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Valentine's-related traffic spikes cause heartache for ill-prepared sites

With the last-minute Valentine's Day shoppers increasingly turning to the Internet to make up for lost time, e-commerce companies are doing everything they can to stand out from the pack. However, some sites inevitably fall victim to the problems that result from this rise in demand.

RELATED: Demand growing for application performance management tools, experts say

One company that was hit particularly hard is Swarovski, an Austria-based provider of crystals for jewelers and fashion designers. Because of the nature of its products, Swarovski stood to capitalize on the spike in demand in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day. However, the company's website was hamstrung by an average wait time of 10 seconds for processing orders online. Even worse, Swarovski senior technology consultant for IT application services René Neubacher says the IT support team struggled to increase performance simply because they could not identify the bottleneck.

It's a problem that Lisa Robinson Schoeller, senior director of marketing for Compuware, has seen quite often. Some customers mistakenly focus on the wrong issues because they lack the tools to diagnose the real problems with their apps, whereas others simply overlook the importance of load testing or establishing a dedicated performance center, she says.

These problems stem from the rise of several trends that have affected application performance as a whole, Robinson Schoeller says. The rise of new Web-facing companies, and what Robinson Schoeller called "the Google effect" making them more accessible to the customer, have put more pressure on businesses to ensure reliability for their web-based, customer-facing applications.

"It all comes down to performance because any slowdowns impact the revenue of a company," Robinson Schoeller says. "It used to be OK if you had, say, a six-second response time to load a page. But now it's really a second or less to load. Otherwise you're going to lose those customers to another site, because the competition is just a click away."

Keeping customers on the website, and the ability to resolve the issues that are driving them away, becomes significantly more important around high-traffic periods like Valentine's Day, IDC program director for Application Life-Cycle Management & Executive Strategies Melinda Ballou says.

"There are going to be problems with these spikes in demand you see around specific types of holidays," Ballou says. "The main thing to consider when you have these spikes in demand is you need to actually have the ability to automate and understand what the impact is going to be from an end-user perspective."

Naturally, businesses looking to capitalize on the opportunities presented by high-traffic shopping holidays are developing applications that are as complex as the markets they serve, Robinson Schoeller says. Online businesses need to prepare for end user access from across the globe, as well as from an array of different browsers and devices, such as tablets and smartphones.

"The complexity behind it all, in being able to see through all this to find problems and figure out where they are, is astronomical," Robinson Schoeller says.

A survey of IT decision makers conducted by BlueStripe software found that 64% of respondents manage applications that support seven or more technologies. In comparison, just 20% claimed their applications support five to seven technologies, while 16% reported fewer than five. As a result, the most common challenge, as cited by 61% of respondents, was trying to pinpoint the source of the problems.

The ability to find and resolve application issues has put more value on APM tools. Swarovski, for example, was able to identify the problems dragging down its importance -- a 10-second process for logging and confirming customer orders -- and subsequently witnessed a 30% decrease in wait time, Neubacher says.

As more businesses move toward e-commerce, the ability to monitor and manage Web-based applications will no longer be an advantage, but a necessity, Robinson Schoeller says.

"If you look at 10 years ago, very little business in comparison was done on the Internet," she says. "Now the Internet is just a complete way of life, and it's a matter of survival for businesses to make sure they have the absolute best performance that they can provide."

Colin Neagle covers Microsoft security and network management for Network World. Keep up with his blog: Rated Critical, follow him on Twitter: @ntwrkwrldneagle. Colin's email is cneagle@nww.com.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.


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