We all know that backups are important. But what next? Is it enough to simply “have a backup” and be done with it? You can probably tell already that it won’t be that simple. Here top 5 questions everyone should think about as well as discuss with their hosting provider.
1. How fast would the data recovery be?
An often overlooked but the essential question is the speed of data recovery from your backup solution. If you don’t pay attention to this, you can very easily end up in a situation where the renewal of your project takes 3 days (versus your expectations of 1 hour max). If you are a busy online store, for instance, 3 days offline constitutes a catastrophe.
The speed of recovery depends primarily on the amount of data you’re renewing and on the technology used. The data volume is given by the nature and size of your project – if you run an online business with a huge customer database, you’ll hardly be able to shrink it. However, even if there’s a lot of data to contend with, you can look for a solution that would allow for faster recovery (e.g. snapshot technology is much faster than rsync). Therefore, ask your provider how long data recovery would take in your case and if there are any options to speed it up.
2. Which backup frequency is best for me?
Another crucial aspect of backups is their frequency. For example, at vshosting~, we include a standard backup package with each managed service that backs up all the data once a day. But if you decide that’s not good enough for you, we can easily provide more frequent backups – say, once every hour (if your production configuration allows for it).
Of course, the more frequent the backups the more expensive your solution becomes because you need more storage space and infrastructure capacity. Especially if you want to keep all backup versions for 30 days or even longer. So, food for thought – how often do you need to back things up and how many versions do you need to keep stored?
3. What if the backup fails or gets delayed?
With projects that require backing up a huge volume of data, there’s a risk of the backup not completing within the given time frame. For instance, if you run backups once a day, the backup process needs to finish in 24 hours. If it doesn’t, a delay can occur or the backup can fail entirely.
At vshosting~, we prevent this from happening by using the ZFS filesystem as the default filesystem for all of our managed services. This filesystem natively supports backups via snapshots, just like the ones you know from virtual server backups. The snapshots ensure that the entire server is backed up as a single file. As a result, the process is super fast – almost immediate in fact. Even data recovery becomes vastly sped up thanks to snapshot technology (compared to rsync for example).
4. Where is my data stored?
From a security point of view, it is absolutely crucial that the backup is stored in a completely different location than the primary data. Ideally in another data center at the opposite end of town. In the event of a disaster at the location of your primary data, the backups will not be compromised.
It’s actually similar to backing up your computer to an external drive at home. After completing the backup, it is ideal to take the drive to your mother-in-law, for example, in case your apartment catches fire or something.
5. How are the backed up data secured?
Apart from backing your data up to a separate location, it is essential from a security point of view how easily an unauthorized person can access your data. The main defense against this is data encryption and limited access to data. At vshosting~, encryption is a standard measure and the backups of our clients can only be accessed from our internal network. However, you cannot rely on such a standard with all providers.
Don’t settle for having “some backup” from your hosting provider. Be demanding and ask for specifics. Your project deserves the best care.
Security without compromise: how ready are we for apocalyptic scenarios
Take a look at how we protect our clients’ servers and data from three typical threats: server sabotage, blackout, and cooling malfunction.
It likely comes as no surprise that at vshosting~, we take security very seriously. Sometimes we joke that our measures are bordering on paranoia. But that’s our job. Only thanks to extremely strict measures and crisis scenarios fine-tuned to the last detail are we able to operate a data center that hasn’t experienced an outage since its opening in 2015 and provide our clients with maximum reliability.
In this article, we’ll take you behind the scenes and show you, how we protect clients’ servers and data from three typical threats: server sabotage or theft, a prolonged blackout, and cooling system failure.
Apocalyptic scenario 1: Server sabotage or theft
If some random vandals, or worse, your competitors, got their hands on your servers, that would spell real trouble. Not only would your applications (e.g. your online store) stop working but the thieves could access all your data. Fortunately, if you’ve entrusted your infrastructure to vshosting~, you don’t have to worry about this ever happening.
Our data center ServerPark is an impenetrable reinforced concrete cube with armored doors surrounded by a tall fence with barbed wire to boot.
