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Sometimes it pays to be pessimistic as it means you’re better prepared when things go wrong. One of the primary ways you can prepare for a website disaster is to back it up regularly. You may have wondered who should back your website up and how often. In this blog I aim to briefly answer the question: should I backup my own website?

Why back a website up?

As mentioned in the outset a website should be backed up for when something goes wrong. What can go wrong? One of the most common ways is because of server hardware failure, usually the hard disk. The malfunction causes the server to go down until it is repaired via human intervention; how long this takes depends on the severity of the failure.

One of the other reasons is a software problem. Specifically this means a problem with one of the programs that run on the server—or the website itself. These are usually the result of a virus, a computer hacker or an inherent bug in the operating system or software on your own website. It is common for a single server to run lots of websites together; sometimes a problem with one of these adversely affects all other websites.

Thirdly, there may be an environmental issue where the server is being held such as a fire or flood. These are by far the most destructive and the time–consuming to fix but they hardly ever happen…ever.

It may sound like you should be really worried about your site’s safety as there’s plenty that can go wrong. Thankfully, all the above problems are quite rare. Normally hardware issues can be repaired quickly and easily by a technician. Software issues are even less likely to happen—especially if you use a good hosting company as they’ll have strong security and will keep their anti–virus software up-to-date.

So, let’s say something has gone wrong. What happens next?

How do backups work?

Once the underlying problem is fixed the technician will decide whether or not your site needs to be restored from a backup. Problems such as hard disk failure and sites getting hacked can result in data loss and therefore the site needs to be restored. Every time your site is backed up a copy of all its code and files is created and stored on a separate device (CD, DVD, memory stick, tape or another server or computer) and hopefully a good distance away from the server. The site would ordinarily be backed up from the most recent backup. The important point here is the more recent the backup, the less data you lose. If your hosting company backs up every hour, you’ll never lose more than sixty minutes of data. If it’s every month, you could lose up to thirty days of data.

How often will my hosting company be backing up my site?

It depends on their backup policy. As a rule-of-thumb you’d never want to use a company that backed up less frequently than every day. If you have a site where the content changes regularly (i.e. daily) you’d probably want them to backup even more often than that (see How often?). To find out, contact your hosting company or web designer.

Whose responsibility is it?

So it’s evident that how often backups are taken is the critical factor when determining the amount of data you lose when a crisis occurs. So if you’re running an eCommerce shop and you lose thirty days of orders, whose fault is it? You might instantly want to blame the hosting company but they will probably have a ‘Loss of liability’ clause in their terms that states while they do their best they cannot guarantee no data loss. Unless you have a contract with your web designer it’s not their responsibility either. While it may seem like their territory, blaming a web designer for a hosting problem is like blaming your mechanic because you got stuck in a traffic jam. It sounds like everyone is passing the buck but in reality you’d almost never get to this stage as a good hosting company is well prepared for disaster striking. However, because we know the value of pessimism—and the dangers of putting all our eggs in one basket—it’s a good idea to periodically back the website up yourself. Or, get your web designer to do it.

How do I backup a website?

In most cases if you’re technically–minded, backing a website up is quite easy. All you need are the access codes to the website and a FTP client to download the files. Anyone vaguely computer–savvy can be shown how to backup a website. You’ll also have that feeling of control knowing that should the hosting company get destroyed by a meteor and your web designer get abducted by aliens (okay, maybe that’s being too pessimistic) you’ll still have a backup of your site.

If that sounds like too much jargon to you, you can get your web designer to do it. Of course, this may cost you. Backing up a site is usually quite a quick job so the cost shouldn’t be too much.

How often?

How often should you back the site up? It depends on how often the content changes. If you have a ‘static’ site (one that’s just text and images) then once a week or month is usually enough. If you have content that changes quite often such as a blog or online shop you’d want the backup to reflect how often you make new posts or add new stock. It could be weekly, hourly or every ten minutes.

By default my contracts typically leave the hosting company to backup the site. As a gesture of goodwill though I generally backup sites once per month gratis. Prices for more regular backups are available on request (I usually warn clients if I think they’ll need this).

I’ll end on a positive note though and say that I look after about sixty websites at the moment and have never had any major downtime on any of them. I’m pleased to say what little downtime has been suffered has been for a simple server problem that the hosting company fixed without me ever needing to use one of my own backups. Over the years I’ve whittled down the amount of hosting companies I use to a select few and they’re all first class.

I hope that gives you some insight on the subject of backing websites up. For more information call me on 07843 483 078 or get a free quote online.

Tim Bennett is a Leeds-based web designer from Yorkshire. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.