Keep tabs on your site

The recent spate of Web site defacements by American and Chinese hackers was a sobering, if painful, reminder of the need to back up Web sites so Webmasters can quickly restore them.

In principle, there's nothing particularly challenging about a Web site backup. After all, a Web site is just a collection of files, so making a backup is relatively straightforward. In fact, there are several commercial and freeware programs available that will do the job quite nicely.

Lockstep Systems Inc. has taken this idea and made several improvements, such as enabling the remote capture of Web sites. The company's new Site.Recorder program can capture a Web site from any location you can reach with a browser and back it up to another PC's hard drive.

SiteRecorder is actually two programs: a server and an administrator. We were glad to find we didn't have to place any software on the Web site's host computer. Instead, we installed the SiteRecorder Server to a desktop PC running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000. The SiteRecorder Server runs as a 32-bit service, so you have to install it on a computer running either Windows NT or 2000.

Installation was simple and took less than 15 minutes. At the prompting of the installation wizard, we entered the name of the Web site. We were then prompted for the protocol we wanted to use to access the site. SiteRecorder needs to access the Web site in the same way the Web author accesses it to make changes. This is important because you may want to use SiteRecorder to restore a previous backup of the site.

We chose File Transfer Protocol and gave SiteRecorder the IP address of our Web site, along with the user name and password of an administrator with rights to modify the site. A radio button was available to enable us to "browse" the site's folder on the Web server, but this was not necessary because we had already set up the site to decode the IP address directly to the folder.

The wizard gives you two other methods of accessing the Web site. One method works with servers running Microsoft's FrontPage Server Extensions. The other method is to connect directly to the site folder as a mapped drive, but we were unable to make this feature work with a networked drive. This is the only area where we would have liked more online help.

After the server was loaded, the installation program automatically loaded the administrator. You can also load the administrator on a remote site to monitor the server. If you have the administrator loaded on a notebook, you can monitor SiteRecorder and even restore a Web site from a remote location. The administrator will run on Windows 95, 98, ME, NT and 2000.

We especially liked the administration module's notification feature. We told the install wizard to use the e-mail server specified by Domain Name System discovery, and it automatically found our Microsoft Outlook mail address. Over the next several days, whenever anyone made a change, Site.Recorder sent us a detailed message describing the change. These messages included hyperlinks to the pages affected, making it easy to check the changes. If your agency outsources all or part of its Web hosting, this feature will keep you up-to-date.

We wish SiteRecorder had the ability to automatically restore a site after a defacement. Alas, we are not likely to see this function added because Lockstep Systems already sells another product, WebAgain, that fills this need.

There are a few other features we would like to see. For example, it would be nice to have an icon in the system tray that turned red or green to alert you to changes on the Web site. An audio alert would also be helpful.

It's true that anyone can back up a Web site without a special program. But when your site is critical to your enterprise, can you rely on someone to take action every time the site is modified? The retail price may seem high for a utility program, but the benefits of automatic backup, change auditing and easy restoration of your Web site to an earlier version might make Site.Recorder worthwhile for your most important sites.

Greer is a senior network analyst at a large Texas state agency. His e-mail address is Earl.Greer@dhs.state.tx.us.

REPORT CARD

SiteRecorder 1.0

Grade: B+

Lockstep Systems Inc.
(480) 596-9432
www.lockstep.com

Price: SiteRecorder costs $795 for a single license to back up one Web site.

Remarks: SiteRecorder automatically backs up your Web site and lets you quickly roll back to an earlier version, even from a remote location. It also audits your site and notifies you immediately of any changes made to it. Although it is pricey, SiteRecorder can save you a lot of grief if you ever have to restore an enterprise-critical Web site.


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