ArtSites Disaster Recovery Strategy

[Aug 8, 2006] The menu name for this news article is Aster because a proper disaster recovery strategy makes even that which most might call a disaster into an event that is easily taken in stride, removing the dis from disaster, leaving only the aster--a shining star.

Such a bright and shining star has emerged from the dark and stormy days and weeks of the recent ArtSites server crash and recovery. And now no one need ever worry that what happened before will happen again. Better than that, our new disaster recovery strategy also provides clients with instant, on-demand backups of their entire public sites so that even if the worst should happen to ArtSites--or if clients should wish to contract Web services elsewhere for any reason at all--they will have the means to easily do so.

The primary elements of the strategy include:

Our new server,, is located in the Colo4 Data Center in Dallas. The server runs CentOS, the open source version of Red Hat Linux, Enterprise Edition, operating system, and it is dedicated entirely to and its clients. It has now been running for over a week. There is still some configuration to be done, but it be running smoothly with no reboots necessary since the first day online. In any case, overseeing and maintaining such a server is a never-ending task. Unlike our old dedicated server, however, the new server is monitored 24/7 by a third party technical staff. Software and routine security updates are also administered by an expert third party instead of yours truly, of old.

The ability to provide on-demand client backups is ArtSites highest priority at the moment. We are preparing a program that will create a backup of each site and to make it immediately available to each ArtSites client for download to their home or office computers. Simply by clicking a link on a client administration page, a backup of all publicly viewable pages will be created, all constituent files zipped together. They may then be downloaded to the client's computer for safe keeping and peace of mind. There is more to this backup process than simply saving existing files because the resulting backup will not be a dynamic, database driven site like the original. It will require reading the programs and databases of the original site in order to create an inter-linked set of static pages and images before storing them in a hierarchy of directories that can be browsed just like the original site. The resulting backup will be easily ported to nearly any Web server and most visitors will never even know the difference. To make any changes in the content of the backups, however, will require someone handy with simple HTML code in order to go into the source code for the various pages and edit them by hand. In other words, the backups will not include administration pages for managing site content. This isn't some kind of catch. It simply would not be feasible to back up the dynamic features of an ArtSites website, administration pages and all. The way our dynamic sites work behind the scenes requires a wide variety of programming and specially configured services of a Web server in order to draw together the resources necessary to dynamically manage and deliver the design and content of one of our sites. The on-demand backups will simply work like conventional, static HTML websites.

Contracting a mirror server for live redundancy is our next priority. The purpose of this server is as a fail-safe. When a visitor attempts to visit a site on our primary server, if the server is down for any reason, the visitor will be sent, instead, to the mirror server. Actually it will not be a true mirror server, driven by databases and all. Instead, it will serve the pages created by the on-demand backups described above. After a website has been updated via its administration pages, when a backup is created, not only will it be available for download, it will be transferred to the mirror server, unzipped and used to update the static pages on the mirror server. So, client administration pages will be available on the primary server, but the data center guarantees a 99.9% uptime, so that shouldn't be a issue. And actually, once the mirror server is implemented, we may send visitors primarily to it while using the database driven server as the fail-safe.

ArtSites is also contracting remote daily backup on a third server. This is in addition to daily backups already performed by the data center. The data center backups, however, are only available for restoring data in case of a hardware failure. In case of corruption from, say, a hacker, our own backups are necessary. The remote daily backup is not yet contracted. In the meantime, however, we are doing manual daily backups to a local computer--and testing each one to make sure it works.

As always, our Domain Name Servers (DNS) are external from our Web servers. For security reasons, this part of our strategy is meant to keep hordes of random email (carrying with them who knows what) off of the Web server. It also permits external routing of email so that delivery of email that is associated with client domain names is not affected if the Web server ever experiences down time.

We are also establishing new provisions for domain name management by clients in case of an emergency. As it is, ArtSites manages and maintains the registrations of many client domain names. Of course, all of these domain names are registered in the clients' names, so clients can always make rightful claims to take control of their domain names. The administrative contact for a domain name, however, has much more immediate control of how it is secured. So what we're going to do is to change the administrative contacts for all domain names that we manage. ArtSites will remain the administrative contact for the domain names, but we'll set up the mail servers so that clients receive copies of all registrar correspondence regarding the management of their domain names. This will enable clients to transfer their domain names to different registrars on short notice and repoint them as they choose--should they ever feel the need or desire to do so. Before ArtSites takes this measure, however, we'll write out some detailed instructions and suggestions regarding domain name management, including many of the caveats.

Beyond that, we'll also write out some detailed instructions for website carry-over should ArtSites fail--or if a client simply wishes to seek Web services elsewhere for whatever reason. This will include tips and recommendations on selecting new Web services from designers to programmers to hosts. One important section of the document will be a step by step guide to getting the backup copy of a client's site (discussed above) online and accessible to visitors ASAP.

The point of this whole Aster Strategy, of course, isn't to encourage clients to go away. Hardly. In the aftermath of the recent server issues, however, it became painfully clear that no one was prepared for the circumstances, ArtSites and its clients, alike. It's the plan of to thrive long into the future, growing and attracting clients because of the service and outstanding product that we offer--specialized in the Web presence needs of independent artists. The unforeseeable is unforeseeable, however, and knowing that, we must do all that we can to sleep well at night. Once this is all implemented, I know that I sure will.

Sweet Dreams,


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Featured Artist:

by Linda Pence

Watercolors by Linda Pence