How to Perform Site Upgrades With Minimal Downtime

Every website has downtime. Ideally, you won’t have to deal with unscheduled downtime due to power outages, natural disasters, or subpar hosting services. It’s much better if your downtime can be scheduled and prepared for.

That said, even scheduled downtime for maintenance, upgrades, and other necessities should be kept to a minimum so as not to disrupt traffic, make a negative impression on visitors, or raise the ire of search engine web crawlers that determine your rankings. Here are a few tips to help you perform site upgrades with minimal downtime.

Proper Planning

This is step number one. You may not be able to make every site upgrade seamless, but with proper planning and execution you can definitely minimize downtime, or at least minimize the impact of scheduled downtime.

When you start the upgrade process, well before you’re ready to implement changes, you should be thinking about how you’re going to create processes that minimize downtime. This means having proper infrastructure in place to make the transitions as seamless as possible, as well as building upgrades that can be implemented with expedience in mind.

Waiting to address this concern until the last minute could leave you with unavoidable downtime – or the prospect of wasting time reconfiguring your strategy for implementation. Neither is a desirable outcome, which is why the planning process is so important.

Frequent Updates

It’s inevitable that you’re going to have to make changes to your website, whether you’re updating product pages, adding new blog entries, completely revamping your site, or even undertaking a server migration. Some updates will require little or no downtime while others could entail extensive downtime, even with proper planning.

Aside from having resources available to limit downtime during transitions and upgrades, you need to think about how frequently you want to upgrade your site. With regular updates, you may be able to limit downtime to just a few minutes spread out here and there, rather than several hours at a stretch to complete a backlog of updates.

This is important not necessarily because it reduces downtime, but because it decreases the impact of your downtime. This could also be accomplished by scheduling planned downtime during low-traffic periods. However, limiting downtime to several small chunks in a given month or year could increase availability to both visitors and search bots.

Suppose a consumer tries to visit your site and finds it unavailable due to downtime. If downtime is brief, they may hit the refresh button once or twice and find that your site is now available. And search bots may not even notice your downtime, or not as they would with extended periods of inaccessibility.

This is all part of weighing the risks of downtime and scheduling appropriately to not only reduce downtime, but the impact it has as well.

Backups

There is always the possibility of the worst case scenario – that something should go wrong during upgrades and you lose data needed to get back up and running. You need to be prepared for this possibility by creating a virtual save point for your online operations.

This means creating a backup of your website and all related data before your planned downtime begins. This way if something goes wrong during upgrades/downtime, you can always revert to your most recent backup without losing data or experiencing further downtime as you attempt to fix the problem.

Dual Servers

Okay, this is a bit extreme for most small companies, but it is does provide for a virtually seamless solution to the problem of downtime during upgrades. If you’re planning a full-scale server migration, this step is absolutely essential, but for your average upgrade it might be overkill.

The idea here is to keep your site up and running on one server while you perform upgrades on a mirror server. When the upgrades are complete, you switch over to the upgraded site. If all goes as planned, you should experience zero downtime by this method.

The biggest problem, naturally, is cost. Hosting two servers simultaneously can be pretty expensive and it’s probably not feasible for most businesses. However, for major moves that will require extensive downtime, it could be a good temporary solution.

Smaller businesses working with tight budgets may want to consider lower-cost alternatives like using multiple IP addresses or virtualizing their servers. With a little finagling, these methods could produce similar results at less cost.

How to Use Social Media to Communicate During Site Downtime

Communication can solve many problems. A little often goes a long way and it’s one of the essential necessities to be performed in the event your company network goes down. Not only is it imperative to communicate with all of the pertinent, internal parties that rely on a successful network, such as IT departments, service providers, and vendors, but it’s also a crucial component of customer service.

Network downtime can mean hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in lost revenue as customers try to access a company’s website or sales portal and find their request denied. This can result in frustrated clientele who may try to contact the company through alternative means, namely social media, and leave a bad review or post documenting their displeasure.

In order to avoid negative feedback with your customers, the best thing to do is get out ahead of any network disruptions as quickly possible. Social media is the simplest way to do it and here are some helpful tips on alleviating the already difficult prospect of network downtime.

Constant Contact

Any smart business owner likely uses some form of social media in the marketing and promotion of his or her company, product, or service. You know all of the popular sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and having an updated online presence allows you to communicate with your clientele and engage them on a regular basis. This includes letting them know if something has gone awry at your place of business.
Network outages occur for any number of reasons and letting your customers know you’re aware of the problem should help you avoid angry public commentary. A descriptive post on Facebook or a witty, self-effacing tweet to your Twitter account can help alleviate the annoyance of your consumers.

Keep Customers Informed

Some issues require more attention than others. Not every network problem is as simple as rebooting a router. The longer your network is down, the more you risk losing the business of your customer base. Never keep them in the dark and provide continuous up-to-the-minute status appraisals of your current situation.

