Of course if an e-commerce site has recurring down time or reliability issues, the consumer may be put off using that site due to the expected hassle it may cause them if, for example, they are half way through a purchase when things go wrong. In addition reliability, stability and a lack of error messages can, for many users, be a good indicator of a site’s authority, its trustworthiness even, and those are important factors for a consumer when they are parting with their hard-earned money. What’s more any amount of downtime can be money down the drain, lost sales not to mention lost advertising and exposure.
This consideration overlaps considerably with those mentioned in the previous installment of this article – access to bandwidth, disk space and processing resource – but it is a key factor in its own right in that it is important to consider, not just the current activity on the site and the demands it places on the hosting platform but also, potential fluctuations in this activity and the potential demands posed in the future if the business is to grow or diversify. If the site’s demands on its hosting platform are likely to fluctuate day-to-day then the hosting platform should have spare capacity in its hardware resource to ensure that these peaks can be met without performance or downtime issues, whereas if the e-commerce business’s future propositions are likely to place grater demands on its servers, there should at least be a plan in place to scale up the capacity at the right time.
As suggested before, a dedicated server can offer the extra capacity, bandwidth, server resource etc, to cope with fluctuating demands without suffering from the competition of shared servers. Adding a managed hosting element can also ensure that any such fluctuations can be monitored, identified and responded to as quickly as possible whilst future changes in the platform can be planned and implemented effectively.
In terms of responsive scalability however, cloud hosting offers the most suitable option as it allows providers to offer extra resource on demand, instantaneously. Depending on the package the capacity is always there and the e-commerce site can simply tap into it as it is required.
Due to the complexities of e-commerce sites, the aforementioned demands of traffic levels, dynamic content and secure processing and storage of information, together with the more severe consequences if anything were to go wrong, the ability understand the requirements of the platform, configure it accordingly and then respond to changes is key. That is to respond to changes in demand, reconfiguring the platform or scaling it as described above, as well as responding to failures.
For most businesses, rather than employ their own internal technicians who have the expertise to manage their web servers, the more economical solution is to sign up to a managed hosting platform. The term itself is used by different hosting providers to describe differing levels of support but a typical fully managed platform will offer such advantages as round-the-clock telephone support, site/server monitoring, bespoke configuration and set up, and back up management – all the things that increase the chances of the site being on the right platform in the first place, minimising the scope for failures to occur at all whilst increasing the ability to deal with unforeseen issues that do arise. Ultimately with all the considerations made above, things can still go wrong and so it is certainly worth taking into account not just how the hosting platform responds to changes in demand but also how it responds if problems are unfortunately encountered.
Managed hosting can, by some providers, be packaged up and termed as business hosting to target the enterprise market because this level of management will provide the assurances that enterprise and especially e-commerce operations require.
Packages which are described as managed hosting often incorporate a dedicated server which is ideal for hosting an e-commerce site as mentioned above but it is always worth checking because providers can offer management of hosting platforms for any type of server set up. Dedicate servers do provide the best assurances of a reliable platform. Sites hosted on dedicated servers are not at risk from other sites introducing viruses to the platform or the activities of those sites and their owners causing the software platforms (operating systems etc) or the hardware to fail, as can be the case with shared hosting. Again, as mentioned above, the dedicated access to hardware resource means that spikes in traffic for example would not overload the site and its hosting causing downtime. In contrast sites on shared platforms are not only subject to lower ceilings at which their own fluctuating activity could cause server side issues but they will be affected if other sites hosted on the same servers have their own spikes in activity.
As an alternative to the stability of dedicated hosting, the mechanics of cloud hosting can also provide the reliability that e-commerce sites require. Cloud hosting utilises a pool of hardware resource spread across multiple servers, often multiple data centers, and this ensures that the they do not have single points of failure. If a physical server goes down, the cloud’s virtual server and therefore the site won’t. Even if something were to compromise an entire data center, the site would most likely remain online (depending on the package).