WEB HOSTING & HANDLING TRAFFIC SURGES

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1 WEB HOSTING & HANDLING TRAFFIC SURGES White Paper March 2015

2 LYONSCG White Paper: Web Hosting & Handling Traffic Surges 1 INTRODUCTION: TOM PETTY TOUR TRIGGERS TRAFFIC SURGE With a career that spans generations and dates back to 1969, there s no difficulty understanding the popularity of rock musician Tom Petty. His loyal fan base can be counted on to enthusiastically attend any of his concerts that come to town. So when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers announced their summer 2014 tour, the major music label managing his website expected a steep increase in traffic by fan club members buying tickets. This spike in demand presented a significant complication. While the ticket vendor would be responsible for sales to the public starting May 13, devoted fans who were members of the Highway Companions Club members would be able to order the best seats in the house five days earlier through tompetty.com. Knowing that thousands of fans would be hitting tompetty.com all at once, a major music label was concerned about processing the large volume of ticket requests in a timely manner. After all, the last thing fans want is to wait for a slowperforming website. Especially a website that stands in the way of premium tickets. As the Tom Petty song goes, the waiting is the hardest part. Thanks to some sophisticated hosting and database work by LYONSCG and Magento, fans were able to join the Highway Companions Club part of the major music label s family of websites without a hitch, ensuring them access to preferred fan-only ducats. How did LYONSCG help the major music label meet surging demand? See the sidebar to find out.

3 LYONSCG White Paper: Web Hosting & Handling Traffic Surges 2 TRAFFIC SURGES ARE A FACT OF LIFE FOR ALL MERCHANTS Meeting spikes in demand is an age-old problem for all online retailers. What these examples make obvious is that, for the most part, massive short-term surges in traffic can occur for many reasons some of which can be known in advance, while others are spontaneous. Viral sensations: Merchants dream of having their product connected with someone influential. Many times when the Duchess of Cambridge is photographed, her outfit sells out. She may have set a record when the designer wrap-dress she wore at an appearance on her Australian tour was gobbled up in eight minutes. Another tsunami of web traffic triggered by a media appearance occurred in June of 2013, when Cher appeared on television for the first time in 10 years. During the season finale of the television program The Voice, she performed the song Woman s World. Cher was barely off-stage before download sites started to surge. And, because the television program aired at different times on the east and west coasts, the traffic spike occurred twice. Pop-up online retailing: Rue LaLa, HauteLook, Gilt and similar flash sale sites offer limited-time only discounts on goods ranging from designer handbags and fine wines to pet products and outdoor gear. A new item goes on sale at a specific time and customers know to be online and ready to order, since that product might be gone in minutes. Major promotions: The holiday season is a concentrated buying period that can make or break a retailer s year. Gray Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions create excitement over a product that goes on sale at a certain time or special price. Social media mentions: It doesn t always take a national television spotlight to cause a sudden spike. Tegan & Sara, the indie rock duo, have cultivated a rabid following via social media channels. When the duo used Twitter to announce the availability of their album Heartthrob to their 400,000+ followers, a massive traffic spike followed. Because a dissatisfied customer will have a negative impact on revenues, online merchants need to consider the impact spiking or peaking traffic can have on their ecommerce stores. Always expect the unexpected should be the rule of thumb. Planning in advance to manage very high demand should be a regular part of your ecommerce strategy.

4 LYONSCG White Paper: Web Hosting & Handling Traffic Surges 3 PLANNING FOR TRAFFIC SURGES Ensuring response speed and performance are a function of your hosting environment. So what do you need to consider to keep your online store up and running in the event of a traffic surge? Two aspects of an optimal infrastructure to focus on when evaluating a hosting provider are database expertise and the ability to scale. Database expertise: It takes a high degree of skill to handle the large-scale increase in database records for those times when new registrations take place. At the same time, a great degree of sophistication and expertise is needed to design and operate a database tailored to the ecommerce customer base, products, and order processing expectations. Ability to scale: Several best practices are key to handling a growing amount of work in a capable manner. Aspects of scalability to be on the look-out for include: Using shared resources as sparingly as possible Caching as much as possible and as close to the end-user as possible Building in redundancy to be able to handle any failures and bursts of traffic Of course, all hosting providers (and even some internal IT organizations) will claim they re skilled in databases and scaling. What you want to look for is the know-how and toolkit to see traffic spikes coming in real time. It s absolutely critical the hosting provider control the infrastructure and manage capacity within the event timeframe even if the timeframe is measured in just hours. A quick check on whether that capability exists is to look at Cyber Monday performance. No loss of traffic is a good sign the people managing the database and servers can handle surges in visitors, have experience moving traffic, and know how to adjust server capacity to meet transient demand.

