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eCommerce Readiness – Scaling, Load Testing, and the Cloud

Our eCommerce blog series covers key insights from conversations we’re having with ops staff at a range of leading eCommerce companies. Topics have included increasing uptime, improving the customer experience, and bullet-proofing eCommerce infrastructure. Here, we turn our attention to customer observations about how to scale for growth, the uses and limitations of load testing, and the role of the cloud in eCommerce companies.

Scaling for Growth

We captured one recent eCommerce infrastructure discussion on video. We talked with Craig Thayer, vice president of technology for Sazze, the eCommerce company that runs sites including ShopLately, DealsPlus, and BlackFridayFM. In one video, Craig talks about handling growth and failover for its eCommerce properties, and in a second video, he shares his tips and best practices for preparing for Black Friday traffic surges.

Among Craig’s key observations:

  • Know your infrastructure – here, Craig talks about having visibility into your apps and infrastructure. “Often, what you think is a pain point actually isn’t. You’ll be surprised to see where your application actually spends most of its time.” Craig highlighted how important comprehensive analytics are – especially the ability to view cluster-wide stats on the database.
  • Build a scalable infrastructure – on this point, Craig talks about the merits of horizontal vs. scaling. He finds the horizontal approach less disruptive and more affordable. “A vertical upgrade generally means you’re doing a forklift change, and it’s more costly.” Craig has deployed a Galera cluster in his environment, to get better scalability and failover capabilities.

Limits of Load Testing

In our webinar on “Bullet-proofing your Online Infrastructure,” Don Allen, senior director of technical operations for zulily, talked about the criticality of load testing but also highlighted its limitations. It’s useful to do a load test on the individual components of your platform, he observed, but you have to look at how all the pieces work together across a full transaction during a high load time.

“You can't test individual components and then assemble them together any more than you could test drive times between my house and downtown Seattle without doing it while traffic was on the road,” said Don.

And no amount of load testing can ever emulate true production load. “You don’t really learn in the days where you get crushed,” Don noted. “You learn the most in the days where you run a little hot but you don't get crushed – there's some very good data in there.”

Using the Cloud

A discussion with a serial entrepreneur in the eCommerce space highlighted the ambivalence a lot of organizations are currently feeling about the cloud.

“Startups love the cloud, but when you get to large scale, it’s not cheap,” this executive noted. “The cloud is also tough for transactions, because there’s no sense of synchronicity.

“It’s easy to like the attraction of a cloud vision,” he went on, “but someone’s got to do the hard part of making it work with the cloud. The boss thinks it’s easy, but they know better.”

Data from a survey of more than 200 enterprises ScaleArc conducted earlier this year reinforces this hesitation. When presented with a range of adoption metrics, nearly 40% of all respondents selected the option “we have migrated some of our apps to the cloud.” But that percentage falls to 28% for respondents at eCommerce companies.

Concerns about uptime and cost lead the pack of reasons that few eCommerce companies rely on the cloud for any significant portion of their eCommerce infrastructure.

eCommerce – Big Beneficiaries of ScaleArc

The concerns of eCommerce providers – delivering continuous availability and high performance – align well with ScaleArc’s strengths. These conversations, and the diverse eCommerce customers benefiting from our technology, reinforce the value of database load balancing in enhancing uptime and throughput. Check out our case studies to learn more about eCommerce companies using ScaleArc to help in delighting their customers.

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