How to Handle Seasonal Web Traffic Spikes with the Cloud

Written by Joe Kozlowicz on Wednesday, November 20th 2013 — Categories: Cloud Hosting, Hybrid Cloud, Cloud Hosting, Networking and Fiber, Software Development

As the holiday season approaches, is your web infrastructure prepared to handle increased traffic? Can your back office systems accommodate a sudden increase in web transactions? Will your IT team be on call and ready to respond if they need to quickly bring additional servers online?

Seasonal spikes in web traffic are the reality for many industries including online retail. Businesses that aren’t prepared can be left scrambling to quickly setup new servers or, even worse, experience a website crash creating dissatisfied customers and lost revenue. Cloud computing services can increase resources elastically to help handle holiday web traffic.

Cortney Thompson, CTO of Green House DataIn this interview with Cortney Thompson, Green House Data Chief Technology Officer, you’ll learn how to prepare your business for seasonal fluctuations in web traffic.

Q: Which industries tend to have seasonal web traffic fluctuations?
Cortney: Online retail is probably the most common industry to experience seasonal web traffic fluctuations, especially around the holidays. There are other industries that have similar variability but it’s not necessarily tied to holidays. For example, our customer New Belgium Brewing makes Fat Tire Beer. Their busy season is in the summer, the time of year when people tend to drink more beer. They run summer-themed advertising promotions which generate lots of web traffic spikes. 

Sporting events, like the PGA tours, NFL games, and major league baseball all drive huge increases in website traffic. When the game is going on, they may have lots of people streaming video and accessing players’ statistics. Once the game is over, the traffic dies off. Video companies can have a huge influx of web traffic during these major events. So there are lots of examples like these in addition to retail.

Q:  How do most businesses that often have seasonal fluctuations traditionally handle increased web traffic?
Cortney: Companies that take the traditional approach for handling huge increases in web traffic have a few options:

1. Quickly engage their IT team to setup additional web servers to handle the influx. 
2. Do nothing and hope that the big traffic hits don’t bring down their web server.
3. Pull the marketing campaign, video, or whatever precipitated the traffic spike, off their website.

The first scenario only works if you have some extra servers that can quickly be configured and deployed as web servers and your IT team has the skills and know-how to do it. One of the challenges with this approach, though, is that you incur unnecessary expenses to buy hardware to support these infrequent peak levels.  During the rest of the year, when web traffic settles back to normal levels, most companies either continue to keep those additional servers online or let them sit dormant - both of which are costly and a waste of capital.

Q: How can using a cloud provider help with seasonal fluctuations?
Cortney: One of the big advantages to businesses with seasonal web traffic is there’s little to no capital investment when using a data center provider. You can quickly ratchet the service up when you need it and dial it back down when you don’t.
And since you’re using the data center service provider’s infrastructure, there’s no hardware for you to buy or configure.  No matter how big your web traffic spike or how long it lasts, a cloud provider can handle it. There’s infinite scalability with the cloud so traffic increases should never negatively affect your web server or cripple your business.

You can also deploy new products and services very quickly – regardless if you’re a small or large business.  Say you want to offer a new product that you anticipate will be very popular during the holidays. If you have a traditional web infrastructure, you may need to buy new servers, wait for them to be delivered, configure and test them, and integrate them to your existing infrastructure. If you use a data center’s services, you can have it operative within a few minutes or days.

Q: From a technical standpoint, how exactly does a cloud service provider handle seasonal fluctuations?
Cortney: We have a large pool of resources waiting for your web server’s traffic to spike or slow down. All it takes is a phone call for us to ramp your bandwidth up, or we’ll notice the spikes when we’re monitoring your servers and respond appropriately. We can easily shift workloads between our servers to quickly service all of our customers. If you have expected jumps in traffic we can plan for it. We are also able to use the cloud environment to keep your server fully function during any unexpected bursts in traffic.

We also employ a great team of network and web experts. They can optimize, load balance, and tweak settings to make sure your infrastructure is running properly. This is especially important for smaller companies who might not have internal IT staff who are knowledgeable in these important niche areas.

Q: Since the cloud handles seasonal traffic so well, why do you think some organizations are reluctant to move their web infrastructure to it?
Cortney:  There are different levels of adoption based on a company’s familiarity and comfort level with the cloud.  Some are ready to jump right in and others are concerned about moving their data, applications, or systems outside their building.

But there are strong business cases around using cloud providers. If you think about it, cloud based applications line up very well with the seasonal spikes of retail business. The elastic nature of a cloud-based infrastructure makes it a perfect fit for retail marketing or other industries with occasional large bursts of web traffic.

I often hear from companies that are concerned about security. I tell them that the cloud is going to be as secure, if not more secure, than the internal solutions you have in place today. At our data center, we take care of physical security, virtual infrastructure such as hypervisors, and a whole host of other things that, in turn, increase your cloud infrastructure security.

The cloud is a great equalizer among different size companies, too. For a simple subscription price, smaller retailers can purchase the same level and efficiency as large retailers right out of the gate. You’ll get a high level of service whenever you need it, and you don’t have to pay for the service year round so it’s very economical, too.

If you’re thinking the cloud might be a good fit to handle your business’ seasonal web traffic, don’t wait. Now is the time to make the move, and we can help make it a smooth transition just as we’ve done for other customers.

We like to say, “Enjoy your holidays, because we’ll be taking care of everything so you don’t need to worry about it.”

Learn more about secure cloud hosting or connect with Cortney Thompson on LinkedIn.