eCommerce Tech- When sucess is the reason for failure


Success is always welcomed; we always work towards success, and preferably in most cases we can track towards it and see it coming…

But what do you do when success comes and you are the least bit prepared?

In the eCommerce world, your ability to evolve will make or break you. If you don’t rush to ensure you are prepared, you will end up with failure. I learnt an important lesson in eCommerce and startup almost a year back, may 2010.

Most tech based startups, start lean, and thats the appropriate approach. You do not want to go out and get dedicated hosted, or even get on a cloud host that costs a few hundred $’s a month when your revenue is $0 or already in the negative.. on that train of thought…

We were hosting our Blanklabel website on a shared host. Our provider was discountasp.com and I had (and still do) used them for years for many other projects/websites. I have always known the benefits and drawbacks of using a shared host…. and at 60k visitors per month and no set bandwidth limits, it was a great home for a “start up”….

That was until the New Your Times published an article on us.

To be fair, I did know that we were getting an article published in NTY; but it was a day or two before and there wasn’t much we would have done in preparation for it mainly because we did not know to expect. Our website was functioning, the order and payment system was fine, everything looked good…

Within a few minutes of the article showing up… we went from “functioning perfectly fine” to the brink of failure! How? Why?…. I live in CA so below is a time-log in PST of the sequence of events..

3:00 AM – I was coding Away… decided I needed to get some sleep so I closed shop…
3:30 AM – My phone rang, went to voice mail, woke me up,
3:35 AM – Checked my email, saw some questions about performance, looked at the website, seemed fine, sent an email in response, sent an email to discountasp went back to sleep
4:30 AM – Phone ran, answered, heard something like “It seems to be fine on my end, but customers are saying that the images are not loading”., I said “How many? just a couple? Call me back if its more than couple, could just be their connection, its working fine for me as well”… checked email, discountasp responded with the same “looks good here”, emailed them again “We are getting more complaints”.. back to sleep
6:00 AM – Phone rang again, Panicking person (you know who you are) on the other end “I have 22 chat sessions open with customers who are trying to buy, there is something definitely going on”.. This time, I got out of bed, I cleared cache, refreshed the pages a few times, tried to place and order, and there it was, random images were missing, email went out to discountasp again..
6:15 AM – I decided it was time to start looking at the logs… and there it was… As people started their morning on the East coat and were looking at their NYT print and web… our hits were rising… we had gone from a few hundred per day… to 35,000 per second… yes PER SECOND.
6:15 AM – Emailed discountasp again! asking if we could increase shared resource or get some sort of load balancing and pay for multiple servers… and also decided it was time to look for a Plan B
6:16 AM – Started looking for my Rackspace contact….
6:17 AM – Started to chat with Rackspace
7:00 AM – Signed up for Rackspace Cloud
7:19 AM – Started to download the current discountasp FTP snapshot
7:20 AM – 6 month old daughter woke up, so I was entertaining her while i did the rest below…
7:30 AM – Response from discountasp “Yea, we cant help you”…..
7:35 AM – Started to prepare a mental migration plan.. aka Plan B…
7:40 AM – Plan B was ready! Created SSL request at RackSpace, MS Sql server provisioned
7:45 AM – Download database backup file
8:00 AM – Restored Database file at RackSpace… Decided I should account for the orders that will continue to go over to the discount house so that no orders are lost and that I can migrate them over later… So I put in a 1500 order jump in the identity seed
8:XX AM – The rest of this hour went towards uploading the website to Rackspace,updating code to ensure that things worked fine on Rackspace, doing a few test runs…..updating DNS, generating and applying SSL,
9:XX AM – Started seeing orders come in on the new Database…. not just 1 or 2 here and there., but 15-20 every few minutes minutes. Was still chatting with Rackspace support to see if we could get some sort of stats, but since we had just signed up, it was not yet setup.
10:00 AM – Started to see discountasp log show traffic had reduced, server was now able to process requests that it got while the DNS updated globally.
10:XX AM – Declared Victory, while all the above was going on, My daughter was entertaining me.. or was it I who was entertaining her?…
11:00 AM – Continued to see things progress… orders still coming in… in hundreds… Called it a day for now… needed a break from this..
11:30 AM – Some more emails came in from discountasp ….. I wasn’t too happy with their lack of customer service and commitment… I guess the name does fit it well… its a discount store.. nothing compared to Rackspace’s fanatical customer support… I would not say they are really that “Fanatic”.. but… its better than discountasp and they are usually helpful.
6:XX PM – Due to the large # of orders, outgoing emails got blocked because the Rackspace servers saw it as SPAM/Flood. after an hour or so of going back and forth, Rackspace unblocked the email and thousands of emails went out to customers.
———–

2:00 AM – Discountasp hosted site was at 0 hits; Did a global DNS check, found all routes leading to Rackspace host.
2:XX AM – Started coding scripts to bring in the orders that ended up going to discountasp servers while DNS was still updating
3:XX AM – Executed the scripts after verification.. was impressed to see that my buffer of 1500 served me well., we had 1393 orders that ended up saving on the old database… once these were broight over with the same Order Id we had a gap of just 107 orders!
4:XX AM – Realized that I forgot to put in a buffer for the User Id, had to resolve this as we now had two users with the same User ID’s because of the split servers
5:00 AM – Emailed out the #’s of shirts we sold to the team!…
———-
7:00 AM – “Shut down the website, we cannot process any more, we are over capacity”…. I will leave this one for another day..
———-

In the time-log above, I have highlighted take-aways in bold that will help you prepare and execute a “Live Migration” from one host to another host AND ensure that all your data comes with you, with no additional negative impact to your customers. Today, we are still with Rackspace and are content with their service… We have however grown and believe we are ready to take the next big step in cloud hosting.

This blog post is just one of the many examples where potential success can take you down if you do not know how to prepare, execute and evolve in real time.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Load testing checkout/sales cart process with loader.io | Chief Hamster

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