We all know this adage: Your data is only as secure as your last backup. But how do you backup? What do you backup? Where do you put it so that your data is safe, secure, and above all, accessible in a pinch?
There are a lot of services to run website backups, like Akismet’s latest foray VaultPress (or ‘Save your ass Press’ as I like to call it), but that only backs up your WordPress database, and not your files. Then you have things like Site Vault, which downloads your backups to your computer regularly. Or you have something like cPanel to run your backups.
On my host, which is a VPS, I run a backup every other day of the entire site. Everything. The whole file system. This makes a backup of my email, my website, my databases, and … well, everything. It’s stored on my server, though, so what happens if my server goes belly up? On the one hand, I trust my webhost to have backups of their own and be able to restore the whole thing. But on the other, what happens if they get hit by a SCUD missile!? True, I know they have co-located servers, so if Michigan goes boom, there’s another location. Still, I make a habit of downloading the backup myself and stashing it on my external hard drive every week. It’s not perfect, but it works.
You may notice that nothing I’ve given you here is free. There’s a good reason for that. Your website lives and dies by availability. If your site is down, no one can visit it. If no one visits, you get no traffic, people go somewhere else. Basically, if your website is that important to you, pay to have it safe, secure and recoverable.
So while a lot of hosts offer massive backups at $50 to $150 a month, what do those of us on a shoestring budget do?
If you have cPanel, there’s a built in backup tool! I’m a huge proponent of not reinventing the wheel, so generally I suggest using this.
Go to www.yoursitedomain.com/cpanel and enter your username and password. Click on the Backup icon located on the main screen, which brings you to one with a link to Generate/Download a full backup. You’ll have to enter some information (FTP info if you want it put on another server, or just use the destination folder if you want it on your own server). Once the backup is made, download it and put it somewhere safe!
Now its important to note that this backup is generally useless for you. Seriously. If you think ‘I have a backup! I’ll just explode it and extract the file I just deleted!’ you are in for a rude awakening. This backup is for your webhost. If everything goes to Helena Handbasket and her cousin Murphy, you can present them with this and say ‘I want this!’ And they can do it. It’s overkill, but it’s there.
If you want a human usable backup, the best thing to do is to make regular FTP backups of everything in your user folder on your server. For example. On my server, my website is hosted in
/user/ipstenu/public_html, but when I make a backup, I backup everything in that Ipstenu folder (except for the tmp folder and the one for logging traffic). That actually backs up my website, my email, and the vast majority of my settings! I back that up just about every day (or every day I make a change to my website). On top of that, you can use cPanel’s MySQL Database Wizard to download a zipped copy of your databases, so you have them saved as well.
Most cPanel type tools (Plesk comes to mind) have similar backup tools, and I would make use of them.
Once you have your backup, the best thing to do is store it somewhere. I’ve heard of people using Dropbox to cloud-sync their backups (so they’re available everywhere), but after a while, those methods can be hefty and cost you money (Dropbox is pretty much free to 2gigs of data). And in the end you’re back where you were at the beginning, asking how do I afford this. If you don’t have the money, simply put you’re not going to get all the bells and whistles. But with what’s free, you can sure get a lot done!
What’s your backup methodology and what services could you not live without?