Self Hosting and Natural Disasters

I’m a huge proponent of self hosting and data ownership. I host my website, my cloud file syncing, my email – everything. All of it runs on some servers in a server rack in my house. This let’s me control and own my data without relying on third parties. Sure it’s more work for me and I have to spend time here and there maintaining it, making sure backups are working and everything is up to date, but I kind of like to do it. Plus given I use Salt it’s mostly an entirely automated process anyway.

There is one big problem I do have with self hosting though and it’s that I live in an area that is prone to very destructive hurricanes. This does make self hosting things at home very problematic when it’s entirely possible that I could lose my email and important documents during a time when I probably need both the most. It also means that if my internet goes down, no email – and while sure I wont really lose any email, not getting any is also a problem.

So ultimately I had put together a “Hurricane Preparedness” plan for my data, which would involve shifting my Nextcloud and Email services to a VPS somewhere while I would go out and batten down the hatches in preparation for the oncoming weather onslaught. I had not actually ever had to enact the plan luckily, we’ve had a few lucky years with avoiding any hurricanes in general. But I knew at some point I should just run through the process to test it (really you should also test your backups).

What I learned from the process are these things:

  1. I had no automation to deploy Nextcloud and it took a long time to re-create exactly what I needed to deploy it. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it in a rush
  2. I didn’t even consider having to migrate Bitwarden up to the cloud but losing that would be a tremendous issue.
  3. Email is insanely critical and losing access to it can be absolutely crippling in an emergency, that said the mailcow backup/restore process worked great and it was very easy to move.
  4. Raw block storage is really fuckin expensive

Ultimately what I realized during this was that my plan was just about a failure and really the last thing I want to do while I am getting ready for a hurricane is to worry about making sure my email is working (fucking DNS) and I’m not losing my password manager.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to just shift my email and password manager to permanently live on a VPS – this ultimately saves me from even having to worry about moving it and also stops me from losing these services if I lose power or internet at home. I consider these two things to be mission critical and losing access to them for even an hour is an extreme problem.

I’m still hosting my nextcloud locally because it is very expensive to run in the cloud with raw block storage. Also given my local setup with a raid disk array with replicated ZFS snapshots, it does feel very safe. But I have spent time automating my local to cloud migration to where it’s entirely automated now. One single salt formula will run the entire process and in a few hours it will be up and running in the cloud. It’s not perfect and not as nice as not having to worry about it, but given the cost, I think this one component is a fair tradeoff.

I’m not sure people always think about this fact that a natural disaster could take out their home hosted data. And even when I did think I had a plan ultimately it wasn’t a very good one once I put it into practice.