The Internet is increasingly important to businesses, large and small. According to a 2011 report from the EC Eurostat’s statistical office, 79% of companies now have a website and 22% offer the opportunity for customers to order or book goods online. Any downtime can be damaging for a business, affecting its ability to serve customers and their reputation. Here are my top tips to help keep your business online even if a failure occurs.
1. Choose a reliable hosting provider
Choose a hosting provider that is tried and tested. Do your research, analyse all your options and go with the most reliable and cost effective choice for your business. Don’t just jump on the ‘cloud bandwagon’ because everyone else is – it may not be right for you. The most important things to measure when making your selection are guaranteed uptime (it should be as close to 100% as possible), response times of the servers, security and the level of support and customer care provided.
2. Business, heal thyself!
If your business relies heavily on the availability of your website (for example, if you have an online store) then you need to make sure that it stays up and running even if some of the components fail. Have a ‘self-healing’ mechanism ready to kick in as soon as a failure occurs to ensure your website keeps on working. For example, run a pair of servers for your website with a hardware load balancer that distributes the requests to your website on to both servers. That way if one server fails, the load balancer automatically moves all traffic to the remaining web server.
3. Purchase and run each piece of hardware twice
We use ‘n+1’ technology, which basically means that we always purchase and run each piece of hardware at least twice. If we need for example two servers to do something, we will set up a third server right next to these two so we are able to switch at any time if we need to. This might sound expensive and unnecessary, but it has many benefits and can actually save you money. For instance, you don’t have to wait for spare parts to arrive or pay for a costly on-site service if something breaks down.
4. Set up remote desktops
Set up your employees to work on ‘remote desktops’, which are connected to one terminal server. This effectively means that they are not storing any data on their desktop and that data is instead stored in the data centre. This saves time on having to do backups of desktop computers and means that if a computer isn’t working, the employee can move to another computer and open the previous remote desktop session without losing any data. Another benefit is that employees have the same desktop working environment when they log into the work network from home.
5. Have a ‘Plan C’ for your data
In the unlikely event that you lose your whole datacentre and can’t just switch to a different server you should have a ‘Plan C’ up your sleeve. We have a replica of our main datacentre on another datacentre in a different country. We constantly replicate the database and it only takes us a couple of clicks to actually serve the website from the other datacentre.
6. If you opt for the cloud, then serve through a CDN
The basic idea of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is to deliver content to web surfers faster by hosting the files at various locations around the globe. This minimises delays caused by large geographical distances. For example, when someone enters our URL, www.paessler.com, into their browser their computer will connect to the closest CloudFront server, the so-called ‘edge server’. This edge server will only connect with our web servers if it doesn’t already have a recent copy of the webpage (or images, CSS files etc.). Using a CDN not only has speed advantages, it’s also more reliable.
7. Monitor your network
Once you have all your plans in place, monitor the status of your systems for early detection of any network problems that could affect your business and total peace of mind. This includes your IT infrastructure, including all crucial hardware components, your network connections and your servers. Start by monitoring availability, speed, bandwidth usage, temperatures, Central Processing Unit (CPU) and disk usages. You may also want to think about monitoring your business processes.
8. Monitor your website
Monitoring your website is just as important, especially if this is your main point of contact with customers. If a customer comes to your website and it is down, or running too slowly, there is always a chance they will find an alternative supplier. So investing in website monitoring now, can really save you in the long run. When setting it up, it is important to choose the right metrics and decide which pages you want to monitor. If you have a large website then monitoring all of your subpages is neither feasible nor recommended. Keep your monitoring to a few critical pages, such as your home page, your online shop and your most important product pages.
9. Reinforce your security
Firewalls and anti-virus programs can lull companies into a false sense of security. Despite having the software installed, malware attacks on corporate IT networks still happen and often go undetected until the late stages. A network monitoring solution can work as an early warning system, providing an instant alert when specific thresholds are exceeded. Analysing network traffic, for example, gives you a comprehensive view of what is going on in the network. It can immediately detect significant and rapid CPU load changes, unusually high traffic levels or excessive use of hard disk capacities—all-important indicators of an attack. You can also locate the source of unusual activity, allowing you to deal with any problem before it escalates and affects your customers.
10. Have a Disaster Recovery Plan
Although it is a worst case scenario, disasters such as flooding or fire can bring your business to a halt – and create massive work spikes to recover or recreate data – so it’s important to plan for them just in case. If, for example, your office is damaged by fire, then you need to ensure this won’t affect your website and that you have the necessary things in place for your employees to be able to continue working. Remote desktops and a replicated data centre will help here.