Crash course

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What’s the cyberworld equivalent to a devastating fire that burns your office building to the ground?

For Jacob Mathew, Ph.D., president and owner of International Cyber Business Services Inc. in Akron, it was a catastrophic disk crash that knocked his award-winning site off the Internet.

International Cyber Business Services Inc. develops interactive Web sites, electronic commerce and enterprise solutions for businesses.

In 1998, Mathew established HolisticOnline.com, a site providing information on all aspects of health, emphasizing mind-body and alternative therapies. Comprising about 4,000 pages of research and the largest herbal database on the Internet, the site draws more than 20,000 users weekly.

Last August, HolisticOnline.com was growing rapidly and attracting even more visitors. The site had just been named No. 1 for alternative therapy research by Psychology Today magazine, and was rated among the top five health sites on the Internet. Physicians at Case Western Reserve University, Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic were also recommending the site.

Then, Mathew received a barrage of e-mails from users complaining that the site was inaccessible. Concerned, he contacted his hosting company — a Maryland firm that had acquired the company that had previously held his three-year server contract.

At first, Mathew thought the dilemma was a disk crash that could be promptly resolved. But when the hosting service admitted it hadn’t backed up the site files for months, Mathew was devastated. It seemed his livelihood had vanished overnight.

With contributions from an international team of physicians and other experts, the dynamically generated site provided the world with information on everything from nutrition and herbs to stress management and alternative therapies, diseases and preferred providers for various health conditions. Horrifically, all that content had vanished, and the guest book additions and discussion pages were also lost.

A self-described optimist, Mathew was determined to get back online to provide the services that millions of people had come to rely on. But his task was even more arduous, because he was immobilized from neck surgery four days earlier.

Scrambling to get back online was like chaos. The host was unbelievably uncooperative, so we ended up going to someone else. And since the site had to be rebuilt anyway, we decided to redesign it with easier interface and better content,” he says.

The undertaking was quite costly, and not just in terms of lost revenue. Mathew hired a team of experts to work around the clock for several weeks to recreate the site design and content. He also decided to use multiple servers in different locations.

“The site is like an airplane now because we’re using three servers, so if one or two of the engines blow, we can still fly,” he laughs. “And even though the new servers back up daily, we also do it ourselves.”

The silver lining is that the new site is easier to navigate. Faster servers make for faster downloads. Database bottlenecks are minimized to handle a broader visitor base with no delays. Before the crash, the site wasn’t Web TV accessible. Now it is. The new design also incorporates many interface modifications suggested by users.

Ultimately, the crash taught Mathew a crucial lesson in crisis management.

“You can make all kinds of contingency plans, but this experience taught me that the crises you plan for aren’t the ones that will happen,” he says. “It’s the little things you don’t even expect that will bring you to your knees.” How to reach: International Cyber Business Services Inc., (330) 733-4283