The Secret to a Good Holiday Season - Today, Cyber Monday and Beyond
September 26, 2012
Jason Meserve
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If you're the type of person that puts off holiday shopping until the last minute, Christmas 2012 may still seem like forever away, but September 16 marked 100 days until the biggest retail holiday of the year.

ShopperTrak predicts US retail sales will rise 3.3 percent this year and retailers are planning robust hiring to keep up with demand. This means the time is NOW to have your business-critical applications and systems ready to handle the rush.

Of course, it's not just retailers that have to ensure critical systems run smoothly, as banks, transportation and other peripheral industries must be prepared as well. Package carriers like UPS and FedEx might be in the best shape after getting a pre-holiday test run with the September 21 release of Apple's iPhone 5.

If you're in one on these holiday-impacted businesses, how do you make sure that the planning you’ve done all year is ready to handle the load?

First, leverage your existing production Application Performance Management (APM) system in the pre-production environment to monitor your load testing activities. Load testing alone can help tell you in black and white that your systems can handle X load, but adding APM to the mix will help you see the gray areas.

For instance, say transactions are going through, but taking 10 seconds where they should be taking one second. This slow down might be caused by a slow link to a backend database or mainframe system. (Yep, it's 2012 and mainframes still play a major role in Christmas shopping.) Using your APM system in pre-production testing also helps ensure your monitoring setup is also ready to handle the load when the holiday rush truly begins.

Still have doubts your IT systems can handle the rush? Use a capacity management tool to run a few what/if scenarios against your current production environment. Some systems can capitalize on performance data from APM systems to better model what future performance might look like. Such a capacity management/planning exercise could point to simple changes to the current environment that would allow your systems to better handle the load with minimal impact to the bottom line.

Monitoring Outside the Firewall

Obviously, now and when the shoppers kick things into high gear on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, an APM system must be used internally to monitor key business services and end-user experience. As system traffic increases, being able to monitor all end-user transactions is critical to spotting performance issues before they impact customers.

But today's revenue-generating systems also need to be monitored externally as well to ensure a quality end-user experience. There are two reasons to add an external monitoring capability:

1. Today’s Web applications are pulling data from a mosaic of services and rely on delivery systems beyond IT's control. By using a monitoring system outside the firewall, you can get the same perspective of performance as your customers. This view will show if a third-party system or regional Internet slowdown is causing issues, allowing you to take appropriate action.

2. Mobile is going to play an increased role this Christmas season. IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking Index forecasts that 30% of website visits will be via a mobile device. An external monitoring system that uses real-browser technology to test systems using the rendering engines of traditional desktop and mobile browsers can help ensure you're delivering a great user experience to all customers hitting your site to shop, track a shipment or check a bank balance.

Beyond the 2012 holiday season, the lessons learned and data collected can help influence system readiness for the 2013 holidays.

All that APM data you've been collecting for the next few months doesn't have to go to waste. Use it to build real-world testing scenarios for your next generation of applications and services. Such real-world data will allow you to better model your testing and quality assurance systems as well as capacity planning exercises, enabling your organization to support continued business growth now and in the future.

ABOUT Jason Meserve

Jason Meserve has been working in high-tech for over 15 years, and is currently a Product Marketing Manager at CA Technologies where he focuses on Service Assurance solutions such as Application Performance Management. He built his tech resume in the 10 years he spent as a journalist at Network World, where he created everything from articles, features, blogs, videos and podcasts. Meserve has also held marketing and editorial positions at Constant Contact and Application Development Trends.

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