What happens if your site goes down…

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With Sainsburys website going down this week and Amazon’s the week before it is worth taking a moment or two to consider what would happen to your business if your website was out of action.

For most e-commerce clients this could have catastrophic consequences: not only would sales evaporate but you would also lose access to all your sales and customer data.

However, hosting and the quality thereof is often totally ignored in client briefs. It is definitely not a priority and is only ever occasionally paid lip service. This may have been OK a few years ago when websites were just an experiment and an addition to an existing business rather than the core to a business.

However, it is difficult to convince people to invest in proper corporate hosting as there is a perception that hosting should be practically free. It’s true there are some companies offering hosting for £10 per year of less. Honestly, what do you think these companies would provide in terms of back up or reliability service lever agreement. Not much I think.

So what should you consider when hosting your website. There are many things to consider, here are just three.

First, where is your website being hosted and who manages and owns the servers. Most websites in the UK are hosted in Telehouse in Docklands where there are massive generally well managed data centers. But have you ever seen inside a data center, have you ever asked about their air conditioning systems, their own back up power supply, their connectivity to the web? Then what about the servers; who owns them? Who is responsible for updating them with critical patches? When is this done? What happens if they crash? What is the rebuild time? How many other sites are their on the same server as yours? How secure is the access to the servers? If you are not asking these questions then you are not taking your website presence seriously.

Second there are back ups. How often is your site backed up and where are the back ups kept? If your service provider’s data center is blown up (a very realistic proposition, especially if you house your website in Telehouse in docklands) will the back ups go up with it. If they are kept offsite how often are they taken offsite.

Third, what about redundancy. If your server crashes is there a mirror server which will automatically take over? What if your website is overloaded with visitors, can your server handle the traffic? Is there a load balancing mechanism that will automatically divert users to an alternative server?

All these issues need to be addressed when considering hosting and website owners need to change their mindset from considering hosting as essentially a free service to one that is valued and is invested in appropriately according to business requirements and risk assessment.