ServerPark data center
Not even that was sufficiently secure for us though, so we added a sophisticated security system complete with cameras. The system activates the moment anyone would, for instance, climb over the fence or try to break into one of the doors. The only way to get into the server room is with a combination of several keys, chips and an access code. If that wasn’t enough, each server rack is locked as well so making it to a server without clearance is next to impossible.
It is worth mentioning that we also protect our clients against cybernetic sabotage: DDoS attacks. Those can be easily (and cheaply) ordered online and the attackers can then overload your application rendering it inoperational. That’s why we developed our own anti-DDoS protection system, which effectively protects our clients’ servers. Saboteurs will, therefore, have no luck even if they decide to take the software route.
Apocalyptic scenario 2: Several days of blackout
Thieves, saboteurs, and other villains are taken care of but what if, say, there was a power outage? Any data center consumes a huge amount of electricity – so how would we manage a blackout? And what if the power outage lasts for a full week? It is exactly for these possible cases that we’ve installed a complex system at ServerPark that comprises UPS, i.e. a backup battery power source, diesel generators, and a diesel tank.
2 out of 3 diesel generators at the ServerPark data center
We also operate all of these elements in a so-called nx2 and n+1 mode. What that means is that we’ve installed two independent power supply branches (nx2). Each branch is assigned a one dedicated as well as one backup UPS (n+1) and has its own diesel generator and switchboard. At the same time, we have an extra generator that will switch on automatically, should any of the other two have a malfunction.
Each power supply branch also has its own set of batteries and each set is composed of 3 independent strings. This is the case because, for technical reasons, the batteries are set up as a series in each string. Therefore, if there was poor contact between two batteries, for instance, the entire string could fail. We also install 2 separate power sources to every server, each one simultaneously connected to both of our power supply branches: to independent UPS, switchboards, and generators.
So what would happen if there was a power outage? The data center would automatically switch to battery system power while our diesel generators would start turning on. Our batteries can fully supply ServerPark for more than 20 minutes. This provides ample time for the generators to start operating at full efficiency. After that, the data center would be fully powered by diesel generators. Thanks to our extensive diesel supply, we could operate like this for more than two weeks. To give you an idea, that’s several times more than most hospitals.
Apocalyptic scenario 3: Cooling system malfunction
We’ve handled the blackout then but there are other potential problems that could arise. A data center is full of electronics after all – what if some of it malfunctions? And what if the malfunction occurs in a key element, such as the cooling system?
Servers create a lot of heat which is why they need to be cooled constantly to prevent overheating. If their temperature rose too high, it could cause server damage, destruction or even a fire. That’s why we implemented a robust cooling infrastructure along with a professional FM200 gas fire extinguishing system. Fire extinguishing should be off the table though – each of our servers has a safety switch that turns them off if they get too hot.
FM200 fire extinguishing system in the server room at ServerPark
Our cooling system is just as robust as our power supply one: we have twice as many air conditioning units and other elements as we need plus an extra one in reserve. Many data centers only have that one reserve but we didn’t consider it safe enough. Cooling system failure in our data center is, therefore, about as likely as you getting hit by lightning while the sky is clear.
As you can see, our data center ServerPark is ready for the worst. Be it an attempt at sabotage, power outage or a possible malfunction, the quality of our services will remain constant. Due to our no-compromise security (and many other benefits), even the biggest Czech and Slovak internet companies have entrusted us with their online projects. Also, if you’re curious how we’re maintaining a 100% operation during the coronavirus pandemic, check out our previous article.
Christmas in e-commerce: even a short web outage can cost you hundreds of thousands
Infrastructure and hosting are key in e-commerce. Underestimating them can break even a well-established e-shop.
It’s no secret that servers aren’t exactly the most attractive topic, passionately discussed at e-commerce conferences. The hottest trends in full-textsearch optimization or tips for most efficient social media campaigns are much more en vogue.
Then there’s the core business itself, to which every e-shopper dedicates the bulk of their time. Considerations regarding server infrastructure quality and the reliability of the entire hosting solution rarely make it to the tightly packed schedule.
