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How to bulletproof your website

Esther Shein | Nov. 29, 2011
'Tis the season to begin ramping up online shopping activity, and for retailers that means doing all they can to ensure their websites are up, highly available and able to handle peak capacity. Looming in many IT managers' minds is the cautionary tale of Target, whose website crashed twice this fall after it was inundated by an unprecedented number of online shoppers when the retailer began selling clothing and accessories from high-end Italian fashion company Missoni.

More bulletproofing tips

Make sure an e-commerce site is secure, specifically against DDoS attacks.

Freeze all maintenance and any non-critical code changes in the November/December timeframe.

Make sure every component has a risk-mitigation strategy so there is a plan in place if something on the network goes down.

Communicate with marketing and other relevant business units to make sure you understand their promotion and other plans.

Consider a move to the cloud to handle seasonal peak capacity.

But no matter how prepared you are, problems can still occur, especially when you outsource to third-party vendors. "Nothing is fully bulletproof, so really what [online retailers] need to try and achieve is fault tolerance,'' says Mike Gualtieri, a principal at Forrester Research. He recalls a retailer he worked with that uses an external credit card service that went down one year on Cyber Monday, so the company's orders couldn't be processed.

"Their e-commerce system is in-house, so they had planned for volumes -- searching and shopping the site -- but they have a service level agreement with a credit card service processing service that said, 'We can handle that volume.' So they did all the right things for their own systems and planned for the [increased] volume on Cyber Monday, but were held hostage by this particular provider,'' Gualtieri says.

He says he recommended that the retailer re-architect its site so if the payment processor were to go down again the company could still collect the order and payment information and process payments at a later time. That's particularly useful for small retailers, he says, who may not be able to invest in technologies like an online shopping cart and have to rely on third parties for the functionality.

Regardless of their size, Gualtieri says, retailers need to examine every component of their systems and assign a confidence level between one and five. "Every online retailer should look at their entire ecommerce architecture and all the components they use: shopping cart, products search, account registration--whatever they have--and rate their confidence level.

"Don't assume that everything will go right,'' Gualtieri says. "Assign a confidence level and don't fret too much, but have a mitigation strategy and backup plan."

Optimize for traffic

Among the lessons Karmaloop learned during the 2010 holiday season were that its content delivery network configuration was not optimized for the traffic it was going to experience on Cyber Monday, says Joseph Finsterwald, CTO at the online retailer of alternative street fashion for men and women. "We worked with our CDN vendor Akamai to come up with a configuration that was a better fit for us,'' he says. The firm also discovered problems with parallel processes on the network and synchronization issues when servicing up Web pages, which was corrected by rewriting code.

 

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