Rollback / by Andrew Dacey

What do you do when a "routine" upgrade goes bad? How about a "minor" change to your website that breaks the whole site? How quickly can you recover? Can you even recover? This week's Tech Tuesday feature is all about rollback options. I've spent the last few weeks talking about back-up options. That's a topic that should already be pretty familiar to most people. This week I want to talk about something that's probably a littler further afield for most photographers and other small business operators, the concept of rollback.

In my day job I work as an IT consultant working on a contract for a very large financial services provider in the US. In that environment all changes to the production environment are highly controlled. This is both for regulatory reasons and to ensure that the change won't have an unforeseen affect on trading operations. This means that every change has to be very well planned in advance including when the change will be made and the steps that will be performed. This change request then goes through several levels of approval before you're finally allowed to make the change. Even then, that change is only approved for the time that you said you would do it and should only include the work that you said you would do. Can this be very bureaucratic? You bet. Does it eat up a lot of time? It sure does. But, when a change going wrong can cost the firm millions of dollars it makes sense.

I'm certainly not going to suggest that this level of planning or scrutiny is necessary for a single photographer or a small studio, it just doesn't make sense. However, there is one big piece of this process which does have a lot of value for even the smallest businesses. Aside from describing the steps that will be taken in the change we're also required to provide a backout (or rollback) plan. Essentially, for every change request we have to say what we'll do if the sh*t hits the fan. No rollback plan? No approval. No matter what size your operation is, this is a mindset you need to start adopting. It's one thing if your home computer is out of commission for awhile but if it's your work computer then that's lost revenue.

Let's look at a current example, Apple recently released Final Cut Pro X. You take a look at the features videos and think it looks awesome and gleefully install it. Then you find out that it won't work with projects from Final Cut Pro 7. Oh, and your plug-ins don't work any more either. Now what? That's when you decide how much of a big deal that is to you and make the call on whether you can live with that or if it's time to initiate your rollback plan. You did make a rollback plan right? No? Well then I guess you're stuck with living with it.

The thing is, rollback doesn't have to be anything elaborate. If you always keep a bootable back-up drive then it can be as simple as making sure that back-up is up to date prior to making significant updates or other big changes. That way if anything goes wrong you can simply boot off that back-up (remember to test this first!) and then use that back-up to restore back to that good state.

Or, if you have multiple systems then maybe you just need to try out an update on a system that you can afford to have out of commission if things go south. If you have both a desktop and a laptop then figure out which one is more important to you right now and try out the update on the other one first. If things don't go well then at least your main system isn't affected and it buys you time to fix the other system. Strictly speaking, that's not as good of a rollback option but at least you're thinking, "if things do go bad how do I keep working?"

Rollback is all about having a quick way to get out of trouble. If you can't handle being down for a few hours to a few days while you reinstall everything (and really, who can these days?) then I strongly urge you to start thinking about how to protect yourself when making changes.