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Disaster Planning - Server/Hosting Failures

Disaster Planning - Server/Hosting Failures

Teacher: Steve Cartwright

Ask ten Web site based business what causes them the biggest problem and keeps them up at night and I’m sure you’ll hear Web site hosting mentioned by more then one or two of them.

Hosting is one of those things that you never give a second thought when everything is working fine but once you encounter a problem it can cause you no end of trouble. As a worse case scenario imagine waking up one morning to find that your Web site is down, your email accounts are not working and you cannot get even a half decent reply from customer service. Now imagine that this goes on for weeks and your hosting customer seems to all intent and purpose to have vanished, as they will not answer your telephone calls, will not respond to emails or any other attempt at communication even after your site has been offline for weeks.

That is more or less the scenario we faced with one of our previous hosting company Spiders Web – www.spiders-web.com , in fact to complicate matters even more our contact email address with Network Solutions was incorrect as it still showed an old unused and abandoned email address.

Take a moment and ask yourself how expensive a similar situation would be for you, imagine all the lost business, the dent to your reputation and the embarrassment that this scenario would bring to your company. It’s an expensive lesson to learn believe me and hopefully you can learn from our example. In this article I’m going to tell you exactly how to plan to cover this type of contingency.

Disaster Planning: The very first thing each and everyone of you should do is to make a full and complete backup copy of your Web site, in fact I would actually advise you to make at least two backup copies, just in case one of them becomes corrupted in anyway.

If your Web site has data that changes on a daily basis, consider making daily backups, if its not all that important weekly backups will be enough or even monthly. If your Web site changes make sure you have a full up to date copy at all times. A simple rule to follow is, if your site requires it or if it is important then back it up, because as sure as eggs are eggs the file you don’t back up will be the one that you require.

Areas often over looked when making backup copies are mailing lists, how many of you have mailing lists containing hundreds or thousands of email addresses? I wonder how many of you have backup copies, not many I bet, remember if it can go wrong it normally will so plan for the worse case and you’ll never be caught short.

Next, if your contact details are out of date with Network Solutions you should head right over to their Web site www.networksolutions.com and get them changed. So that your contact details are correct, if you use your main domain name based email address remember that you might lose this as well if the whole system fails although you can change it quickly and easily enough..

As the Network Solutions Web site is not the easiest site in the world to quickly locate information, I’ll detail below their instructions on how to change main contact email addresses:

How do I change my contact record?

To change, update or correct information about yourself, use the Contact Form available on our web site

Here are the steps you need to take to update your contact record:

  1. Select Make Changes from the blue navigation bar on our Web site.
  2. Choose Network Solutions forms, below the Expert Path heading.
  3. Select Contact Form.
  4. Enter the information we ask for on the following pages. On the first page, enter your contact handle and e-mail address.
  5. On the second page, enter the Guardian method you currently have, even if you are changing to a different Guardian method.
  6. On the third page, update any old or incorrect information about yourself.
  7. On the fourth page, titled Choosing New Authentication Information for a Contact, tell us what Guardian method you want to use in the future. If you are not switching Guardian methods, enter the same method you did in step 5, above. If you select Mail-From, enter the e-mail address you'll use to send us your requests. If you select Crypt-Password, enter and verify the password you'll use when sending us your requests. If you select PGP, enter the PGP Key ID for your PGP signature.
  8. Review the form we're about to send you.
  9. Once you get the form in the e-mail box you gave us in step 4, send it to hostmaster@networksolutions.com. (If you have PGP as your Guardian method, sign the e-mail with your PGP PRIVATE KEY before sending it to Network Solutions.)

If like me, your contact details are both incorrect and the email address you have listed with them is an old dead account then you’ll need to follow these instructions:

I have Mail-From as my Guardian method. I have already moved to a new e-mail address. What do I do now?

If your old e-mail address doesn't work anymore, we'll accept a faxed authorization letter from you to update your contact record to your new e-mail address. Then, you can update your domain name registration, contact record and/or host record from your new e-mail address.

Here are the steps you need to take if your e-mail address already changed:

  1. Select Make Changes from the blue navigation bar on our Web site.
  2. Choose Network Solutions forms, below the Expert Path heading.
  3. Select Contact Form
  4. Enter the information we ask for on the following pages. On the first page, enter your contact handle and enter your current, working e-mail address. Its the one you just moved to. Highlight the Modify option.
  5. On the second page, highlight the Mail-From option.
  6. On the third page, correct or update your address, phone, fax number and e-mail address, if necessary.
  7. On the fourth page, titled Choosing New Authentication Information for a Contact, highlight Mail-From, then enter your current, working e-mail address. It's the one you just moved to. Keep going through the remainder of the pages until we tell you we've just e-mailed you your Contact Form
  8. Go to the e-mail address you gave us in step 4 and forward the Contact Form to hostmaster@networksolutions.com.
  9. Receive a NIC Tracking number (for example: NIC-070300.1a2b3) by e-mail from Network Solutions at your current, working-email address.
  10. Put that NIC Tracking number on your Fax Authorization Letter. Be sure to choose the Fax Authorization Letter for the type of contact record you are modifying.
  11. Send the Fax Authorization Letter on company letterhead (if the contact record is a role account contact record) or on personal letterhead (if the contact record is an personal contact record) to 703-742-9552. Be sure to include the right supporting documents with your fax, if necessary, or we cannot process your request.

