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Posted 15th November 2023
The biggest online shopping weekend of the year is just around the corner, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching. If your business does any kind of online trading, now is the time to test your IT systems, make sure they will cope with the extra demand, and prepare for the biggest sales weekend of the year…
As the festive season approaches, shoppers are gearing up for the frenzy of bargains that is the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. This period of online deals and discounts has become an important event in the retail calendar for many businesses, with the power to make or break a year’s worth of trading efforts.
Last year’s UK Black Friday sales amounted to a whopping £8.71bn, with £4.81bn of that being spent online. Estimates are that this year’s event will be even bigger, with shoppers spending more than in previous years as they finally loosen their belts after a tough period of cutting back.
To make the most of Black Friday’s sales opportunities, businesses need to be ready. And that means making sure your IT systems can cope with whatever comes your way. The last thing you want is to be in the midst of a record sales weekend, only for your website to crash under the weight of all those extra visitors.
Proactive planning is the key to success here, and most businesses should begin by stress-testing their infrastructure for multiple scenarios. Ask yourself:
Performing these tests when you have control over the outcome will mean you can safely identify the limits of your systems, and then take steps to shore up resilience, improve capacity and set your business up for greater success.
Monitoring the performance of your platform and applications is a crucial first step in optimising your systems to cope with peaks and falls in demand over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. Businesses with cloud-based or hybrid infrastructures will generally be able to leverage in-built machine learning to track and monitor performance in shifting scenarios, as well as use analytics to forecast demand. The beauty of these real-time insights is that they allow you to identify potential issues before they escalate into critical problems, so you can take proactive steps towards Black Friday readiness.
Businesses with a Microsoft Azure environment, for example, have access to robust proactive capabilities for monitoring and planning to ensure provisioning is adequate and responsive, even when there are huge shifts in demand. With detailed metrics regarding resource health and performance, as well as powerful automation capabilities, businesses can address bottlenecks and hiccups before they impact user experience, and continue serving customers well throughout Black Friday.
Once you know what your system’s limits are, you can set about expanding them to meet the anticipated surge in demand – scaling is the biggest tool in your toolkit during peak periods. In the Azure environment, the adaptability of the system comes through either horizontal scaling or vertical scaling, each of which serves a different purpose and meets a different business need. In most cases, systems can be set to auto-scale in typical scenarios, or to scale according to custom implementation scenarios so you can set your own trigger for adding capacity.
Horizontal scaling – or scaling out – is what happens when more servers are added to the hosting infrastructure, expanding the speed and power but spreading the load of the application across multiple hosts.
Vertical scaling – or scaling up – is the process of adding more power to the hosting infrastructure that’s already in place.
Scaling up is generally easy to achieve, but there are limits to how much additional speed and power can be added – each server is finite, so there will come a point when no more capacity can be added.
Scaling out is much more complex to achieve, but it offers the opportunity to scale almost without limit.
Choosing between vertical and horizontal scaling allows you to tailor your approach based on the specific capacity and resource needs of your applications, and your cloud services provider will be able to support you to make the best decision for your business.
Learn more about BCN’s Managed Azure Service.
Every IT manager’s worst nightmare is to have their systems fail at a critical time. Black Friday/Cyber Monday is undoubtedly a critical time for many businesses, and it’s important that availability of applications is assured as far as possible.
Of course, no infrastructure is immune to cyber incidents, failures and unforeseen downtime, but there are steps every business can take to mitigate the risk, as well as the impact in case the worst should happen.
Bearing in mind that many people start filing their cyber baskets with bargains as soon as the clock strikes 00:01 on Black Friday, you should make sure you give your systems a decent enough buffer – ideally with no reboots scheduled between late on Thursday 23 and late on Tuesday 28 November.
Availability is as much about redundancy and backups as it is about confidence in the primary system, so you’ll need a way for applications to be routed to a redundant component in the event of an outage. Azure, for example, ensures minimal downtime by allowing customers to run multiple replicated VMs on different hardware across a huge number of availability zones – so even if there is an issue at the primary data centre, your business systems will failover to another, unaffected zone.
The adaptability of Azure ensures a seamless experience for your users, even in the face of unpredictable surges in traffic.
While shoppers are busy looking for bargains in the run-up to Christmas, cybercriminals are also ramping up their efforts. Last year, shoppers in the UK lost more than £10 million to cyber criminals over the festive period, and all the signs point to it being a similar picture this year. Cyber security is of course a responsibility we all share, but businesses have a huge part to play in terms of keeping customer data safe, ensuring online transactions are secure, and protecting customer-facing systems and portals. The consequences of any major security breaches won’t just be felt by your customers, after all – they will impact your business too.
Stress testing your systems can help you identify any weak spots and vulnerabilities that need addressing, and your cloud services provider should be able to help you implement additional security measures.
A successful Black Friday requires more than just a marketing push of loads of enticing deals. Meticulous planning, real-time monitoring and adaptable scaling strategies are key to helping businesses maximise their sales potential and deliver positive customer experiences across the weekend.
At BCN, our industry-leading Managed Azure Service ensures businesses have a scalable, flexible and responsive infrastructure that is optimised for every eventuality and secured against attack. Our expert team has all the knowledge and experience necessary to take responsibility for your solution, constantly monitoring, assessing and building on your platform to ensure it’s delivering the best for you, and for your customers. BCN’s Azure team can take care of everything for you, responding rapidly to any issues or disruptions, so you can focus on delivering for your customers.
To find out more about how BCN can support your Black Friday readiness, get in touch today.