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12/10/2004 Archived Entry: "Lessons from the crash"

Life is settling back to normal after the last nine days of web server chaos. I had saved a few of my blog postings in a text file, and I've reposted them below. I'm afraid Wendy's posts of the last week are lost. And from this there are a number of instructive lessons.

Lesson #1 is not to trust your web host's backup plans. Our host supposedly had daily backup, but when the server crashed on December 7th -- yes, we got hit on Pearl Harbor Day -- they could only restore backups to November 30th. All of our "static" web pages are mirrored on our own computers, and they change very slowly, so I never worry about backing them up. But I got complacent about the blog, backing it up only every week or two...and Wendy is paying the price for my mistake, losing a week's worth of her posts. In response, I've written a script that I can run daily, which will automatically grab any new blog posts and store them on my hard drive (which in turn gets backed up weekly to CD-R).

Lesson #2 is to keep your domain registration separate from your web hosting. In this we were lucky (I really can't claim foresight). The web hosting service stores your web pages and "publishes" them on the Internet; but the domain registration service tells everyone on the Internet where to find your pages. When I decided (belatedly) to move our site to a new web host, I was able to switch our zetetics.com domain to that new host because domain registration was handled by a totally different company. Had I registered our domain with our web host, we would have been stuck there until they fixed their server -- which even now isn't finished. (Also, how do you tell you web hosting service in the middle of a crisis "excuse me, but I don't want to host with you anymore"? What if they choose not to honor that request, or to put it off until their server is fixed?)

It occurs to me that someday I should blog at greater length about how domain name registration works. I know it confused me for the longest time.

Lesson #3 is not to dawdle; don't extend too many "second chances." Our web host failed on December 1st, when they transferred to a new server. This should have gone smoothly, but didn't; that was our first warning, but I was willing to cut them some slack because server moves are difficult. But for the next week, our site was unusually slow; worse, it kept appearing and disappearing from the web (from the DNS database), and there was no reason that should happen. That was the second warning. (I did begin investigating new web hosts then, but I should have moved faster.) Our third warning was the fact that they were not responding to our service request emails. Finally, on December 7th, their hardware croaked, including their own domain name server, which meant even their own web page and support email stopped working. That was the fire alarm that told me to leave the building and not go back.

Fortunately I had already researched new web hosting services; in 20 hours I was able to open an account with them, download our web files from the old server* (which came back on line the evening of the 8th), upload them to the new hosting company, and change our domain registration to point to the new company instead of the old one. I wish I'd done all that on December 1st.

Complacency is the grandmother of education; the generation between is "catastrophe."


*I could have used our mirrored copy, but this ensured that I had the latest possible "snapshot" of the site.

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