Underestimating hosting pays bitter dividends
Why worry about the details of your hosting solution anyway? It does work somehow.
Well, if you’ve been in the world of e-commerce for a while, you’re likely painfully aware that “it” sometimes doesn’t work. At all. As chance would have it, this tends to happen during the least convenient times. Such as just before Christmas when your pricey marketing campaigns are in full swing and everybody shops like their lives depend on it. If your e-shop goes down then, nobody will care how wonderful your products are. Even if your full-text reads your customers’ minds and your social media campaign makes thousands swoon, it’ll all have been for naught.
„Experience shows that hosting and the technology behind it (infrastructure, servers) are just as important in e-commerce as logistics or customer support,“ says Damir Špoljarič, CEO of vshosting~
As our CEO, Damir Špoljarič, discussed in a recent interview (Czech only – sorry) – infrastructure is absolutely essential in e-commerce and one shouldn’t underestimate it.
Unfortunately, on top of servers’ lack of sex appeal, most e-shop owners aren’t primarily technically oriented and tend to delegate tech stuff to developers. They often offer to take care of hosting as well, which sounds great – because hey, one less thing to worry about. But developers aren’t hosting experts and too often opt for a less than ideal solution. Therefore, we recommend entrusting your hosting solution to specialists with relevant experience. After all, you wouldn’t want a bunch of Linux admins coding your new e-shop either, would you?
In addition, many hosting providers strive to cut down prices as much as possible, which leads them to compromise on quality and in turn raises the risk of an outage. Such risk, however, proves difficult to imagine – calculating how much I save by opting for a cheaper solution, on the other hand, is a piece of cake. As a result, many e-shoppers take the “as cheap as possible” route. They only get to quantify the risk they took when the cheap hosting faults show in lost revenues.
Christmas in e-commerce: easily half of the yearly revenues
Outages happen most often when the servers are under most pressure – the Christmas season is a textbook example of that. Unsurprisingly, at that time it’s also least convenient because most sales in e-shops take place before Christmas. Based on the data from e-shop infrastructure providers, Shoptet and Shopsys, for many e-shops the revenues during the time between 1.9. and 23.12. may even exceed half their total yearly revenues. Both companies entrusted their infrastructure to vshosting~, which is therefore ready for seasonal traffic fluctuations and their data is unaffected by any outages as a result.
The customers of e-shops on Shoptet made approximately 21 million orders last Christmas. That is almost three-quarters of all the orders made there that year. In the case of Shopsys, which is used by somewhat larger e-shops on average compared to those on Shoptet, Christmas orders comprised between 34 and 49 percent of the total yearly numbers. The data suggests that the smaller the e-shop, the more significance the Christmas season holds for it. Underestimating hosting can thus backfire especially unpleasantly for them. Unfortunately, it is the smallest e-shops that tend to compromise on hosting the most.
E-shop down: how much money are you losing?
Every e-shopper understands that a web outage translates into money lost. But how much? Would it even pay off to invest in a more robust hosting solution?
Using Shopsys data, we’ll show how much of its revenue an average large, medium and smaller e-shop loses in the event of an hour-long or even a day-long outage. A typical outage “only” takes a few hours but longer ones that exceed a full day may also occur.
The category of large e-shops at Shopsys includes e-shops with annual revenue exceeding CZK 1 billion. Their average large e-shop at Shopsys has annual revenue of 1.1 billion CZK. According to the available data, a typical large e-shop will earn around 425 million CZK – almost 40% of total annual revenue – during the Christmas season alone.
If during the Christmas season, i.e. in the period 1.9. – 23.12., even an hour-long web outage occurs, the revenue lost amounts to 155 000 CZK on average. If the e-shop ends up down for the entire day, it will lose 3,720,000 CZK on average.
Medium e-shops on Shopsys are those with revenues in the hundreds of millions CZK. The average yearly revenue of a medium e-shop on Shopsys is 400 million CZK but ca. 155 million, i.e. 39 % of that is earned during the Christmas season.
