IT solutions to avoid website outages during the holiday season

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Saying that the holiday season will be somewhat different in 2020 is stating the obvious. With social distancing measures in place in most countries in the world, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the shift to e-commerce by four to six years, the demand for products via digital platforms is certain to grow. Many shoppers across all generations are seeking online shopping options. In fact, according to Deloitte's forecast, e-commerce holiday retail sales are expected to increase between 25% to 35% from November through to January, reaching $182 billion to $196 billion in total.

However, a quick glance at history shows that retailers have long struggled to prepare their IT technology to keep up with increased traffic. Website outages have plagued major organisations on special dates over the years, whether it is Black Friday, the launch of a new Playstation console or when Glastonbury tickets go on sale.

Such inefficiency naturally comes at a cost, as millions are lost whilst visitors have difficulty in navigating e-commerce platforms – Costco’s day-long website issue on Black Friday in 2019, for instance, set the company back nearly 11 million dollars. Not to mention the damage to the reputation of the company’s brand image, especially if positioned as a technological leader. After all, consumers are unlikely to be satisfied when greeted by a website that never resolves during a Black Friday sale.

About the author

Jake Madders is Co-director of Hyve Managed Hosting

Bad testing that mimics the surge in visitors, as well as website infrastructure, are often to blame for such hiccups and outright malfunctions. Other issues might have to do with slow third-party apps, poor-performing APIs, broken plug-ins and, most importantly, overweight web pages along with inadequate hosting plans. 

In the era of ‘real-time’ customer demand, the technology stack behind any e-commerce strategy must be capable of meeting those impatient needs. If the case is the opposite, it’s time for business leaders to invest in the database technology that will allow them to handle the incoming flood of orders. Otherwise, their companies will most likely make the headlines – and not for the right reasons.

From an expert point of view, I’d recommend opting for a cloud-based database solution that allows companies to increase capacity on-demand. In that sense, businesses are able to cope with the increased demand associated with high-traffic seasons without having to pay for bandwidth and other resources that they won’t need for the rest of the year. 

Hybrid-cloud environments are best suited for this matter. They consist of a combination of IT solutions that make the most of the security and control of private cloud alongside the flexible and cost-saving elements of public cloud. IT teams have increased flexibility over workloads and data, as some parts of the data can be hosted in the public cloud, freeing up extra resources for more sensitive data that requires storage in a private cloud environment. 

Hybrid clouds are ideal for businesses that deal with fluctuating usage such as on Black Friday or Boxing Day, where there’s no need for high resource levels to be available at all times. It is also a great solution for companies that need to easily migrate to and from different computing environments, as the different cloud solutions work in conjunction with each other, making business operations more streamlined. 

Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can also help improve performance by serving content based on locality. In technical terms, a CDN allows site visitors to access a website simultaneously from multiple global locations, thereby improving user experience and reducing the load on servers. Files are ‘cached’ and loaded from the closest server to the user, which results in faster load speeds, providing users with a robust platform to deliver static and multimedia content.

Now, let’s say that despite all your efforts, a website outage was still unavoidable. Having a contingency plan in place is crucial, to say the least. Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), for instance, replicates and failover websites and applications to a secondary certified and compliant DR site in the event of an outage, allowing for business continuity by resuming access to applications and sensitive data in near real-time.

Even better, DRaaS stores and synchronises critical data in a secondary data centre, meaning that retailers don’t need to invest in or maintain their own off-site DR environment, only paying for the resources if they need them.

The holiday season is a critical time for retailers, with many set to double or triple usual sales. But the increased website traffic consequently places greater pressure on IT infrastructures. Some leading retail brands spend the whole summer preparing their websites and mobile apps with around-the-clock testing and measurement. Those who don’t anticipate online congestion could struggle to maintain customer loyalty and will ultimately pay the price.

Jake Madders is Co-founder and Director of Hyve Managed Hosting.