‘Tis the Season for E-Commerce – and E-Crash

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, many shoppers are turning to their computers to shop online, rather than facing the thousands of shoppers at the malls.

In fact, according to a recent study by Forrester Research, U.S. online retail sales this holiday season will reach US$27 billion, a 23 percent increase over last year.

It’s no surprise that, like malls, e-commerce networks are experiencing a glut of holiday traffic. For example, on Cyber Monday, North American retail Web site traffic held strong at about 2 million visitors per minute between the hours of 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST, according to Internet service provider Akamai Technologies.

Critical Measurements

For busy online shoppers, there’s nothing worse than going to an e-commerce site that is slow or isn’t working properly.

Already this holiday shopping season, major e-commerce sites such as Costco.com, WalMart.com, Amazon.com, Macys.com and Footlocker.com have been, at some point, either inaccessible to consumers or operating slowly.

Walmart.com crashed for at least two hours after it released online-only specials. Amazon.com had a 15-minute slowdown after it began offering Xboxes for only $100. Costco’s site moved at a snail’s pace when thousands of people tried to purchase Sony’s PlayStation 3.

Whether a Fortune 500 giant or a successful e-tailer, it’s critical that companies keep their e-commerce sites operating at peak performance, ready to transact business around the clock, around the world. People are going to find other places to shop if an e-commerce site isn’t functioning.

Maximizing Performance

Depending on the e-commerce site, there could be several hundred servers deployed at numerous sites around the globe. There could be hundreds of switches and routers across the environment, as well as a variety of operating systems and servers.

When the network is the lifeblood of an organization’s business, having monitoring tools in place to track traffic and locate infrastructure problems is essential. Network monitoring tools are the bread and butter for Network General, Niksun and NetScout and other vendors.

For example, e-tailer Diamond.com uses Network General’s Sniffer Distributed solution to prepare its e-commerce sites to handle increased holiday traffic and guard against outages and slowdowns. With Sniffer Distributed, Diamond.com can analyze and troubleshoot its network, which is particularly important during peak selling times — Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

If any of its sites are down, or if its network performs poorly during these times, the company loses money. Sniffer Distributed helps Diamond.com anticipate, identify and resolve network performance problems and bottlenecks before its customers are impacted.

Avoiding the Crawl

Many of the problems experienced by the big name online retailers happened because the e-commerce sites had dramatically more traffic than anticipated. When companies underestimate online traffic, their e-commerce sites can slow to a crawl or simply crash altogether.

For every minute an e-commerce site is down during the holiday season, a company loses hundreds of thousands of dollars as countless customers abandon their online shopping carts, before making a purchase.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to accurately estimate traffic. Inaccurate estimates don’t have to result in lost sales, however.

When estimates are off, having effective network monitoring tools in place will help ensure e-commerce sites stay up and running despite heavy traffic. With the ability to track online traffic, and locate and fix infrastructure problems in real-time, companies can ensure their sites don’t crash during the most profitable time of the year.

Ken Boyd is CIO and EVP of product delivery at Network General.

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