Potential losses from non-realized orders given an hour-long outage thus amount to 57 000 CZK – or up to 1 400 000 CZK in the event of a day-long outage.
The annual sales of smaller e-shops at Shopsys are in the tens of millions CZK and the average annual sales are about 60 million CZK. The Christmas season accounts for 45 % of total sales, i.e. 27 million CZK.
A smaller e-shop can, therefore, lose around 10 000 CZK in the event of an hour-long outage, an all-day outage will rack up losses of 240 000 CZK. Despite those numbers being much lower than in the case of larger e-shops, proportionally the impact of an outage is much higher on smaller e-shops because the holiday season is so important for their business.
Which category does your e-shop fall into? Try to estimate, how much would just an hour-long outage cost you. Compared to how much you save by opting for a less reliable hosting solution, it’s likely that the very real possibility of an outage and the resulting losses far exceed your savings.
Not to mention it’s not just about lost revenue…
Lost revenue is just the beginning
If you invest intensively in an advertising campaign, which is typical during the Christmas season, an “e-shop down” will cause losses twice: firstly, you lose the money from people who want to buy from you, and secondly, you throw your advertising investment out the window.
And don’t even get us started on the loss of customer trust, damage to the brand or negative SEO effects. Nowadays, customers quickly put an e-shop that is down even for a moment into the “I’m not coming back here” category. The impression of the unreliability of your e-shop is immediately reflected in your brand perception too.
Last but not least, an e-shop outage affects your SEO – e.g. Google penalizes websites that have been down for some time. Therefore, you’re risking falling down in organic search results and every SEO expert will confirm that getting back up takes a lot of work.
Solution: choosing a high-quality provider
The answer to the above-mentioned horror stories seems obvious – just pick out great hosting. But how? The “hosting solution quality” is a rather inconceivable concept so how can you tell that your provider is the one that doesn’t compromise on infrastructure?
To be honest: it’s really hard to tell. Because paper doesn’t blush and some providers are willing to promise you the world and the cancellation of gravity to boot. Nonetheless, there are a few quality indicators around: references, recommendations, and a couple of well-formulated questions. Simply put: ask around.
Ask hosting providers about their clients. Are there any well-known companies among them? Are any of them from your industry? Get their contact information and verify the references. A reputable company will give you that information – if they try to talk their way out of it, watch out.
Ask your friends from your industry about their providers. What is their experience with them? How long have they been using them? Would they recommend their services? There’s nothing better than a brutally honest review from someone you trust.
And lastly: ask your potential providers about their expertise. What proven experience do they have with projects similar to yours? How do they deal with traffic spikes? How quickly can they deal with unexpected issues in the middle of the night? What if there’s a hardware malfunction at 3 am on a Saturday?
Why 50 % of Czech and Slovak e-commerce hosts at vshosting~
Half of all the Czech and Slovak e-shops have entrusted their infrastructure to us. We dare to say this is no coincidence. At vshosting~, we have extensive experience even with the most demanding e-commerce projects – be it companies such as Shoptet and Shopsys that provide background for thousands of e-shops, or well-known projects like Pilulka or Notino.
Because we’ve been providing hosting for e-commerce projects for over 13 years, we’ve accumulated a lot of know-how. All servers are running in our very own modern datacenter that meets demanding security standards. As a result, we have the entire process under control: from hosting solution design and migration to daily operation and optimization.
Our infrastructure is prepared for seasonal traffic changes as well as unpredictable spikes so the fact that there are five times as many people on your website before Christmas won’t faze us in the least. We also ensure resistance to the malfunction of any part of the hosting solution – you won’t have to worry about infrastructure at all and just focus on your core business.
All our servers have redundant connections, power supplies, and other features. We have doubled all the elements within the data center and backed up the network connection many times. At the same time, in case of a problem, we guarantee a response within 60 seconds – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Right in the data center, we have qualified technicians and admins who immediately solve unexpected situations, nonstop. Even in the middle of the night, we have experts in the data center ready for customer support – you call them directly, there are no call centers or middlemen.