You may have noticed, but it has been almost three weeks since my website was updated. That’s because I have spent the past two and a half weeks rebuilding my entire web presence. I mean “entire”; everything, absolutely everything, disappeared. For someone who works providing expertise about the Internet, that is not good…!
My tale of woe began on Saturday 3rd September 2016 when I received an automated message from my server software saying I needed to update things. That’s normal; the server monitors the software being used and advises me of updates and security settings that need attention. So, I set about updating the server software, and that’s where it all went wrong.
The server itself was online and reachable, but none of the programs on it would work. I could not open the administration software, nor could I run anything like WordPress. Emails stopped working too. I could look into the “insides” of the server using a “terminal” program and see that all was in place as it should be. But none of it was working. It appears that one of the hundreds of “security update” files was either broken, conflicted with something, or simply hadn’t been installed correctly. I spent the entire day trying to fix the server, only to realise early on Sunday morning that it was indeed beyond repair.
Never mind, I thought, technical support can solve things. They couldn’t; they were stumped too.
At least I have backups, I thought. However, I didn’t want to replace the existing system with the backups, just in case the tech support team were able to fix it.
Looking for a new server
So, I headed off to Google and found myself a good deal for a nice shiny new server. I started to set things up doing all the uploading, copying settings and so on, all of which took the best part of a couple of days.
Then I went to make it all go “live”, only to find that the shiny new server was missing one fundamental piece of software which was required on all my websites. Two days on and nothing worked.
Meanwhile, my tech support guys were still busy trying to answer my questions about the original server.
So, I found another server hosting company, booked a deal with them only to discover within hours that their administration system would not let me make the changes that I needed. They insisted on some settings that I just did not want to accept. So, another day gone, another server tried and still no websites.
Of course, I also had clients to see, masterclasses to run, and speaking engagements, so my website continued to lie dormant. One minor victory was that I had been able to set up a backup email system.
Eventually, I found a server that did what I wanted and which would accept my way of working and the software that I wanted to use.
Then I discovered my next problem
The backups of all the WordPress databases were corrupted.
Now, I thought I had taken a “belt and braces” approach to backing up my online activity. My websites are backed up daily by the server software itself and by a third-party program. I save backups on a cloud service and on my own computer at home. The trouble is that all of my backups were corrupted.
This meant days of trying to piece together over a decade’s worth of writing and publishing, picking out bits from different databases and trying to join them all together. That took me the best part of ten days. I had to put a “holding page” up on my domain name, which must have looked really strange.
Eventually, I put things almost right. The website you see before you is not fixed. Several things are broken, due to the database damage. But at least most of the old content is here.
What did I learn?
The Internet is built on sand. Much of the software on which it depends is old, out-dated and not up to the job. The entire system is held together by string and sticking plaster. Expect things to go wrong more often in the future.
The Internet lacks standards. Software engineers talk about standards, but there are so many different ones, all competing with each other, that in reality there are no standards. That means that there are conflicts happening all the time.
The Internet lacks service. Web hosting companies and server firms take your money and provide so-called service, but often have little more than someone in a room answering emails. Not really much help beyond the basics, such as “have you switched off and on again?”
We need more than one backup of everything. We need different backup systems and strategies. Plus we need to regularly attempt to restore those backups to prevent the issues caused by backup corruption.
We need to stop worrying when it all breaks. My business did not really suffer, just my reputation and my stress levels.