Everyone has already heard how important the cloud is to the future of business, but that doesn’t just apply to the Fortune 500s. E-commerce companies of all sizes can get terrific benefits — e.g., reduced costs and quicker recovery times — from moving their website and back-end to the cloud. Most important of all however is that the cloud enables full scalability, specifically the ability to grow and shrink the size of a company’s website infrastructure in accordance with customer demand. In today’s world of social media and online deals, that kind of scalability is more crucial than ever.
Those sudden surges of visitors won’t always be predictable either. When Michael Phelps — yes, the most decorated men’s swimmer in U.S. Olympic history – tweeted a photo of the ring he purchased for his fiancée’s birthday, his millions of followers were quick to click! The vintage jewelry store, Trumpet & Horn, which designed the ring, suddenly experienced a massive surge in traffic. Fortunately, the retailer's dynamic, cloud-based infrastructure was able to scale up to meet the demand, smoothly deliver a few million positive customer experiences, and then scale back to normal operations, seamlessly to the consumer and without any human intervention. When consumer interest and sales are headed up, a website going down is a disaster. Therefore, having a website with these capabilities is a must for any e-commerce company, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Kiss Your Hardware Good-Bye
The first step to a scalable website is to get rid of your hardware such as the servers and hosting companies that store your website. When companies build a static infrastructure — i.e., their own internal servers or space rented from a hosting company — their build is fielded for what they think is the peak. However, that peak can be subject to change as more people discover the brand. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that when you build for “peak,” you have a lot of server space sitting idle the rest of the time. Cloud deployments allow you to be ready both for the peaks in shopper traffic and the lulls, and you pay for what you use, without the overhead of costly servers that go unused over 90 percent of the time.
Slow is the New Down
What’s crucial to understand about a scalable website is that when it’s built right, it doesn’t shut down or slow down. Face it: when a website slows down, it’s as good as dead. Research has revealed that 47 percent of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less, and 40 percent will completely abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. In general, the first symptoms of a slowdown are load times that take one second or two seconds longer, but as the website’s back-end gets strained, those load times can become 15 seconds or more. At that point people assume that it’s down and move to a larger, more reliable vendor. For an e-commerce website to truly consider itself successful, both the first and millionth customers should have the same shopping experience.
It Takes More Than a Fast Website
So your website is now flying and you’re ready to scale, what else should you consider? Let’s say a store moves its website to Amazon Web Services and can now process 10,000 orders per hour. Is the software being used by the warehouse receiving those orders going to be able to keep up or will it overload and shut down? When planning for scalability, always keep in mind that this means scaling your entire network infrastructure and keeping an eye out for problems elsewhere.
Always Remember the Risk of Traditional Websites
While the process of building a scalable website in the cloud is daunting even to those companies that have the IT personnel to handle it, it’s still not as daunting as the risks present when sticking to traditional website deployments. When a company’s website gets overwhelmed, its poor performance means that visitors get upset, causing them to defect to a competitor.
Just as upsetting, and potentially catastrophic, is when this results in lost revenue, as downtime can cost a company up to thousands of dollars per minute and turn shoppers into defectors. Take the example of Michael Phelps’ free publicity from earlier: if his 1.5 million followers had visited Trumpet & Horn's website and it couldn’t scale, the company would have earned a poor, and wholly undeserved reputation. Those potential customers would take their dollars elsewhere, and voice their complaints via social media. Scalability is crucial to any e-commerce company’s corporate brand and its success. By building a cloud-based store with care and consideration, a company can not only scale with demand but guard itself from the threat of downtime.
Sonal Puri is the CEO at Webscale Networks, an application delivery controller (ADC) and management solution.