A well-informed customer is more likely to be forgiving or accommodating of the struggles you’re dealing with at the moment if they see thoughtful and informative posts on your social media accounts. When a company like Ticketmaster or AXS experiences slow response times due to servers that are inundated by excited fans trying to buy tickets to the concert of their favorite artist, they might let their client base know so frustrated fans don’t keep bombarding the site with requests.

Ample Warning

There are times when a network must undergo some maintenance or other upgrade that could inconvenience your customers. Most companies will perform these improvements during the slowest periods of time when the fewest people are trying to access a site or portal. Alerting your customers on your Facebook or Twitter page that your system will be off-line for upgrades is a smart way to avoid any negative feedback later. Providing them with ample warning to conduct their business outside of the expected downtime will benefit both parties as you can still offer the goods and services they need and your customers will be satisfied so as to offer their repeat business.

Personal Interaction

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and many other social media sites offer businesses the opportunity to interact directly with their clientele and vice versa. This personal engagement makes the customer feel like they’re included, that their opinions matter, and their messages will be seen by the principals of the company. It is important to foster that relationship by having the owner or public face of the business respond to the client directly.

The quickest way to lose the trust and interest of your fan base is to make them think that some faceless subordinate stooge is posting by proxy. So when the company system has gone down, having the person they will consider responsible – the business owner – expressing his or her regret and apologizing personally for the hiccup will make a world of difference. It shows that this business cares about its customers and is working to make them happy as fast as it can.

First 5 Things to Do If Your Network Experiences Downtime

We all enjoy a little downtime, except when your network has decided to stop working. That’s bad and it can bring your company to a halt resulting in lost productivity, service disruption, and a negative impact on your bottom line. Even worse, your information may be vulnerable to security breaches affecting your reputation in the marketplace.

There’s no denying that network downtime can be catastrophic and some businesses might experience significant financial losses for every hour of inactivity. In order to minimize the damage, it’s prudent to have a response plan in place so you know what to do as soon as something happens. That way if disaster strikes you can work on fixing the problem immediately and have your network up and running as quickly as possible.

1. Understand the Possible Risks

A network is a complicated amalgam of parts that all need to work in concert with one another. If one of them goes down, then the network stops running properly. There can be any number of reasons why a network fails including a power outage, device malfunctions, human error, security attacks, firmware incompatibility and failed updates and upgrades are just some of them.

Knowing how to assess and diagnose these problems is a good start to fixing them if and when they arise. Routers are usually the main culprit in most network failures, caused by a change in configuration or a failed upgrade. Being cognizant that it could be a router issue means you have a typical starting point from which to attempt to fix the problem.

2. Troubleshooting

When you know where to look, it can be much easier to solve the problem. The router is a good place to begin, but there are other common issues that might lead to network downtime. Diagnose modems, firewalls, Ethernet cards, and servers to check if they’re faulty or overloaded. Analyzing the extent of the outage and contacting your Internet Service Provider are two of the most effective methods for figuring out what’s wrong with the network. Your ISP can also run a diagnostic assessment to help pinpoint where the problem is located.

3. Embrace Disaster Preparedness

The best plan of attack is the one you’ve created before disaster strikes. Any network can go down at any time, so creating a disaster readiness protocol lets you start your recovery the minute the systems have failed. The first step is to implement a form of redundancy to safeguard against data loss.  Establishing backup resources and knowing where to locate all pertinent information in the event of an emergency will allow you to solve the mystery of your failed network sooner.

In addition, make sure to set up recovery procedures to get the network back online once any malfunctions or failures have been assessed and fixed. When you have these protocols in place, you can engage them immediately and waste less time before your business is operational again.

4. Contact Everyone

Depending upon the type of business you’re running and the amount of traffic relying on the network, you might need to alert a whole list of people as to the outage. This can include vendors, service providers and even customers about the temporary interruption. It may also require contacting other departments within your company as well as IT management personnel to start remedial asset recovery actions.

This way, any proprietary information and sensitive data that might be accessed via the network can be properly protected from any outside threats. Customers who can’t reach your business are likely to shop elsewhere, potentially costing you tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Let them know you’re experiencing a temporary hiccup as soon as possible, which can help soften the blow to your bottom line. If your customers are aware of the problem, they may be willing to wait for you to correct it before spending their dollars with your competitor.

5. Avoid the Problem

The best thing to prepare for any downtime your network experiences is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Maybe you’ve experienced a serious outage in the past and you want to take steps to avoid a similar situation. Partner with a network monitoring service to audit all of the devices in your network to ensure they are running properly on their current configuration settings. If something changes in one of them, the service alerts you of that change which could help you avoid long-term headaches.

These services also incorporate automatic backups that restore your network to operational settings.  This way, if and when a change or upgrade results in network failure, the network reverts to the previous configuration.