all my websites’ data was lost by InMotion Hosting

sad

Be careful with how you manage your data online. I’ve read that backups are important and you don’t know how risky it is to be computing without sufficient backups. And what’s enough backing up anyways?

Yesterday, Saturday morning, April 23rd, this happened—where have all my websites gone?

I woke up this morning, in the usual way.. but this one is very different. All my websites are gone. Just gone gone. I’m on tech support and they’re investigating. This is not good. Countless hours of work in the thousands. Not sure I’ve reached the mythical 10,000 hours mark. Vanished into thin air?

djchuang.wordpress.com/2022/04/23/where-have-all-my-websites-gone/

This was not how I wanted to spend my Saturday, or the days to come. Arrrrrghhh.. hrrrmmph.. unbelievable.

I talked with Keysha at InMotion Hosting tech support and she escalated the issue, the tech team looked into it, but it was not hopeful. I commended her for understanding the tech problem, because I’ve often run into customer support who were not (unfortunately) knowledgeable. Upon their investigation the data files were lost during some kind of a server upgrade or server failover. The team migrated the databases but not all the configuration files (emails were lost) and not the files on the shared drive (all of those were zapped.)

How could they do this?

I would think it’d be standard operating procedure to make a full server backup before making any server changes. And as a web hosting company, they’d have data and server redundancy for those moments when one server or one hard drive dies, that the tech team can quickly swap out the hardware and keep all those websites running with minimal interruption.

But apparently their backup procedures were not robust enough to keep all the data safe for what happened on that shared server on Friday night. They said it was anomaly. They apologized. They mentioned the best they could do is compensation.

And, here’s the kicker, they’re probably not going to improve their technical operations since they’re not liable.

This is what their website says (and probably most other web hosting companies have similar kinds of disclaimers):

100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE ??

We stand behind our products and service. In fact, we guarantee that you will always get reliable hosting, competent support and professional service – or we will issue you a refund. Our industry leading money back guarantee allows you to have peace of mind and to try our services risk-free.

What good is this guarantee, really? Essentially, whatever happens with a customer’s disappointment in their service, or loss of data, all you’d get is a refund.

Got notified when my website was down, by someone else

I got an uptimerobot.com email notification in my inbox that my website was down for over 4 hours on Friday night, but I didn’t think anything of it. Intermittent downtime is normal. I don’t know if you know this, but when a company says they guarantee 99.9% uptime, that allows them to be offline for almost 9 hours per year.

And wouldn’t you know it, that’s what InMotion Hosting says is the reliability of their network—”99.9% uptime is the reliablity you need.

Lots of Legal Terms in the InMotion Hosting Agreement

So many disclaimers for this (and most?) web hosting companies, these excerpts from the InMotion Hosting Agreement that relate to the data loss I’ve experienced (and maybe others, too)—

… COMPANY CANNOT GUARANTEE CONTINUOUS SERVICE, SERVICE AT ANY PARTICULAR TIME, INTEGRITY OF DATA, INFORMATION OR CONTENT STORED OR TRANSMITTED VIA THE INTERNET. COMPANY WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS TO, OR ANY CORRUPTION, ERASURE, THEFT, DESTRUCTION, ALTERATION OR INADVERTENT DISCLOSURE OF, DATA, INFORMATION OR CONTENT TRANSMITTED, RECEIVED OR STORED ON ITS SYSTEM.

… EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY PROVIDED BELOW, NEITHER PARTY SHALL BE LIABLE IN ANY WAY TO THE OTHER PARTY OR ANY OTHER PERSON FOR ANY LOST PROFITS OR REVENUES, LOSS OF USE, LOSS OF DATA OR COSTS OF PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS, LICENSES OR SERVICES OR SIMILAR ECONOMIC LOSS, OR FOR ANY PUNITIVE, INDIRECT, SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL OR SIMILAR DAMAGES OF ANY NATURE, WHETHER FORESEEABLE OR NOT, UNDER ANY WARRANTY OR OTHER RIGHT HEREUNDER, ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE PERFORMANCE OR NON-PERFORMANCE OF ANY ORDER, OR FOR ANY CLAIM AGAINST THE OTHER PARTY BY A THIRD PARTY, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER IT HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH CLAIM OR DAMAGES.

