e(lastic)Commerce

Picture the scene, an excited child in the wee small hours of Christmas morning finding a parcel under the tree with their name on the tag. The anticipation builds as the paper is torn from the package to reveal the secrets within….. but the excitement dies in an instant as the lid is removed from the box and the recipient looks inside – 404 page not found neatly printed on the base.

Getting eCommerece strategy right has never been more challenging. Customers expect every website they visit to be as fast as Google, if the prize is worth fighting for then they may hang about (London 2012 tickets anyone?) but for online consumers, time matters.

For obvious reasons, no one really knows how much online trade is lost in ‘checkout dropout’ – the point where a potential customer fills their basket but the checkout takes so long to process they can’t be bothered to wait any longer and leave without completing the purchase. I’ve done it, maybe you have too. All the time, effort and money getting visitors to the site is wasted, so there’s always a balancing act of capacity over budget in the back of every decision – too much capacity could lead to trouble with massive costs crippling the business, not enough capacity is lost revenue which can have similar consequences.

Christmas is the obvious time of the year for many online retailers but the same applies for all organisations with seasonal peaks in traffic – 9 or so months of steady volumes of visits to the site with a spike around peak time that all the infrastructure needs to be provisioned for.

The ability to increase capacity isn’t new but rather than adding more appliances to manage the additional traffic, licence key upgrades to existing appliances provide an interesting alternative. The ability to take a 10Mbps virtual appliance up to 200Mbps or a 2Gb hardware appliance up to 6Gb with a licence key can keep the costs in check during steady business growth but there’s still the problem of spiky traffic which is exactly where the 90 day burst licence comes in.

NetScaler burst licences allow smaller appliances to be provisioned throughout the quite times of the year but at the point where things start to get busy, a capacity increase can be applied for 90 days – bringing an elastic quality to the delivery mechanism and helping keep the balance of capacity vs budget with a flexible deployment to suit the revenue potential.

Sorted? Getting there but where does all the extra content and merchant service coming from? Temporary deployment of more servers is the usual method but this leads to other issues. Where are the servers coming from – buy them? Rent them? Licencing? Network considerations? Power? Christmas – Bah humbug!

Keeping an eye on the costs, it’s a given that most organisations wish to deploy the smallest possible of additional tin. Other posts in this blog go through server offload either as a solution concept or a basic technical overview but to summarise, utilising a NetScaler appliance will reduce the number of servers deployed to provide the content, particularly with the AppCache feature. Still need to add more servers but fewer of them…

So on site capacity works for some but what about those data centres that are already bursting at the seams?

Cloud platforms that offer IaaS are a genuine alternative – renting additional infrastructure from a trusted 3rd party is a very flexible way of keeping the cost/balance spot on which brings the next problem – how to manage the traffic between cloud provider and the on site resource? Easier said than done? In some cases yes but the post on Cloud Bridge could be well worth a read…

Right so the data centre  now has the content & capacity to deliver enough visitors to maximise revenue – how’s it all going? Analytic capabilities are next on the list as ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’….

Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs) are in the ideal position in the traffic stream to understand realtime performance – they see every part of the delivery from the server to the end point.  NetScaler App Flow (for use with 3rd party analysis tools) & Insight (currently in beta but due Q4) are invaluable in spotting everything from customer trends to poor performance and bringing this information to the hands of those that need it to make informed decisions. So that just leaves security…

If there are card transactions then PCI compliance is a must, everything else is reputation and/or revenue damaging and hackers are getting clever. Keep it safe and keep it stable often involves additional products all with their own implications on cost and complexity but again,  protection against malicious attack can be a function of the ADC – the AppFirewall post looks into typical existing production deployments and the level of security achieved while maintaining impressively simplified management overhead.

All of the above can be achieved by embarking on a mammoth mission with countless vendors to deploy various point products all of which need to be researched, trialed, procured, powered, cooled, managed and maintained. A big ask for a department that’s looking to do more with less.

If a single device can provide all of the above functionality, and more, then it needs to have the pedigree to give IT decision makers the confidence to trust it to keep their revenue streams open and the virtual checkouts ringing. NetScaler made a name for itself with the web monsters like Amazon & eBay and provides dynamic, scalable solutions which handle millions of transactions a day. The popular misconception is that NetScaler is only in the enterprise market and comes with a substantial price tag which is true if it’s delivering an enterprise level service. At the other end of the scale, virtual appliances are the perfect fit for those with more modest traffic levels, offering the same level of features with a price tag less than a top end MacBook. The smallest start-up company with big growth plans, or established brands with big customer bases and shareholders to please, Citrix have covered all bases.

Capacity costs money and keeping costs down is crucial in competitive markets, so it makes sense to look at ways of providing the right amount of infrastructure for the demand, no more, no less – e(lastic)Commerce could catch on – Al

© Al Taylor 28th Sept 2012

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About netscalertaylor

Co-founder at cloudDNA - a team of like minded Citrix NetScaler specilists

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