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January 03, 2006

In Case of Security - Planning for Blogging Disasters

Posted in: Miscellaneous Blog Tips

I’m Michael Hampton, principal author of Homeland Stupidity, a U.S. politics blog. Today I want to address the issue of business continuity, that is, have you planned what to do if a disaster strikes your professional blogging operation?

Over the past few months I’ve had some all-too-common computer emergencies arise, and had to move fast to recover from them. In October, filesystem corruption ate about two weeks worth of e-mail, critical files such as all of my RSS feeds, and a few works in progress. I didn’t have up to date backups, and without them I’m only getting by as best I can without the missing materials.

And late Monday night my computer decided, during a round of system updates, to uninstall my feed reader, and then refused to reinstall it on Tuesday.

These are just two examples of things that can go wrong in pro blogging, but there are others. Have you planned what to do if your Web host suddenly goes down, as TypePad did recently, goes out of business entirely, or is hit by a natural disaster?

It’s one thing to simply address crises as they arise. About eight months ago, when my blog was still a small site running on my home computer, I needed to reinstall the entire operating system due to severe filesystem corruption. I pulled out an old Pentium 166 which I had laying around and pressed it into service as a temporary Web server to host my site while I was making repairs to my main computer. It was incredibly slow, but it served for the nearly full day it took to get the main computer running again.

And in October, as I said, due to lack of current backups, I lost a significant amount of email, all of my RSS feeds (since reconstructed, mainly from memory) and other files. I immediately began keeping backups after that; I learned my lesson!

Losing my feedreader itself was a somewhat different problem. Fortunately, it stores my list of feeds in an OPML file, rather than in the registry or elsewhere, so it was easy enough to get to them on a temporary basis using Bloglines.

But what about more serious, less likely, but far more disruptive, threats? What if a tornado, hurricane or terrorists destroy the data center hosting your Web site? A lot of you are (unknown even to yourselves!) hosted in a Texas data center which was near the path of Hurricane Rita this year.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has an excellent guide for small business disaster planning, much of which you can adapt to your situation. Another good overview appeared in Entrepreneur magazine. I want to address a couple of issues, though, which are peculiar to pro bloggers.

Primarily there is the issue of backups. We live and die on information, and our continued access to and ability to develop information is critical to what we do. As I mentioned above, losing access to any information can deal you a tremendous blow.

Do you have backups of everything on your Web host? My Web host (affiliate link) makes backups on-demand, not only of my files, but also my databases, which I can download whenever I need to, and I’m working on automating it from my end so that I always have a current backup.

And I backup the most critical files on my computer — to storage space on my Web host and to a USB thumb drive. That way I can survive a double whammy — losing both my computer and the USB stick backup, or losing the computer and the Web host. Other, less critical files, on my computer I back up to CD-RW on a regular basis now.

Less specific to pro blogging, but still critical, is protecting yourself in a disaster. Do you know what natural disasters are likely to strike your area, or the area where your Web host is located? Do you even know where your Web host is? Is the data center well protected and what contingency plans do they have for disaster? What contingency plans do you have, in case you have to live on the road for months at a time?

After Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S., I spent nearly two months blogging from my laptop in coffee houses with wireless Internet access. I had prepared in advance, though, for the possibility that I would have to live off my laptop. (Though not well enough!)

When you adapt these ideas to pro blogging, keep in mind that computers and other hardware are replaceable; you and your ideas are not. So you should not only have good, up-to-date backups of all of your critical information, you should also be aware of how to protect yourself in a disaster. Whatever your personal situation, you should take stock and prepare yourself for the worst. And here’s hoping you never have to face disaster.


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