Seasonal and Peak Readiness Intro

Every year, thousands of website owners need to prepare for peak events. For website owners in the United States and Canada, these typically occur on Black Friday / Cyber Monday and the lead up to Christmas, but may occur at different times, according to the typical schedule for your industry or a decision to market heavily during a specific time or for a specific event.

During a peak event, the amount of traffic to your site may increase 10x or more over your normal traffic. This presents some unique issues with both management and scaling. Get this wrong and your website could be on its knees, unable to respond to any new traffic. Get this right and your peak event may exceed all expectations.

Over the past 20 years of my career I have worked with many e-commerce players and witnessed (and played a part in) what good peak planning looks like. At a high level, there are a few major categories of work that need to be undertaken, and these are outlined below.

General / DevOps

  1. Team contacts update – Ensure you have all contact details up to date
  2. Vendor contacts update – Ensure you have all contact details up to date and have agreed an escalation plan with each vendor
  3. Coordination with marketing department and business teams, campaigns and promotions – Proactively plan with your marketing departments to ensure there are no major surprises. Agree a certification limit with the team.
  4. Alerting systems – Ensure you have a framework in place to determine what systems your want to monitor and determine appropriate alert thresholds. Test these systems to ensure they are functioning as expected.
  5. Documented escalation procedures and incident management – Ensure you have an escalation procedure for each type of alert or incident that could occur. Have a catch all escalation procedure for anything else.
  6. Monitoring systems and dashboards – Setup appropriate dashboards and assign teams to monitor these.
  7. Supply chain / order fulfilment – Ensure they are briefed on the expected volume and have a plan in place to handle the load.
  8. Post mortems – Schedule a review with key team members to understand what went well and what can be improved next time.

Security

  1. Security compliance – Assess your site against standard security requirements to ensure you are compliant.
  2. Vulnerability assessment – Assess your site’s handling of known vulnerabilities.
  3. Penetration testing – Execute specific tests to protect against a range of security exploits.
  4. Bot management – Monitor, plan and create a mitigation plan to handle both good bots and bad bots.

Performance and scaling

  1. Performance monitoring – Ensure that you have appropriate systems in place to accurately monitor systems performance.
  2. Contingency planning – Should there be issues with performance, what mitigation strategies will be in place?
  3. Load testing – Determine an accurate model of traffic using previous data. Work with business to plan traffic volumes for next peak event and certify the latest release based on expected peak volumes.
  4. Scalability plan – Should systems upgrades be required or cloud scaling put in place, ensure that there is plan for this and that it is well tested.
  5. CDN tuning – Content delivery networks are great at offloading traffic from your core network. Review their configuration to determine if there are any low hanging fruit that could be addressed to make your site more scaleable.

User experience

  1. 3rd party management – Assess 3rd parties to ensure they will be able to cope with the anticipated volume (with little / no degradation in experience). Ensure 3rd parties are briefed on the expected traffic. Consider temporarily disabling any 3rd parties not required as part of the core journey.
  2. Wait rooms – Consider implementing a wait room mechanism if there are major and unforeseen load related issues on your site.
  3. Error handling – Ensure you log all user errors and monitor spikes in both server side and client side errors. Triage and fix where necessary.
  4. Session recording – Enable session recording where necessary to help with triage / troubleshooting. Ideally prior to your peak event.

Optimal performs yearly peak readiness assessments on behalf of our clients to ensure they are confident going into their big events. Interested in working with us? Please contact us for more info.


Rich Howard

Rich Howard

Rich is the founder and CEO of Optimal. He has worked in web development and optimization for almost 20 years, and enjoys working with a diverse range of clients to help them solve their complex technical problems.

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