5 LYONSCG White Paper: Web Hosting & Handling Traffic Surges 4 SELECTING A HOSTING PROVIDER FOR ON-DEMAND SERVICES Many hosting providers will claim to make real-time database and server load adjustments. To make sure a hosting provider can successfully handle surge capacity, you should ask these questions: How much extra capacity do they have? Obviously, you can t add capacity to your ecommerce website if your hosting provider doesn t already have the servers to support it. Make sure they have an understanding of just how large traffic surges can get so they know how much extra capacity to have on hand. Look at how they ve handled known times of peak surges like Cyber Monday. Also, remember your company isn t the only one seeking on-demand services. Do they offer advanced planning and contracted service commitments? You need to have a guarantee that added capacity-on-demand will be available when needed. Without the ability to contract for such services in advance, you may find yourself paying a premium. How well do they understand ecommerce? Being able to handle traffic spikes is not enough. You need a provider who s well-versed in the operation of your ecommerce platform. If application knowledge and hosting are separated, there may not be time to react appropriately to a surge. In the Tom Petty example, LYONSCG s experience with the Magento Enterprise ecommerce platform enabled us to make sure the server, database, and application worked in harmony. When it comes to planning for surge services, don t overlook the interaction between server and application software. You need a hosting provider who can differentiate between issues with servers and capacity; issues with the database; and issues with application software scalability. HOW A MAJOR RECORD LABEL AVOIDED A BREAKDOWN FOR TOM PETTY FANS With the Tom Petty website, a major record label relied on on-demand capacity service from LYONSCG to manage added traffic. Planning began well in advance of the Highway Companions Club promotion. The hosting project included: A pre-implementation planning project to plan the on-demand systems Creation of a special overflow page with an event-specific message A health-check of the database server Database tuning and server upgrades to accommodate the ondemand capacity requirements Real-time monitoring and adjustments as traffic was surging following the release of the 177,000 s While demand on the servers increased nearly 100-fold when the summer tour ticket availability for fan club members was announced, traffic was handled without problem. Experts from LYONSCG were able to rapidly increase capacity from two to seven 48-core servers as the corresponding increase in applications took place. The system processed more than 20 orders per minute for two hours straight without breaking a sweat. The database was never stressed.

6 LYONSCG White Paper: Web Hosting & Handling Traffic Surges 5 CONCLUSION Meeting spikes in demand is an age-old problem for all online retailers. That s why an on-demand traffic strategy needs to be a part of your ecommerce plan. Keeping your online store up and running in the event of a traffic surge is too important to trust to just any hosting provider. You need to pay careful attention to your hosting provider s database expertise and ability to scale. That way you ll be able to satisfy your customers whether they re rabid fans, running down a dream of tickets to their hero s latest concert; royal watchers who want to dress like the Duchess of Cambridge; or a parent tracking down this season s must-have toy.

7 LYONSCG White Paper: Web Hosting & Handling Traffic Surges 6 Thank You About LYONSCG LYONSCG is the industry s premier ecommerce digital agency, serving brand, retail, and B2B organizations with tailored ecommerce solutions that maximize online potential. Headquartered in Chicago, the firm offers a full range of services beginning with digital strategy and digital marketing and extending through experience design, platform implementation, application development, hosting and support. The approach is holistic to provide every client with a creative, robust and increasingly profitable ecommerce website. LYONSCG is ecommerce Realized! LYONSCG 20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1750 Chicago, IL P: F: W:

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