A couple of months ago, Free Software Magazine went through what you'd call a "rough patch" in terms of hosting: 3FN, which hosted FSM, was effectively shut down by the FTC in the United States. Many companies had their backup servers on 3FN's networks -- and therefore lost everything. We were lucky enough to have a full backup over in Europe. So, we quickly moved everything to CariNet. What's the aftermath of this adventure?
Before I say anything else: I was lucky. CariNet turned out to be a great choice. I made this choice because a colleague of mine used it for their servers and recommended it -- and he was right. Free Software Magazine's good karma must have worked! Having learned from the 3FN experience, I also did extensive research on the net about them, and it confirmed my colleagues' impressions. So, here is what we learned.
Rule #1: pick your partners well
My entry about 3FN's shutdown makes a lot of sense. However, I have to say that while I can excuse a school headmaster for signing up with 3FN, I can't really excuse myself. Yes, I should have been more careful. I couldn't possibly know what kind of sites were hosted by them, but I did get hints that 3FN was not actually based in the US; the support people didn't speak English properly; it wasn't clear where the company was located; our pagerank kept on dropping because of the "bad neighbours" we had; and the prices were just too good. None of these thing on their own were enough to trigger any warning bells. But together, they should have made me wonder.
Rule #2: have backups. And have backups of backups on another continent
This is a very important rule. And it's also ignored a lot. Having backups is important. Having off-site backups is crucial. Here, I learned something really critical: "off-site" doesn't mean just "somewhere else"; it means "somewhere else, totally unrelated from any point of view". Having a backup in Europe saved us. If we'd had a backup on 3FN's European server, Free Software Magazine would no longer exist. Seriously!
Rule #3: listen to your friends, do your research
Two friends of mine suggested CariNet to me. One of them is very high up in the IT Industry, and the other works for a major GNU/Linux web site. I can't say who they are as I don't want to force them to endorse anything or anybody. (Note that I have no problem endorsing them!)
However, listening to existing customers who work in IT and are well trusted is really important -- as important as thorough research on Google...
Everything I talked about here is completely obvious: know the companies you deal with, make sure they are reputable, have "off-site" backups, obtain trusted references... and yet, a lot of people tend to skip these steps when it's about hosting. A well-made web site can create a false sense of trust... Right now we are happy with CariNet. I did everything necessary to make sure that we will never have to deal with another 3FN-like disaster again. The disaster is overcome -- Free Software Magazine is happy again, hopefully for a long long time...