Having the go-home option

In maintaining my digital systems, one principle that has served me well is making sure there’s a quick way to work around any potential point of failure. For example, by hosting your domain’s DNS records at a separate company from your web host, you have the option to cut over to a different provider in the event that something goes wrong (and do it immediately, rather than waiting hours or days for your failing web host to give up control of your DNS settings).

Here are some ways to avoid single points of failure:

  • DNS hosting is really useful. I use EasyDNS. It costs slightly more than letting your web hosting company handle DNS, but having the option to cut them out instantly if something goes wrong is essential.
  • Be careful of cloud-based services that don’t provide a true “export” option that dumps ALL of your data in a non-proprietary format. For example, while Google Calendar allows you to dump all of your appointments to an iCal file, there is no way to extract all of your emails from GMail in a common format. Nor is there a way to batch-download comments or photos from Facebook. Clearly this is to the benefit of the providers because it causes lock-in. But as a user, be aware that your data can be held hostage at any time. (this is why I’m starting to use this blog more instead of posting updates on Facebook – I’m getting more worried about the lack of backup and search options over there).
  • When performing maintenance on any computer system, always ALWAYS make sure you’ve got a working, up-to-date backup that you can cut over to in case something goes wrong. Fortunately, virtualization and cloud hosting are making this much easier to accomplish that it used to be.
  • Anyone who’s worked with Maya extensively has horror stories about corrupt .mb files. Despite the waste of space that saving in ASCII format entails, it’s much safer to have your production data in a form that you can hack or fix with a text editor.
  • On that subject, ALWAYS keep backup copies of Final Cut Pro files. I’ve had a few bad experiences where FCP decided to “eat” one of my .fcp files, leaving it in an unreadable state. (this is why FCP gets an asterisk in my list of trusted tools)

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