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The Calm Before the Storm (Part 3 of 'Live on the Front Lines of the Holiday Shopping Season')

It's suddenly gone quiet here at Akamai.  The phone is ringing less.  Emails have slowed to a crawl.   While our Net Usage Index for Retail as of yesterday is showing retail traffic hitting new peaks - we are now trending 40% above traffic levels this time last year globally and 50% in North America - the true scaling test for retailers will begin this afternoon.  Our months of preparation are complete; it is now time to wait ...
With a few quiet moments, this is the perfect time to talk more specifically about how Akamai works with its largest retail customers to prepare for the holidays.  I admit this is where the tech geek in me gets excited.  Seven years ago I started off at Akamai as a Solutions Engineer.  My job was to work with our customers on the front lines to identify solutions that solved their problems and work with them to implement successfully.  After seeing the technology in action every day - dramatic scale and performance improvements immediately after making the DNS switch - it didn't take long before I became a true fan of our products.  I used to tell friends that the best thing about my job was that the technology REALLY worked, and that I truly believed (and believe) that every company doing business on the Internet needs Akamai.  It's never more true than for our retail customers this holiday weekend.

So what do we do? Here are the four specific steps Akamai recommends to our retail customers to stay up for the holiday sale season:

Step 1: Get on the DSA Platform
Step 1 for any retailer leveraging Akamai for scale, performance and security during the holiday period is to implement Dynamic Site Accelerator across your ecommerce site, mobile sites and mobile apps.  DSA is non-intrusive to implement, and in most cases can be up and running in as little as two short weeks with no code changes (and yes, we are often able to manage an implementation in as little as 24 hours in emergency situations ... as so often happens this weekend).  DSA helps retailers achieve acceleration of dynamic content - including secure transactions - to ensure fast, consistent response times regardless of end user geography. DSA also immediately caches all static content to offload your web tier and reduce bandwidth requirements up to 90%.

Step 2: Cache Pages and Offload your App and DB tiers with DSA Premier
Step 2 is to identify dynamically generated pages on your site and offload the vulnerable - and expensive - application tier.  Most customers are surprised to learn that some dynamically generated pages can be cached on Akamai edge servers for more dramatic performance improvements and scalability.  The most common approach to caching pages is Conditional Page Caching of Home, Category, and Product pages served to anonymous users and bots.  Akamai can detect whether a cookie is present indicating a user is known and logged on (or has items in their cart).  If that cookie is not present, the page can typically be served from cache.  This is when Akamai's capabilities truly shine, and where the holiday scale benefits really start to kick in. Customers have offloaded as much as 60% of their home, category and product page traffic from their application tier with DSA premier - instantly doubling scale and capacity for peak traffic.

Step 3: Have a Back-up Plan with Shopper-Friendly Traffic Throttling
Step 3 is to protect uncacheable pages - such as a shopper's cart - with Shopper Prioritization.  Akamai's Shopper Prioritization Application (SPA) allows you to move a segment of visitors to a branded site experience, in real time, when capacity issues strike. When there is a large influx of traffic and extra processing capacity is required, Akamai immediately reroutes a percentage of traffic to a branded experience you design. With SPA implemented in front of your most vulnerable content and site functionality, you can ensure 100% uptime for your shoppers.

Step 4: Protect your Site from Malicious Attacks with DDos Defender
And finally, but perhaps most importantly, is to protect your site from potential attack traffic.  With attacks up to 10,000 times normal levels during the holiday season of 2010, retailers are especially vulnerable at this time.  Akamai's DDos Defender and additional security solutions give retailers options to deflect and absorb attacks on the Akamai edge, rather than allowing that attack traffic into their datacenter.   Akamai has absorbed simultaneous attacks of 10,000 times normal traffic levels with ease - in some cases our retail customers did not even know they were under attack!

My hope is that you are all ready for the peak to hit this holiday season (I predict that will happen 9PM ET Friday night).  But in the event you hit a bump in the road, remember that Akamai has over 50 people on call throughout the weekend to work with retailers during their most important season.  We're ready and waiting to help should you need it.   Just call our customer care team 24/7 at (877) 4-AKATEC and we'll be ready to step in.

Good luck to everyone today!  And stay tuned for more data on the trends and insights we see throughout the weekend.

Lelah Manz is Chief Strategist, Commerce for Akamai