Do you have a catastrophe recovery plan for your website?

by Nate Hoffelder

After a decade of running The Digital Reader, Nate is a veteran web publisher with experience in design, maintenance, recovery, and troubleshooting. What little he doesn't know, he can learn.

April 14, 2024

Last month I had a graphic reminder of just how bad things can get when a server crashes. While sites do go down at times, in March 2024 A2 Hosting’s servers went offline for 50 hours, taking all of the sites they hosted with them.

I have only seen a catastrophic failure like this a few times in my career, but it does happen. (What’s more common is when the tech running a one-person operation gets sick, and has no one to pick up the pieces because they didn’t plan ahead. This happens at least twice a year.)

Luckily, I do know how to respond to this type of catastrophe.

Basically, the best response involves either responding before disaster strikes by taking steps to anticipate and prevent the collapse, or if you can’t avoid it then at least you can be ready with a plan.

Here’s my plan.

Option One

If there are concerns about the company hosting a website, move to a different hosting company before disaster strikes.

Alas, my client client didn’t listen when I expressed concern a month earlier about their hosting company. I didn’t _know_ this would happen, but I had had enough problems with the host that I wanted to move my client’s site.

I was overruled, but it turned out I was right. Luckily, I was prepared for catastrophe.

Option Two

Be Prepared

Recovering from a catastrophic hosting failure is not too difficult if you take steps to prepare for disaster. The three main things you need are – actually, what the average person needs is a tech expert like me (and also a plan for what to do if that expert drops dead). If you don’t have specific server skills then this might be beyond you.

But if you do have server skills, the three main things you need are an offline copy of the site, access to another server to restore the site on to, and the ability to change the domain’s DNS so that visitors get sent to the new site rather than the old one.

I try to make sure I have all of that ready for my clients. I have my own VPS, and I make daily backups of all my clients’ sites using ManageWP.com (one of its services is backing up sites on its server). And with most clients, I also either have access to or can get access to the DNS for their domain.

Plus, I have encountered catastrophic hosting failure before, so much so that it no longer leaves me panicked. In fact, the disaster last weekend was relatively small compared to others. The one that really sticks out in my mind was back in March 2022 when I was exhibiting at a convention out of town and Bluehost’s servers crashed. I had to move 7 or 8 sites for a client in my hotel room at 9 in the evening.

I handled it, but it was kinda stressful.

And I think it bears repeating that I was only able to handle it because I had prepared for disaster well in advance (in the case of the Bluehost catastrophe, I was pretty sure it was going to happen).

If you come to me post-disaster, the only way I can help you is if you planned for this contingency. For example, if you set up ManageWP to make backups of your site (even if it’s just the free once-a-month backups) then I can use that to restore the site elsewhere.

Or if you have downloaded a backup copy of your site, I can probably use that to restore the site.

But if there’s no backup, I probably can’t do much to help you recover from a catastrophe, sorry. Without a backup your best option might be to build the site anew, and that takes both time and money.

Hi, I'm Nate.

I build and fix websites for authors, and I am also a tech VA. I can build you a website that looks great and turns visitors into fans, and I can also fix your tech when it breaks. Let me fight with tech support so you don’t have to.

My blog has everything you need to know about websites and online services. Don’t see what you need. or want personalized help? Reach out.

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1 Comment

  1. Widdershins

    And at the absolute, very least, make a digital copy of all your content and store it on an external drive … and update it with the dilligence a Spartan woud be envious of. 😀


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