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Best Buy Holiday Readiness: An Interview with Andrew Tsai on the Preparations of one the Savviest Online Retailers

Akamai has been proudly partnering with Best Buy on eCommerce holiday preparations for years.  While we work with many eCommerce IT organizations, Best Buy is notably one of the best - they are forward thinking and innovative, technically savvy about performance and scalability, operationally excellent with extensive monitoring, and have an excellent partnership with their business team.  

In today's blog, I sat down with Andrew Tsai, the Akamai Engagement Manager for Best Buy, to talk about what makes the Best Buy and Akamai relationship so successful, and why Best Buy has an industry-leading holiday readiness model to emulate.  Here's a photo of Andrew - we managed to catch him in one of the rare moments he's not eating a Chipotle burrito (or two).


[Lelah] I know you love working with the Best Buy team.  How is Best Buy more sophisticated, in your estimation, than other retailers you've worked with?

[Andrew] They understand the benefits of availability, performance, and supportability and how working with Akamai helps accomplish those goals.  When their business team wants bigger events, richer and more dynamic content say around holiday, RewardZone, or a Super Bowl commercial, it's executed with scale in mind.


We are part of the extensive collaboration that exists between their marketing and IT teams.  As potential solutions are discussed, compromises are made if needed.  In addition to scale, we do things in a way that we can support and track, so we can react quickly and apply lessons learned to the next event.  Another differentiator is we have an enterprise type relationship with them and they have developed their own internal processes to deal with priorities and chargebacks as we work with many groups within Best Buy.  

Finally, their operations team is excellent and among the best in class we've seen. They have extensive monitoring both at their origin and at Akamai.  Both sides receive each other's alerts, so there is a huge collaboration between us so that either side can respond or escalate an issue quickly.  Internally, they have great monitoring to keep third parties in check, trace individual user sessions, and have a very good understanding of their daily traffic patterns.  They live in our Luna Control Portal, look at traffic and usage reports constantly, and have been known to recommend a few portal enhancements or two.  In fact, before we even notified them, they once identified an Akamai caching change was almost complete because they saw their hits to origin dramatically decrease in real time.  

From my perspective, the Best Buy team understands Akamai and the ROI of leveraging the Akamai platform.  They always ask Akamai first.  It's the difference between being a strategic partner and a vendor.  

[Lelah] When does Best Buy begin holiday readiness planning?  And what are their objectives for the season?

[Andrew] In all seriousness, it begins as early as Q1.  Early in the year, we meet to recap the previous year, brainstorm ideas even crazy ones, and plan out the roadmap for the upcoming year.  Obviously things come up, but it really helps us plan out the year so we have an idea of their initiatives, understand each other's team structure, and determine how Akamai's products and solutions fit in to their initiatives or not.  The real heads down work starts roughly in August and they have a dedicated holiday readiness team who is responsible to make sure we are ready.  

Revenue goals are of course primary, but they really look at offload and performance from an operations perspective.

[Lelah] In the architecture planning, how do you work with them to evaluate their architecture and their key risks?

Best Buy architects with Akamai in mind.  We have weekly calls and we have quarterly reviews on site.  If appropriate, we have access to internal sites and applications and share documentation whenever possible.  We're not afraid to bounce ideas or innovate something new and often engage in quick proof of concepts so we can design with best practices and offload in mind.  They are very smart with lots of cool ideas about how to use the Akamai platform.  In fact, they were one of the integral customers that pioneered Akamai's SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] product.  Our account team loves it as we have a chance to architect and think outside the box.  

[Lelah] Can you give me an example of how they use Akamai to scale?

[Andrew] Probably the best examples are their holiday initiatives for which we are key part.  For their home page and doorbuster sales, they came up with static pages and used NetStorage to ensure that traffic was 100% offloaded to Akamai. Each of these pages was also designed with all types of devices in mind - desktop, tablet, iPhone/smart phones, and basic devices as well - and each of these device-specific pages is stored in NetStorage.  We handled the mobile device detection and vanity redirects to the device-specific pages at the Akamai Edge.  Time match logic was built in to automatically flip the logic during holiday peak times and revert it back after Cyber Monday.  We also ran through all the purge scenarios in case of emergency changes.  For pages we couldn't cache, we used ESI fragments and tweaked the automated purge schedule to minimize origin bandwidth.  Key PDP pages and SKUs were also analyzed and architected in a way using GTM to go to different origins to achieve maximum offload. 

This was the home page delivered from origin at 11:59 PM, right before the holiday sale kicked in:

Best Buy 1a.png

At midnight on Thanksgiving, the Akamai configuration logic kicked in to serve this page automatically from NetStorage:

Best Buy 2a.png

This happened for the mobile device pages too:

Best Buy 3a.png

The result is 100% offload at peak!

Best Buy 4a.png

[Lelah] Wow - that's impressive.  Are there any other cool solutions that we've partnered with Best Buy on this holiday?

We've been working on a cutting-edge project for the last year that allows them to be very dynamic and scale on-demand with their traffic, be more agile with releases and maximize offload for their browse functionality.  Unfortunately I can't share the details as its confidential to Best Buy, but Akamai has implemented some pretty sophisticated routing, caching, and failover logic that are critical to the project.    

Recently, we've implemented a Download Manager for online games and their digital library that allows customers to optimize large software downloads purchased directly from bestbuy.com.

They also make great use of SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] whether it's for planned maintenance or unforeseen events.  They're smart enough to know that having a contingency plan is important, and they make sure the experience is as user friendly as possible.

[Lelah] In a previous blog post I talked with Paul about the criticality of load testing. How does Best Buy load test for the holidays?

[Andrew] It's part of their holiday readiness team and initiative that they have every year.  Best Buy has been running load tests every few weeks since August.  With Premium Support, our team is fully aligned to Best Buy and we are very much engaged to help them work through issues whether it's log analysis or pinpointing where certain bottlenecks may be.  

[Lelah] This past Thanksgiving weekend, how was the Akamai team involved in monitoring? 

[Andrew] In preparation, we put together extensive documentation on our internal wiki for our aligned Premium Support team so collaboratively we were well aware of their holiday projects and key URLs.  We looked at past traffic peaks and since we were part of their holiday planning, we knew roughly when the traffic was going to hit us.  We had our usual Akamai and origin alerts set up, but tuned for holiday to eliminate false positives.  Bi-daily touch points were also a good way of keeping the Akamai and Best Buy teams in sync as we constantly monitored error rates and offload.  Overall, things went smoothly and we were able to squeeze in some turkey/family/ football time, and I think that's a direct result of our close collaboration and proactive planning throughout the year.

[Lelah] I'm not surprised to hear things went so well.  Thanks for sharing all of this great info on Best Buy's holiday preparations.  You guys are definitely working on some cool projects.  I now owe you a burrito (or two).

1 Comment

Wow, young Andrew really cleared things up. Best Buy truly seems sophisticated and a very professional company that really take care and take their jobs really professionally. This is what I like to hear and I speak for many people.