Akamai Diversity

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Why the Internet Doesn't Always Work

A primer for Controlling the Challenges of Internet

This coming week thousands of us who focus on ecommerce - both as online retailers and technology providers alike - will be converging in Chicago at IRCE's 2012 event.  Teaming up with Kevin Diamond, the CTO of Hautelook, I am looking forward to the opportunity to talk about the challenges of doing business over the Internet.  

Hautelook is an excellent example of a company who had little time to evolve their technology and infrastructure.   As a flash sale site, Hautelook has to face the challenges of peak traffic every single day.  Their story is a great case study in making the Internet work under unique pressures. Not only did they see 60% YoY growth in 2011, they face "Black Friday" spikes every single day at 8am.

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As content leaves your datacenter, your degree of control wanes
To understand - and therefore control - the risks of the Internet we need to evaluate the full path of content from the source, across the Internet, and onto the client.  In today's increasingly complex environment, that source of content can be a retailer's datacenter (or datacenters!), cloud based infrastructure or SaaS/3rd party based content.  The client side is equally complex encompassing multiple devices and geographies, through interfaces either you or your partners control.  

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Datacenter Scale
At the content's source, the most critical component is scale.  A number of high profile sale event failures over the last year alone have taught us all a lesson in preparing for the best case traffic scenarios.  This is exactly where Hautelook's experience in daily flash sale events can be applied.  Paraphrasing from Kevin's approach, the critical factors to scaling for peak events include:
1.    Know your threshold, and constantly reevaluate with growth
2.    Identify bottlenecks at scale through comprehensive load testing
3.    Virtualize your environment across a public or private cloud, relying on an effective load balancing strategy
4.    Deliver as much content as possible from a content delivery service; delivering even dynamic pages using Akamai's Dynamic Page Caching service.
5.    Design pages to personalize content client-side, retrieving just the personalized elements via javascript, resulting in the entire page being cacheable.

Internet Performance, Reliability, and Security

For the personalized content - like checkout processes - that must traverse the Internet, the focus shifts from scale to performance, reliability, and security.  While the Internet may seem simple on the outside (so often depicted as a fluffy white cloud!) it is actually a complex web of networks connected via peering points that are often based on business contracts versus performance.  The lowest cost route of transit may be the most congested, resulting in loss of data and impacting performance.  

These problems are compounded in mobile networks, designed with voice rather than data in mind.  The catch up effort to improve throughput and performance is significant.  In fact mobile websites now have page load speeds that average 9 seconds - we haven't seen page load speeds of 9 seconds in desktop since 2001.  We're 11 years behind!

To make matters worse, the complexity of the Internet has increased over the last 18 months with the growing threat of malicious attacks.  Attacks are increasing in frequency, size and sophistication putting your site at risk of becoming unavailable for real buyers, or potentially worse, putting your customer's sensitive data at risk of theft.

Fortunately these problems have largely been solved.  In next week's session we'll talk about the ability to:
1.    Control the path your content takes through the internet, routing around congestion issues that impede performance
2.    Increase the throughput of the internet - sending more data across so the content reaches your end user faster
3.    Modify HTML content in real-time to be optimized for device and internet conditions
4.    Use a distributed security network to protect against malicious attacks of any size and scale     

Client Complexity - Many Devices, Growing Destinations
Perhaps what we've talked most about in the last year - the growing complexity of serving to multiple devices with varying characteristics.  Compound this with the complexity of serving geographic specific content - whether it's translated and in the local currency or offering the right promotions for Florida versus Minnesota in the winter.   Understanding where your user is, and what device they are holding, usually dictates entirely different content.  A comprehensive strategy to capture and use that intelligence, and serve the right content with the first request, is critical to improving bounce rates and engagement.  

The Prescription for "Cloud Control"
As more and more content moves to the cloud, implementing a "cloud control" layer to consistently ensure near infinite scale, best in class performance and reliability, and security is critical.  I look forward to delving into each of these topics in more detail next week

Lelah Manz is Chief Strategist for eCommerce at Akamai