More and more people are shopping online rather than the high street – partly because of convenience and partly because people know that they can find some of the best deals around on the internet. Seasonal sales and major promotions are an excellent way of driving traffic to websites when times are tight, but it’s no good getting customers to your site if it can’t cope with the extra strain. Any slowing down in performance will simply lead to frustration and lost sales. Here are six steps for ensuring your website will not let you down:
1. Plan for peaks, not averages
A fundamental step in forward planning to ready your website for activity surges is to get to know your traffic so you can make educated forecasts about future patterns and peaks. And be sure to look at the ratios of people browsing versus people converting, as all traffic is not equal in terms of its impact on servers and systems, particularly as visitors move from unsecure browsing to an encrypted transaction. A surprising, yet common, mistake is to plan for averages rather than spikes. If online vendors are not prepared for absolute peak usage, they will lose business.
2. Bigger is not always better
Another common misconception is to match expected traffic to server size. While rushing out and buying a bigger server might work for some websites, the strategy doesn’t make sense for e-commerce and other transactional sites, which tend to be connection-intensive rather than processor-intensive as shoppers browse. It’s better to have a team of lower performing servers instead of one larger, high-performance machine to support concurrency of connections. Virtualisation is one way to do this, enabling you to segment your physical server host into lots of virtual machines, or virtual private servers, so that you can get as much out of those resources as possible.
3. Achieve Balance
If you take the multiple server approach, you need to ensure usage is properly distributed across those machines. Load balancers and application delivery controllers (ADCs) were once big-ticket purchases, but now some vendors have driven costs down from tens of thousands of pounds to low four figures. There are traditional hardware appliances as well as virtual ADCs designed to be the traffic cop that manages shoppers into your web store by figuring out which of the servers can provide them with the best possible experience.
4. The security certificate problem
Security and consumer confidence are obviously paramount. As many e-commerce sites upgrade to 2048-bit SSL encryption , they’re not considering the increased demands on their infrastructure. Most administrators don’t realise the huge impact that stronger encryption has on the performance of their servers. It can increase performance requirements on a server as much as six fold – so planning for this is essential.
Collocating servers is still a good practice if you can afford to do so. Virtualisation, among other factors, has made the benefits of colocation more accessible for smaller companies. The main benefit is that should one resource become overwhelmed or otherwise experience a critical problem, the proper setup can enable a company to dynamically move all affected users to a different, healthy resource without disrupting business.
6. Have a backup plan
Even if you have a strong backup and recovery plan, chances are that failures will happen at the worst possible time when any downtime, even with everything backed up, is going to have a negative impact. Think about a ‘pre-emptive plan’ to anticipate extreme situations and know what to do if your systems become deluged by sale shoppers. For example, one possible plan may be to flex out to Amazon Web Services or another cloud platform. Even with the best preparation, it is always good to plan for more traffic than you can handle.
While the large online retailers are pretty geared up to cope with peak demand on their sites, it is perhaps the smaller sites that need to review their strategies and technologies to make sure they are also well placed to take the strain. After all, in these challenging times, no retailers can afford to throw away the opportunities for more sales.