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Prepping for Black Friday? You’re Late!

Blog image Online retailers are expecting the biggest holiday shopping period ever this year, and we’ve all seen the impact on local malls, with retailers like Gymboree, Lane Bryant and Michael Kors closing thousands of stores.

You’ve got to be ready now for the onslaught of traffic that will come on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We surveyed more than 1,000 Americans and found that 52% of US consumers already expect retailers to have a major outage during the holiday shopping season – with Walmart (23%), BestBuy (17%), Macy’s (16%) and Target (16%) noted as having the most risk of crashing.

So what’s the prep checklist look like?

Should be done already:

  • Build for high availability and resiliency: You want to ensure that your infrastructure can scale beyond your expectations of traffic and incorporates a high availability (HA) strategy that also delivers resiliency in case of server failure – be that web server, app server, or database server.
  • Web load balancers have proven invaluable for enabling resiliency at the web tier: With connection management, load distribution, and the ability to detect and route around downed web servers, these devices have enabled zero downtime at the web tier. The data tier is the next frontier.
  • Investigate how technologies such as database load balancing software can shield your apps – and therefore your customers – from database downtime, enabling zero downtime at the app tier.
  • Add new features and new technology: If you have major infrastructure or architecture upgrades to do, this is the time. Even if these features and technologies do not apply specifically to Black Friday efforts, you need to get them into play so you know how they affect the entire system.
  • Work towards a goal of zero downtime: Seamless and immediate database failover is central to achieving zero downtime. Keeping your customers logged in and productive is paramount to Black Friday sales numbers.
  • Review your infrastructure with an eye toward avoiding downtime from maintenance windows: This approach includes maintenance for adding new services. Because database load balancing software is transparent to the application layer, no application changes are required to scale, optimize, or add resiliency to new or existing applications and services.
  • Increase site performance: It’s time to rev up the engine that will boost site performance to easily handle Black Friday traffic loads, delivering consistent and excellent customer experience. When it comes to databases, application performance bottlenecks tend to fall into three main categories: 1. poor query performance, 2. lack of concurrent capacity to handle high user loads, and 3. connection pooling / management issues. Look for technologies that can address these challenges capabilities.

September

  • Implement the system freeze and test all components: August is the time to stop making changes to your infrastructure. While most organizations have to occasionally accept last-minute updates beyond this point in time, most components should enter a freeze now.
  • This time is also good for delving into analytics again to see where you have potential weaknesses in the system: Start applying load tests to see how all your infrastructure changes are holding up. Testing at high load now gives you time to address any issues you uncover.

October

  • See how natural load increases are affecting your system: By early October, you’ll likely start to see traffic increase on a daily basis. Natural traffic growth can provide a better test backdrop than they load testing you engineer because it typically reveals surprises. Your Black Friday preparations should all be in place by now.

November

  • Analyze the traffic: Organizations with high Black Friday loads report Black Friday traffic being a 10X to 15X spike over rest-of-year numbers. Some organizations see as much as a 5X spike on Black Friday compared to Thanksgiving Thursday – it can be a dramatic traffic ramp.
  • Make any last-minute adjustments: If you’ve been leveraging analytics throughout the year, any last-minute adjustments should be minor, and most likely based on an unexpected traffic increase in October that signals higher traffic rates on Black Friday.

December

  • You made it! Wipe your brow, grab a beer, and evaluate what just happened – it’s time for the postmortem. Robust analytics with troubleshooting tools are paramount. Now is also the time to schedule January priorities.

Online retailers who follow these steps will be ready for the onslaught of traffic that will come their way this holiday shopping season. This will mean continuous uptime of their web and mobile sites, happy and returning customers and more revenue.

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