Black Friday is tomorrow! Are you ready? Okay it’s not actually tomorrow. It’s more like four months away. But if you’re a digital enterprise like an e-commerce company, the time to start preparing for Black Friday is now, not four months from now with the holiday barrelling towards you like an angry bull (a bull that is ready to fight to the death for a great deal on flat screen TVs).
Black Friday, along with its hip younger sister Cyber Monday, is one of the biggest days for online purchases of the entire year. For many companies, this is a day of soaring profits and satisfying consumer engagement, yet there are still far too many enterprises whose festive holiday sales are ruined by crashed or slow-loading websites, prompting impatient customers to go to better prepared competitors for their purchasing needs, and for the truly frustrated to take their complaints to social media, creating a wave of brand distrust that can be difficult to recover from.
When this happens to your company, the source of the trouble is actually a good thing. Your customers love your product offerings even more than you had anticipated, and all that pressure on your website is merely a reflection of the successful rapport you’ve established. So don’t sell your business short. Your customers can and will surprise you, and when they do, your online infrastructure needs to possess both the speed and stability to handle extreme increases in traffic without compromising your website’s speed and ease of use.
Below are some of the critical building blocks that determine the strength of your website. Understanding these different categories of tools, as well as learning how to find the options powerful enough to handle your needs, will enable you and your enterprise to make the most of the upcoming shop-tacular celebration.
Load balancers eponymously describe what it actually does: balances the load of incoming data. You can also consider this network equipment or their software equivalent counterparts as traffic controllers, acting as a proxy for the front end of your system in handling client-server connections.
A load balancer receives connections on behalf of the network and uses algorithms of varying sophistication and complexity to determine what server to send each connection to. It’s a seemingly simple task but an absolutely crucial one. Without a sufficiently advanced load balancer to direct the flow of traffic, connections can pile up unevenly, slowing page load times, overloading servers and crashing areas of your network.
The simplest load balancers bounce connections back and forth in a blind round robin style, minimizing server issues by ensuring that every server receives an equal portion of the traffic. More advanced, modern load balancers use sophisticated rules and self-calibrating algorithms to perform uniquely customizable smart load balancing, able to route specific types of content requests to servers best suited to provide it, as well as monitor server and node health to ensure a downed server doesn’t continue to blindly receive new connection requests. With a good load balancer, you can mitigate the risk of server overloads, short-term outages and complete network failures, but with a great load balancer, your system can adapt to handle massive, unexpected traffic spikes without costing your web visitors in connection speed.
Caching is a huge determining factor for how quickly recurring visitors can access your website data. Servers and personal computers are designed to cache content for a limited time after it has been retrieved.
Caching works on the notion that memory that is closer to the user, will be delivered faster. More practically, this means that if you're looking for information from a webpage that you recently accessed, the server (node) or device that is storing the data can deliver it to you without having to re-query that information from a potentially far away database or content housed at the origin server. This does a great job reducing bottlenecks in online traffic by ensuring that the only requests being handled are for content that hasn’t already been cached locally. While every individual computer has its own way of caching content, it’s not good practice for your enterprise to rely on client-side caching capabilities. That’s sort of like a grocery store telling their customers to bring their own shopping cart. Instead, businesses invested in offering a smooth caching experience use a server cache.
A server cache acts as a proxy server for your system, caching commonly requested content locally for multiple end users to be able to access at a time, reducing latency and strain on the network. Like load balancers, not all caching services and product offerings are created equal. You’ll want to look at the TTL expiration time, which determines how long content is cached before being deleted. Different services stress different strengths, be that speed, flexibility, or stability. Only you know what your system’s caching needs are.
Taking Black Friday to the Edge
Ultimately, there’s only so much that traditional server networks can do to handle the kind of traffic loads that peak holidays like Black Friday tend to dish out. There just aren’t enough servers to go around, and the cost of hard-building new ones has to be weighed against the fact that these excess servers will only see use during a handful of high traffic days. This is why savvy enterprises are starting to move their web infrastructure to high speed edge platforms, like the one that Azion provides.
Azion offers a fully programmable distributed edge network, with edge locations spread around the country and the world. The Azion edge is built to handle the new wave of opportunities and challenges faced by the digital community, including high-traffic, high data-flow events like the e-commerce purchase flooding that will occur on black Friday. The edge nodes in our network are scalable and remotely deployable, making the process of growing your presence to handle traffic spikes quick and easy. By maximizing redundancy in our network of edge nodes, we avoid being beholden to any single server. If one node crashes or slows, another can immediately pick up the slack, with no harm done to the rest of the network, or to the perceptual experience of the web visitor.
To top it all off, Azion has custom built our own state of the art layer 7 Load Balancer, uniquely equipped to handle traffic on our edge platform. Thanks to Azion’s REST API, the Advanced Load Balancer is easily integrated into your existing system.
The layout of the distributed edge compliments itself to caching. The nature of how proxy server caching works requires servers be dedicated to a specific geographic location, so that all web visitors in that region can access cached content from that server. The edge offers a much more fine-grained approach.
Edge nodes, by their nature, bring data closer to the end user, and that includes cached content. By using edge nodes as caching proxies rather than traditional servers, customers can retrieve content at significantly faster rates by cutting down on data travel time. To manage this approach to caching, Azion’s Edge Application has an Edge Caching module built specifically to handle all your edge caching needs. And just like with our load balancer tool, Edge Caching is fully integratable through our custom REST API.
It’s never a bad time to maximize the traffic capacity of your system, but right now, in the months before Black Friday, it is particularly vital for e-commerces wishing to stay competitive to ensure that they’ve done everything in their power to ready their system for the incoming flood of online purchases. That can include the piecemeal replacement of outdated tools in key areas like load balancing and caching, but if you’re looking for a more holistic approach to overhauling your system, this may be the perfect time to move your data to the edge, just in time to take advantage of it’s low latency power this holiday season.