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Failover Hosting: Is it Right For You?

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SerLXSmallWhether you're new to hosting or looking to switch, you'll be fully aware that downtime is the number one thing you want to avoid.

Downtime is a major concern for hosting customers, and it's one of the main reasons people switch providers.

Web hosts use uptime as a marketing strategy, offering prominent guarantees and promises of compensation. (Some guarantees are better than others.)

Some hosting provides are going one step further; they're offering 'redundant' or 'failover' hosting. The idea is simple: have a backup ready if the main server goes down, therefore eliminating one the weak point in any hosting setup.

But the term 'redundant' has come to mean many different things in the hosting world. Let's look at what 'redundant' really means.

Redundant Solutions: the Pros

With most types of hosting, your site resides on one server.

Should something happen to that computer, your site goes down. It doesn't come back up until it is moved elsewhere or the computer is repaired.

Outages can lead to catastrophic data loss and extended downtime. If you run a business, the consequences could be lost revenue, frustrated customers and inconvenience for staff.

Redundant hosting tries to protect you with a backup that takes over within minutes, or seconds. But not all redundancy is equal.

Differing Definitions of Redundancy

As an example, we'll pick three web hosts and look at their failover hosting packages. Note: these packages and prices were correct at the time of writing the article (April 2010).

  • Draknet offers a failover solution that involves having a duplicate copy of the site in a separate datacenter. If something happens to their main datacenter, it updates the DNS to point to the other server. This is expensive; $60 for a failover account (which you have to update yourself), or $90 for one that updates weekly.
  • Site5's redundant package is similar to a cloud or grid setup. There is no backup; all sites are hosted on virtual machines that can be moved to a different physical machine immediately. This is more affordable (from $25 per month) and helps to protect against traffic spikes.
  • Hosting Zoom more closely mirrors grid hosting. Several servers share the load created by the site, each taking different functions (email, web, etc). Each machine holds a backup of the other's functionality. In the event of failure, any one of them can take over all of the roles. This is the cheapest option, starting from $8 per month.

Look at these closely. Only Draknet offers a high level of redundancy.

While the other two plans protect against the failure of a single computer, the site would still disappear if there was a problem at datacenter or network level.

By having a backup of the site in a geographically diverse location, only a failure in the datacenter and in the failover application could result in significant downtime at Draknet.

Redundant vs. Grid or Cloud

For many purposes, redundant hosting it is just that: redundant.

Remember: Not all redundant hosting is equal. Not all plans include that vital off-site backup provided by Draknet.

Without that element, cloud hosting and grid hosting provide many of the same benefits at a fraction of the price:

  • With grid hosting, your site doesn't exist on one physical server. It exists on a virtual machine within a group of physical servers. If one physical server encounters an error, the performance of the grid is not seriously impacted.
  • With cloud hosting, there are hundreds of physical servers in the cloud. A single failure has almost no impact.

Should I Buy Redundant Hosting?

Hardware failures do happen, but they are rare. Most downtimes have been due to routing or other datacenter issues. You are likely to experience more downtime due to your own mistakes than because of a hardware problem.

Unless a redundant hosting plan offers the ability to backup the site in a different physical location, there is little benefit to having a redundant account versus a grid or cloud hosting one. But you'll pay for the privilege, so you'll need to make the final call yourself.

Claire Broadley

About Claire Broadley

Claire has been creating websites for over 20 years and has been using WordPress for over ten. She is an expert in web hosting, design, HTML, and more. She lives with her husband and son in the United Kingdom.


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