The holiday shopping season is right around the corner, and that means e-commerce companies are now in the midst of the great run-up to the holidays -- an all-out sprint to get every possible new feature, bug fix and version tested and released in time for the big crush.
This year, the stakes have been raised even higher with one less week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, resulting in Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzies starting earlier and ending later.
At this point, you're already exhausted with preparations, but the true test itself -- the combination of Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- is coming up fast, and it will undoubtedly be another record-breaking year. Combined spending between the two days is expected to exceed US$2.5 billion, and your 2014 customer base can be established in just a matter of weeks.
Of course, with opportunity comes risk, as even a few moments of downtime can result in lost revenue and customer confidence in your company. During the rush of holiday shopping, any small amount of patience customers have for online delays evaporates, and the statistics remind us of the tenuous nature of this business:
- Downtime can cost companies $5,600 per minute;
- 58 percent of customers choose not to use a company again due to website errors; and
- 86 percent of companies experienced one or more instances of downtime in 2012.
So how do you avoid becoming a statistic on Cyber Monday and ensure that all the hard work you've done doesn't go to waste when the droves of shoppers show up? It can all come down to some basic fundamentals of your infrastructure that you still have time to adjust.
Make a List - Check It Twice
With just a short time to go, you should not be making any large architecture changes to your environment. However, as I am constantly reminded by my better half, "It's the little things that can make all the difference in the world." Some tips:
1. Live behind a load balancer -- round-robin DNS will fail you.
Many businesses still rely on round-robin DNS to distribute load due to its simple setup, but getting behind a proper load-balancing solution takes very little time and is worth every penny. Remember, this is the first thing in-bound customers will hit, so make sure you have invested the small amount of time and money to do things right.
2. Ensure your application layer is stateless.
Traffic needs to be able to flow to any application server, allowing you to horizontally scale up in seconds as well as providing fault tolerance should one of your application servers fail you.
3. Make sure you have plenty of local storage space.
This may sound obvious or trivial, but you would be amazed by how many times logs unexpectedly fill up local storage, locking up the database and bringing the entire site to an abrupt halt. Consider doing log rotations based on size rather than per day at least through early January.
4.Test your backups.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. If you lost parts of your production environment, do you know how long it will take you to recover? Recovery may mean getting the site back up period, or getting it from a degraded state to a high-quality experience again.
5. Cache is king.
Make sure you have moved your heavy assets as close to the edge as possible. Many load-balancing solutions today, like Stingray Traffic Manager, include the ability to cache your important (most heavily accessed) content at the edge of your stack, delivering a much higher-quality experience to the shopper. These content-delivery cloud solutions can be turned on during the heavy season and dialed back off without cumbersome contracts and complex integrations.
6. Get to know your cloud provider -- assuming you are in the cloud.
It is impossible to prepare for everything that will come up on Cyber Monday, and you should expect your cloud partner to act as an extension of your operations team. Make sure you have escalation procedures and names and numbers of expert staff in case of emergency.
7. Consider setting up a disaster recovery environment on a second provider.
In today's world, finding a cloud provider that can set up a disaster recovery environment is easier than ever. It takes just a few hours to get started, and many cloud providers will help you set things up. While it may cost you a few thousand dollars throughout the holiday season, it's an inexpensive insurance policy compared to the potential cost of extended downtime.
8. Finally, don't forget to test, test, test.
Use plug-ins to load-test your system and measure its response to peak traffic spikes. Testing not only allows you to identify the maximum capacity of your application, but it also exposes problem points and bottlenecks ahead of time. Instead of waiting until 5 a.m. on December 2 to see what breaks, figure it out ahead of time and avoid the fire drill.
9. Relax - you're ready.
If you take these steps to ensure your infrastructure and end-user experience are prepared and ready to go for Cyber Monday, you can look forward to a huge business day with (a little) less anxiety over unexpected downtime and disaster. Understand your infrastructure's architecture, have your cloud provider on-call, ready your customer experience and test (test, test!), and you've made major headways ahead of the holiday. Of course, no company can prepare for everything that may come up, but taking just a little time and effort to prepare ahead of time can make a world of difference when it comes to the biggest online shopping day of the year.