As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend with thoughts of relaxing with family and friends, there are a group of folks who will still be working or on call the whole time. The Dev and Operations teams of major online stores will have been preparing for this period for many months. Cyber Monday (Nov. 28) is the largest shopping day of not only the Thanksgiving weekend, but the entire year. What’s more, according to Adobe Digital Insights (ADI), it is anticipated to be the largest online shopping day in history. So, no pressure then.
It’s a time when every minute of downtime costs. According to the Aberdeen Group, large companies lose an average of $686,250 per hour of downtime. While most if not all major online retailers are unlikely to experience widespread outages, the more likely scenario is a slow responding site. Under 100ms is perceived as reacting instantly, while a 100ms to 300ms delay is perceptible. 40% of mobile visitors will abandon a site after a three-second delay, so speed of response or perceived speed are critical in determining whether an online purchase takes place, or is abandoned out of frustration. Perceived speed can be addressed by the web team using techniques such as progress bars or content sliding in and out to distract the visitor for the second or so needed for a site to update.
Actual speed of response is much harder to address. In the period leading up to Cyber Monday, enterprises that have adopted DevOps will ideally have both a mindset and a set of practices that drives their preparation for such an important period in the retail calendar. These are likely to include:
Collaboration already in place: The Dev, Ops and Test teams will already be engaged with each other for some time and be objectivized on optimizing the customer experience above individual and departmental goals.
A continuous delivery model: A high velocity of small, incremental releases will have been deployed with little if any negative impact, supported by automated configuration, deployment and release management technologies, and processes.
Knowledge captured from the same period in 2015: Estimates suggest that 2016 will see an 11% increase on last year’s trading, but there will undoubtedly be regional, device, and time variations. Metrics captured during the previous year’s Cyber Monday will not be foolproof in indicating likely site demands this year, but they will still provide a good starting point.
End-to-end visibility of business transactions: Teams will have a full understanding of the software functions and components that make up the purchase process from the initial page view all the way through to database calls and shipping confirmation notifications.
Synthetic and real user monitoring: By combining an understanding of actual user engagement with the site and how it will likely behave under heavy loads at different times from different locations, potential vulnerabilities and bottlenecks can be identified and remediated ahead of time.
Understanding of 3rd party dependencies: When online stores have a major external dependency such as a payment platform, fulfillment agent or loyalty card provider, latency that originates from these must also be identified and addressed.
Scaling up beforehand, with fail overs available: Performance engineering teams and site reliability engineers will take particular responsibility for ensuring that the site is robust enough to withstand vast traffic volumes from multiple logins. This includes topics such as net new account creation and database access speeds, and viewing peak traffic rather than average traffic is the primary consideration.
Full view of the user experience: Shoppers will be accessing the site from notebooks, tablets, and smartphones from a variety of manufacturers in different locations and using a number of network providers, each with their own bandwidth speeds. DevOps teams will have data on how the site will appear to each of these groups and variances that need to investigated.
Recent technology adoptions are not a black box: It’s been an amazing last 18 months for concepts such as microservices and technologies, such as Docker, as they move up the maturity curve and become a staple part of many an enterprise’s stack. However, it’s essential that granular insights into how microservices are performing should be available, such as automatic discovery of entry and exit points of microservice as service endpoints. Equally, DevOps teams should also be able to correlate Docker metrics with the metrics from the applications running in the container.
So once this intensive period from Black Friday starts, what will optimized DevOps teams be doing?
Remedial action: Should any health alert trigger a status switch from green to yellow, there should be a plan of pre-agreed corrective measures to address delays wherever they exist. These delays should not kick-off debate as to whose team is or is not responsible and how to address the pain.
Laser-focus on where an issue resides: Sometimes the cause of response time delays sits in one tiny part of the overall stack. Using the right monitoring solutions, the best DevOps teams will know exactly how to pinpoint the bottleneck and fix it, ahead of the customer sensing any slowdown in site responsiveness. If the full end-to-end business transaction view is obtained, enterprises can identify where online visitors are at any moment in time and if they are at risk of abandoning a site due to poor responsiveness.
Dynamically review performance: While Cyber Monday is most likely to see the peak volume of consumer traffic over the Thanksgiving weekend, Black Friday and the day afterwards will also witness high volumes, giving DevOps teams insights into performance and potential issues ahead of time. Perhaps it’s better to think of it as a particularly heavy traffic volume period with a spike at the end of it than a big bang launch. Rather than setting fixed parameters, dynamic baselining of how servers, networks, databases and so forth are performing provides a more insightful picture of what is working well, and what isn’t.
Business insights: IT-related metrics are great, but in an ideal world the DevOps team should also be able to share KPIs that reflect question such as:
- What is the ratio of sales between existing and new customers?
- Are existing customer details being populated when they login or is there a database access bottleneck?
- Are new customers onboarded without delay?
- Which parts of the site are generating greatest revenue (e.g. electrical vs kitchenware)?
- Is there a delay in the final stage of the purchase cycle?
- Where do visitors sit in the purchase cycle at any given time?
These questions tie back to what we at AppDynamics call Mean Time to Business Awareness (MTBA), — how quickly can essential business-relevant site performance data reach those who need to know and can make key investment and strategic decisions with this information?
Capture essential metrics in preparation for 2017: When Cyber Monday is over, it can be easy to forget to analyze and store the major performance behaviors that occurred. Investment here will pay off in 12 month’s time, as it will help create a foundation for expected site traffic.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Yes, it’s a well worn phrase but it’s especially apt when applied to Cyber Monday. DevOps teams who have done their homework will be attentive during this time, but they will also feel confident that despite application complexity, they know the online experience inside and out, where potential risks may occur and have an agreed response should an issue arise.
If leading retailers get Cyber Monday right, they lay the foundation for a ongoing customer relationship based on the ability to deliver a consistent, quality experience. Failure to prepare could have a highly detrimental impact through customer attrition, lost revenue opportunities, brand reputation and social media naming and shaming.
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