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Addressing the need for speed


Let’s face it, we crave speed and high performance and as a result everything is becoming better and faster at a geometrically accelerating rate.  It’s amazing how often we ask the simple question “but are we fast” and expect a simple answer.  More often than not, when working with technology in the eCommerce sector the real answer is simply, it depends.  Sometimes it is fast and sometimes it’s not, but the real challenge is how you frame your question in the first place. The question shouldn’t be “are we fast”, but instead “are all components working together as effectively as they can”. Looking at the issue with this slight perspective change can open up a world of information and opportunity.

In eCommerce hosting, website speed is our most important indicator of quality that’s influenced by many different variables. Underlying system responsiveness being one of the most important cornerstones we must consider when creating a successful deployment. When designing eCommerce sites at Lyons we take into account system performance and tailor it to the best of our ability with an eye on client defined ROI requirements.

When defining a proper eCommerce stack there are a number of operational issues that must be considered. First and foremost, we need to work with the client to determine their needs, based on their trend analyses and an approximate range and frequency of sales transactions with necessary seasonal adjustments.  If you design with too small a target in mind you can quickly destroy the throughput of a site by creating what amounts to an unintended distributed denial of service attack (DDOS). On the contrary if you over-size the environment you’re able to handle a significant amount of traffic, but your site could be waiting around like a lonely prom reject.  Proper scaling is important, and it starts with us understanding our clients target audience.

There are other operational sales factors that require consideration such as geographic location, time of day, and time of year. It’s important to know where your traffic will come from geographically and when. An eCommerce site allows you to take your business to places around the world that would otherwise be inaccessible or impractical for a brick and mortar. Anticipating total daily traffic is essential, but so is being able to identify what parts of the world will generate your waves of transactions. Understanding this demographic information will allow for a better targeted customer experience and better overall site performance.

Once we’ve been to identify the operational targets, we can then create your actual technology stack. Minimally this will include a specifically designed and tuned set of web, database, caching, and load balancer servers forming the basis of a finely tuned Magento eCommerce platform. Taking into account the client ROI and transaction volume we now have the opportunity to define the sites’ key performance metrics which will becomes the gold-standard used by Lyons to help us achieve your desired performance goals.  These metrics will allow us to mutually agree on a set of service level objectives (SLOs) that will help us successfully monitor your site for the best possible performance and to finally help answer your question; “but are we fast?”. Let’s look at this a little more closely.

Meghan Trainor almost had it right when she sang, “All About the Base”. In our reality its “All About the Baseline Performance” which we can successfully measure and define once we have the technology stack operational. Our “performance baseline”, is derived from thoroughly testing the various sub-systems and ultimately the site itself under ideal simulated conditions. The testing provides a representation of best-case theoretical performance.

Our baseline represents a point-in-time snapshot of the site performance that can be used to assess the impact of future changes.  The graphic below illustrates this reality. There are no numeric values as this approximates what can be expected for the sake of argument. Our performance baseline is represented by the red line. It’s an example of site performance experienced with an ever-increasing simulated transactional load.  Our actual real-world performance is modeled then graphed as the blue line. Immediately you’ll notice the real-world performance is lower than that of the baseline. This difference exists because some elements just can’t be easily simulated.  Knowing where the dips and peaks exist in site performance allows us to perform further tuning to help ultimately achieve your SLOs.

The additional site reliability engineering (SRE) performed prior to taking a site live helps generate and refine our common metrics used to determine performance progress. We realize there is nothing worse than an “off the cuff” commentary on performance and we never provide an assessment without substantiating metrics. Our DevOps practice has demonstrated that precise measurements can be defined and tested for almost every situation and that data is gospel. These metrics give us the insight necessary to not only answer “but are we fast?” but allows us to provide an organically growing and changing eCommerce site to address your rapidly changing needs.

As you can see, site performance is an interesting and sometimes difficult to predict part of site operation. Lyons provides the best value to its customers by analyzing their needs and goals, then mapping these into a powerful eCommerce site. We test and tune all elements of the technology stack as required to get every last ounce of performance for our customers. Your goals are our goals and we will do whatever is required to achieve them.