Web sites starting to see need for backup

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The growth of electronic commerce and the move of mission-critical business functions to the Internet have spurred a new area for marketers to consider: The need to back up their Web sites so valuable data isn't lost even if the equipment crashes.

Companies that have been backing up mission-critical computer mainframes for years are just now starting to see the need to treat their Web sites the same way.

A new concern

Howard Hempenius, senior manager for networkMCI Internet Marketing, Washington, was a panelist at the March Internet World show in Los Angeles and said he got the impression his concerns were new to most managers in the audience -- and this surprised him.

"We've been working for years to harden ourselves, with multiple paths and dual points of presence," he says of MCI's Web backup systems.

Another telecommunications provider, Sprint Corp., now offers Web host customers multiple servers in multiple locations, so if demand grows or a server breaks down, customers are protected.

When it comes to backing up a Web site, there are many routes to protection. The simplest is to regularly copy your Web data to tape.

More backup options

Another way to protect your Web data is to mirror it by putting copies of the software and data on a second server at the same location that's ready to go into service immediately when needed. Many Internet service providers offer this service.

A third way to back up Web data is to mirror it in multiple locations, as Cahners Business Information does. Mike Cole, exec VP-electronic media and technology, uses outside services, but also backs up data locally.

"We do it both locally and farmed out," Mr. Cole says. "We're looking at the economics of doing it centrally, but we're not there yet. More and more this will come off a central platform."

10% to 25% more for service

Mr. Hempenius of MCI says it costs 10% to 25% more for Web service if a company needs full data protection, but it's well worth the expense.

"The operating cost in comparison to the total cost of a Web site is very small," he says.

Max Shoka, product marketing manager-network products, at Exodus Communications, Santa Clara, Calif., says backup is just one step in a complete disaster recovery plan that should guarantee critical computer operations continue in an emergency. Corporate mainframes have had this protection for 15 years.

"Ad agencies and publishers are less sophisticated" in dealing with disaster recovery questions than companies like GeoCities and HotMail, which exist only online, he says. "Most people today have a single Web site, which may have multiple servers that have redundancy through a local directory."

Until recently, he adds, "No one was doing anything about the geographic issue."

Backup if main site fails

Exodus sells its backup services under the name MultiPath. The idea in all cases is to distribute Web traffic among multiple sites, and immediately switch to a backup site when the main site fails.

"We were looking at customers who wanted to be in two data centers" when the offering was made a few months ago, Mr. Shoka says. "We're finding some who want to be in four or six."

Still, there's a lot of educating to do, he concludes.

"The Internet is so new, people have been concentrating on getting sites up, dealing with scalability, and doing e-commerce -- they hadn't thought about the next stage, where you have a site running and want to make sure the site stays running."

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