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Ensuring high availability during unexpected holiday peak traffic

Consumers shop on the web for its convenience, savings and efficiency. Expectations continue to rise on retailers to deliver exceptional experiences anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Akamai Technologies - 2014 Consumer Web Performance Expectations Survey revealed that 30 percent of users expect pages to load in one second or less and 49 percent expect pages to load in two seconds or less. When expectations are not met, nearly 48 percent will abandon the site and 22 percent will not return.
Performance becomes significantly important when you need it the most and especially during the peak shopping days. According to Akamai Retail Net Usage (NUI) Index, Cyber Monday continues to be the most popular shopping day with its record-breaking traffic peak year-over-year. 


With 19.2 percent of retailers' annual sales taking place during the holiday shopping season, (U.S. Census Bureau) performance and availability matter more than ever and being prepared for traffic during this lucrative time is critical as it is about consistency, reliability and fast experience for the end user. 

Now you're probably thinking, am I prepared? Have I done everything possible to ensure the web site (Web Servers, Application Servers, Database etc.) is able to handle the increase in traffic that the peak selling season will bring? 
Whether you have done this over the years or are just preparing to deal with it for the first time, generally retailers' holiday readiness plan includes a number of the following initiatives:

    • Forecast and growth numbers
    • Scaling your infrastructure 
    • Securing and patching servers
    • Ensuring that applications are up to date
    • Improving networks and increasing throughput 
    • Running load tests 
    • Support and escalation procedures 

This may seem sufficient to get you through the peak - but is it enough? 

Maybe you don't have the budget to improve the infrastructure or invest in additional IT resources to sustain this growth. Do you cross your fingers and hope for the best or even worse remove major site functionality in an attempt to meet the unknown demands?

Regardless of your situation, brand recognition has become a key differentiator, and one of the best ways to improve this perception is through providing a consistent, reliable and seamless experience for the end user. Using the Akamai Web Performance Solution along side with the Akamai Visitor Prioritization and/or API Prioritization Cloudlets, you can create a reliable solution that is both proactive and reactive when it matters the most.  

A typical web site page generally contains a mix of static and dynamic content. Static content includes images or style sheets, while dynamic or application generated content includes elements of your site that are personalized to each viewer.  The Akamai solutions focus on offloading the infrastructure while delivering network resiliency via a globally distributed network. Static content like the images, CSS/JS files and other structural components are retrieved from the local cache of an Akamai edge server allowing you to offload up to 100 percent of your static assets. 

Personalization of social networks, twitter streams and geo-location built into mobile applications has made caching content less useful. Dynamic page caching can help to further reduce resource utilization for costly application and database tiers. It provides page load performance by focusing on offloading dynamic portions of your site that may change for each user.

So how do you address the imbedded personalization when all of your pages are catered to individual users? You can start by focusing on the most common category of your sessions - anonymous user.

In top Internet retailer sites, anonymous user's session account for 30-70 percent of all sessions and 100 percent of bots are anonymous. By applying Akamai's Dynamic Page Caching solution, we can categorize and take advantage of various user identifiers. The most common technique is to look at the cookies to identify if a user is logged in or has any items in the shopping cart. If both conditions are false, then the page is considered generic and can be cached. 

Let's say that 30 percent of your sessions are bots and another 20 percent are anonymous visitors, just browsing. With Akamai's advance-caching solution, 50 percent of your traffic is now completely offloaded, preserving your valuable resources and ultimately improving the user experience. 

What happens when Cyber Monday comes and you get an unexpected flow of users as a result of a successful marketing campaign or in demand product? While you are thrilled about the increase in traffic and orders, your focus has now turned to keeping your site up and running, and trying to preserve your brand's name.  Akamai's Visitor Prioritization and API Prioritization Cloudlets can help. These products are designed to reduce abandonment and protect from site failure without requiring any additional infrastructure or custom development.  The Akamai Visitor Prioritization Cloudlet provides options to reroute users by directing a portion of request to a user friendly, virtual waiting room. Anonymous shoppers who are just browsing, logged in user with nothing in the shopping cart, 300 dollar orders - the possibilities are endless. Based on how you may choose to prioritize your clients, Visitor Prioritization Cloudlet provides granular control of traffic accessing your resources and bandwidth when your back-end infrastructure can only handle a portion of the traffic coming in.

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With customization inherited in Web 3.0, APIs are increasingly being used as a mechanism to link capabilities from separate software components. For applications that use resources of various formats (like JSON or XML), API Prioritization Cloudlet allows users to specify which calls are given priority and are sent to the origin during high-demand situations.  The Akamai API Prioritization Cloudlet improves the reliability and user experience for native mobile applications and single page applications that have a high volume of API service calls.

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The granular controls of Akamai's Property Manager and Visitor and API Prioritization Cloudlets enable users to logically prioritize requests based on a number of variables such as: cookies, file extensions, device characteristics, geo-location, and many more providing branded experience for each and every user. 

During holiday periods your brand name becomes just as important as your revenue. With 37 percent of retailers perceiving brand damage as the number one cost due to downtime, going beyond static and dynamic caching is imperative. Take the headache out of holiday peak traffic and contact your Akamai representative today for a free Visitor and/or API Prioritization Cloudlet trial. 

Post by Seva Vagodny, Technical Project Manager at Akamai