Serving up a failure: Tech lessons from Click Frenzy

When I heard about the Click Frenzy crash, my first thought was that if you are an SME with your own set of servers it is a bad idea to include hosting your own website on them.

Perhaps Click Frenzy could have known that. When I looked into it they did know that and, in fact, have used a cloud server provider called UltraServe, who are a respectable company with a reputation for solid systems.

I have to say, I do not know the details of how the technology is managed at Click Frenzy or what went wrong but I do have some advice I have given my SME clients for years around web hosting.

I strongly recommend we do not host our own website. Web hosting is a relatively simple server function but rapidly runs into a couple of key problems. The first is security and the second is capacity; neither of these is well managed by small businesses with limited IT departments or none at all.

I do not like inviting internet traffic into my small business network unnecessarily as SME networks probably do not have a managed firewall that will ensure all attacks are bounced away. They are also not patched regularly enough to ensure web servers can resist the latest list of hacks being launched.

Next is the issue of capacity. Capacity of web server processors and capacity of broadband. If my servers or broadband get close to capacity the client experience will be slow loading or not loading browser windows, and we all know that slow internet is a killer for sales.

To my way of thinking the best solution for any SME website is to have it hosted by a hosting company that has massive capacity. This is one of the earliest forms of cloud services that web users take for granted. The hosting companies have been offering these services for years and are pretty good at it.

Interestingly, in the past couple of weeks both Amazon and RackSpace have launched their Sydney data centres to offer hosting of web servers and various other hosted server solutions. Hosting providers – such as these or Telstra, who have been doing it here for years – offer truly scalable capacity to handle peak loads that are truly mind boggling.

With short-term contracts available, a deal such as Click Frenzy can be set up and tested on hosted servers. It can then be placed in storage at low cost and brought out and ramped up for each successive campaign in a way that is much cheaper than having large capacity for processing, storage and bandwidth in place and on standby for the single use.

This is the benefit of multi-tenanted shared infrastructure: it can offer elasticity by the minute or hour to expand to cope with whatever we throw at it.

Clearly there was something set up badly either in the software or the hosting platform. Perhaps the load was not anticipated to be so high.

I look forward to learning what went wrong and looking at how the cloud solution used might have worked better. Of course, if it was the cloud solution that failed it will be very interesting to learn who has egg on their face. It may be an option to write an article on using cloud-based servers to run load testing of your website before launching but I can’t say that because I don’t know what went wrong.

If you are launching a product that may get high traffic, do consider getting an independent body to test the solution put forward by your IT department/consultant, as a failure on launch could really have a huge impact on your business by getting you the wrong headlines.

It will also be interesting to see how quickly we forgive them if we can really get great deals online when the system is up and running. After all, we do still want cheap stuff for Christmas. As the buyers, not the receivers, of course.

David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.


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