Issue 220, April 16, 2001  

Be A Good Host And Pour Some More Juice

By Stephen M. Lawton

      Should I worry about whether the FBI is tracing my e-mail using Carnivore, or should I just resign myself to the fact that even if the FBI isn't, MI5 will peruse the e-mail I send to family and colleagues in the U.K.? I realize that the recent earthquake in Seattle rattled some windows at Microsoft, but should I be concerned that Windows has cracks in it so large that the U.S. government can access my Office applications and mail, as the German government claims? More important, are my Web server, mail server and network protected from power disruptions?
      I suppose I should double-check my UPS to make sure its batteries are fresh (nothing worse than a UPS that fails at a critical moment) and that all of my key servers are monitored and accessible should power fail. When it comes to a Web server, you have three options: keep lots of spare UPS batteries handy in case the outage lasts longer than 15 minutes; employ a backup generator — which can be dicey if it runs on diesel but your office is on the 22nd floor in a downtown office tower; or outsource your Web hosting.
      That's right — the host or co-locate argument rears its ugly head again. For those of you who absolutely need to have 24/7 access to your Web server, you're now running the risk that you could be offline for an extended period if you don't have adequate power.
      While building your own personal power plant might seem like a good idea, such devices just aren't practical or cost-effective for most small and midsize businesses — or homes.
      Assuming you find a Web hosting service that has adequate power itself, you have to decide if the insurance policy of a hosted service is worth the expense and security implications of not having your hardware where you can touch and feel it.
      Now, before all you Web hosters call me to tell me how secure your servers are and that I've permanently damaged your sterling reputations, I'm not implying that the boxes you host are anything but safe. Yes, I know they're all locked away in their own little cage, surrounded by armed guards and attack dogs, and all within a hermetically sealed building that is free from any dust or even the thought of a virus. On the other hand, some webmasters like to know that their box is right there, in the next room, behind a locked door to which only they have the key.
      In the past, the issues of host vs. co-locate had to do with failover access to the Internet if part of the Internet's backbone failed — you don't only want one link to the Internet.
      Today, with Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison having as high a profile as they do when it comes to managing your Web site's uptime, you need as much protection as you can get.
      If you were on the cusp before when you opted to host your own server, maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board and bean counters. Your paradigm just shifted again.


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