hours of downtime with your processor could be an extremely painful financial hit.
Once you’re comfortable with the answers from your service providers, take steps to ensure you’re doing what every webmaster needs to do — CYA (Cover Your Ass). Using FTP access, download and backup your own site regularly and often. WS_FTP is a great utility for this. Keep copies on local servers or computer hard-drives and burn an entire site backup to CD. Set up a backup processor for your customers.
This article wasn’t so much inspired by Halloween as it was the real life experiences of a number of webmasters with whom I’ve chatted over the course of just the last two weeks. Unable to process any credit card transactions or make any money for several days, or having lost every single byte of data on their sites forever, they lived, and in many cases continue to live, the webmaster nightmare. They’d been lulled, as so many of us often are, into a kind of complacency. With all of the wonderful things technology is capable of doing, we must always remain wary that it’s just as able to fail as it has ever been — if not more so. CYA, and watch that horror story turn into a fairy tale.
Brian Dunlap is the Director of Marketing for Bionic Pixels LLC.