If you need to send a Fax Authorization letter then don’t forget to send some supporting documentary proof to support your claim as to who you are. I have found from experience that a letterhead alone will not meet with Network Solutions security policy, add a utility bill to this and your in business however. I tend to send a copy of my telephone bill with the faxed authorisation letter and the transfer then takes just a couple of days.

If you have to deal with Network Solutions just remember that as long as you follow their instructions exactly to the letter and you prove who you are at every turn you will not have too many problems. Just don’t try to do things in a logical manner, follow Network Solutions instructions even if they don’t quite seem as straight forward as the way you wanted to handle it, and forget trying to telephone then for advise, I have never managed to get through to a real person.

If you have followed the above advise, you should be prepared for almost any scenario you are likely to encounter. Should your hosting company cease to trade, should their servers go down for weeks and weeks on end as with Spiders Web (www.spiders-web.com) then it is you that has control and not your hosting company.

Anytime you wish to move your Web site to a new hosting company for whatever reason, you can quickly and simply let me explain:

The first thing you need to do is to find a new hosting company, this is easier said than done admittedly. As there are hundreds of such hosting companies but very few that live up to the promises that they make about quality and service. It seems as if some companies will say almost anything to get your business even if they lose it a few months later.

I have found that the best way to find a good quality hosting company is by personal recommendation, this can be from friends or it can be from companies that you already trust. If your still stuck visit a few newsgroups and as long as you’re in an appropriate newsgroup ask people what hosting companies they recommend.

If you are looking for good quality reliable NT hosting then your task is even harder, I know we utilise NT hosting almost exclusively and we recently had an extremely hard time finding someone we could work with. In fact once we had found a real quality company we could work with and trust we decided to launch www.nthostingservices.co.uk this is a separate site of ours aimed at selling quality NT Hosting Services, have a look at the hosting plans on offer, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Once you have selected your new hosting company and ordered your new account your new hosting provider should sort out the transfer of the domain name so that it points to its new site location. This normally involves the hosting company filling in a domain ISP change request form. Network Solutions will then send you an email asking you to verify the domain name change. You make a couple of changes to the email and send it back and the domain name is normally transferred in a day or two. If you think about it this is why you need to know how to change your main contact email address, because if your site is down the changes are your domain name specific email addresses could be down as well.

Once your hosting company has set-up your new account and given you access to the server, you can now begin the process of uploading your site that you have previously backed up.

Once all your files have been uploaded depending on your site your task could be completed, or you may have to now start changing scripts and such like to get them to work on your new servers set-up. Unless you’ve got some real special scripts this should not be to big a task, especially as you have a backup copy on hand anyway, so that should you totally destroy your scripts all you need do is upload them again and have another go. Almost anyone should be able to change directories and paths in a script and sort out permissions on a Unix box…it really isn’t all that hard and always looks harder than it is.

The next thing you need to do is set-up your email accounts and your mailing list if this is supported by your hosting company (if you have a big list I would always check first). Most hosting companies will upload your mailing list for you provided you can supply it in a suitable format.

Once you have done this, your new site should be fully operational or it will be once your domain name is transferred and remember most hosting companies will give you some help if you’re having problems. If they are stuck and you need some advise then feel free to visit the Web Builder Forum at http://www.website-designs.com/cgi-bin/webbbs.cgi here you can ask whatever question you like and you’ll almost certainly get some sort of answer back.

With any disaster planning you need to cover all foreseeable contingencies because the one you see and put off till tomorrow will be the one that comes back to haunt you. Plan ahead and you can survive almost anything, not only on the Internet but also in life in general

About the teacher:
Steve is the CEO and executive publisher of Cyber Aspect and is the senior management of the publication. Steve is also a regular contributor to the international edition of Cyber Aspect and Web Builder Bulletin. When not working on matters of publishing and news, Steve serves as the CEO of Website Designs Ltd in the United Kingdom and is the founder of the company. Prior to entering the Internet industry, Steve was involved on a senior management level within the international construction industry, working with super skyscrapers throughout the Middle East and other global locations.


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