… Hosting Back-up. Customer is expected and encouraged to maintain backup copies of their own data. Company performs internal disaster recovery backups and assumes no liability as to the availability or completeness of the data backups. Backup Manager is available for purchase which allows Customer to automatically back-up Data equal to or less than 10 gigabytes in total size. Additional backup space for Backup Manager is available for an additional service charge. Company is not responsible for monitoring account size. Accounts exceeding the back-up limit to which a Customer subscribes will not be included in data back-ups.

When you pay for web hosting, what do you get?

From company to company, each of their terms of service will vary. And it’s all buried in the fine print of legal language. Since most of us are not lawyers, there’s also the layer of how the terms are interpreted and what’s legally enforced (or not.)

I asked a 2nd tech guy about the different levels of web hosting services to see if a higher-priced service would have prevented this data disaster. I know I’m on the cheaper end with shared web hosting, so perhaps paying more would be worth it? I asked about dedicated server or VPS hosting or managed hosting, but he couldn’t say yes or no.

In essence, web hosting service is paying a company to host files and databases for websites, but it doesn’t mean the data will remain safe. That may be a whole different service or product or package, if they offer that. Now, InMotion Hosting does have an optional Backup Manager for automatic backups. I didn’t buy that service, but even if I did, there is no guarantee—

Company assumes no liability as to the availability or completeness of customer’s backups. Customer is expected and encouraged to maintain separate backup copies of their data outside of the Backup Manager.

inmotionhosting.com/legal/backup-manager-agreement

And this may very well be similar with Google Drive, Dropbox, or other cloud services too. For example, this is in Google Drives terms

TO THE EXTENT ALLOWED BY APPLICABLE LAW, WE PROVIDE OUR SERVICES “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, AND NON-INFRINGEMENT. FOR EXAMPLE, WE DON’T MAKE ANY WARRANTIES ABOUT THE CONTENT OR FEATURES OF THE SERVICES, INCLUDING THEIR ACCURACY, RELIABILITY, AVAILABILITY, OR ABILITY TO MEET YOUR NEEDS.

policies.google.com/terms

What all this means, I think, is: keeping data backup is all up to you. Not these other services. And, even if you used an external hard drive, that doesn’t mean the data is safe either. I’ve had a hard drive lose tons of data with old family photos about 10 years ago. No fun.

Oh How Fragile We Are and our Data too

I will be slowly recover what data I can from partial backups in the coming weeks. Some are lost forever. I may journal more about this experience, but it is definitely disruptive. It’s echoed the truth of how short our physical lives are here on earth, and even how much shorter our technology and data lives may be.


Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

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1 Response

  1. tony wang says:

    Sorry you had to endure all this, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, but I know your pain is real. I hope you’re feeling better today. You still have a lot of work ahead of you, so if you don’t want to hear/read any of what I have to say, feel free to delete this, I won’t be offended 🙂 I know your post was cathartic more than seeking help, but here’s my 2 cents worth.

    Problem 1: Inmotion hosting. The hosting world is polluted by marketers and it’s not easy to actually find a good one. I was building/hosting/maintaining sites for years as part of my business before learning how bad it is. I’m not a hosting expert and am still learning, but my point is that I believe even tons of web designers don’t know what they’re doing (many are more designer than anything and not very techie).

    Regardless of all the disclaimers that EVERY host has, sounds to me like they made an epic error. But it may also be related to the next point.

    Problem 2: Shared hosting. As you acknowledged, this is the low end of hosting. Very budget oriented, and you get what you pay for. A decent host should provide better service on a VPS plan; not a full server backup, but more warnings, etc. when doing a major upgrade.

    Problem 3: Relying on the host for backups. In addition to the standard backup by my hosting service, I keep a copy of every website on my local computer and also another copy in the cloud, either Dropbox or Google Drive. Triple redundancy. Yes, I’m more cautious then most. It would still take a while to restore each site individually, I can do it. Actually, I do also have a service that does a full server backup, but only started that this year because it was included in my plan. I’m typically much more concerned about individual sites than the entire serving getting wiped.

    Problem 4: email hosted with your website is not recommended, for obvious reasons. If you don’t want to pay for an email host, just use a cpanel email forwarder to gmail, I do that for some sites. Not perfect, but you can bet that gmail is 10x more reliable than any web host you’ll use.

    In general, guarantees are only as good as the company that backs them. Everything you buy on Amazon has a guarantee, but most of the companies, you can’t get a hold of them. The companies that actually honor their warranty tend to charge more, but most people shop on price.

    If you want more specific advice, feel free to hit me up.

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