Technology lesson #546

As you sit and ponder the beauty, magnitude, and destruction caused by that photo to the right (courtesy, I’d like you to consider something.

Under the thumb of Hurricane Frances are the states of Florida and Georgia. And in that area are 2,500,000 homes and businesses without electricity. Businesses. Dry cleaners, grocery stores. Internet Providers.

Oh yeah, Internet Providers. Hey wouldn’t that suck if the guys hosting my website were in the path of the hurricane? What would happen to my website?

Since it’s happened to two businesses I know in the last few days, I’ll tell you what happens. You shut down your servers, call a couple of clients, and follow the evacuation route out of town.

Whatever would possess you to run critical Internet services in a facility in the annual hurricane path, I don’t know. But I guess if you live there you’ve got a blind spot to that sort of threat. Perhaps you’re like the naïve people in California that buy homes on the side of a hill but don’t seriously consider mudslides. Or the people from my home state of Missouri that live in the flood plain but are distraught and genuinely surprised when the Mississippi shows them that Mother Nature doesn’t care how long your family has lived on this land, it’s time you learned to swim.

But the people who should know better are those that buy their web hosting from vendors who keep their hardware in the path of a hurricane. That’s about as smart as buying your steaks from Three Mile Island Farms.

When we setup Mindshare I knew I didn’t want to host websites at our facility for a lot of reasons. Number one was that it takes a lot of resources to do it properly. You need a secure building. Cages. Armed guards. A diesel generator. I don’t have these things, and I doubt my clients can afford them.

But what I also don’t have in our office is safety from natural or man-made disasters. Our main offices are in downtown Washington DC, and as such, we understand that our city is a target. This means that anything that causes the government to evacuate the city, even for a short period, is likely to have an adverse affect on critical services being provided within our downtown offices.

And for that reason, we don’t have any. Our workforce is well-acquainted with the facilities to be able to work from home and does so regularly. Our backups are done encrypted over the wire so that if we can’t physically get to our fileserver, we can still get to our files. And we don’t host client websites here. We host them from a facility out in the middle of Nowhere, Virginia with backup machines in California.

Nowhere Virginia, where there’s nothing but cows, deer, and the occasional Virginia traffic jam due caused by the sprawl of bad planning.

When I explain how it’s important to take these things into consideration, I’m often looked at like I’m crazy. “Come on, what are the odds the hurricane is going to cross the entire state of Florida?” Hell man, I do this for a living. I’m actually paid to worry about stuff like that.

Serendipity dictated that I just got the call from someone who said, “Can you take my website over? My Florida ISP is being evacuated and shutting down their machines in four hours.”

We’ll do our best, but most likely, whatever money you saved by going with a “cheap” or “mom and pop” ISP just got paid back to you in downtime.

Live and learn.