As 2017 draws to a close, we can report that the Earth so far is still zooming around its orbit at a steady pace of 108,000 km/sec, with its axis tilted as ever at the happy angle of 23.4 degrees. And as our planet approaches its regular December solstice and January perihelion, ritual festivities and consumer activity will merrily surge, resulting in commensurate Internet usage spikes that promise to bring traditional headaches to data center managers the world over.
But far from being a temporary holiday nuisance (like an eggnog-induced hangover), Internet usage spikes can make or break a company, depending on how well the company’s services hold up against the pressure. Studies have shown that a tolerable wait time for a service is merely two seconds, and that nearly half of users will stop using an app when they deem its performance too slow. So, it’s critical to have a solid plan in place that will allow your business to handle the season’s surges and to minimize response latencies.
With these perils in mind, we present the following 10 tips for handling holiday usage spikes. Far from last-minute tricks, these tips represent aspects of an overall plan that your business needs to begin considering months or even years in advance.
- Begin planning early by reviewing historical data
First things first: obtain historical data from the most recent holiday periods to project your resource requirements. Seek out information for network, compute, disk, and power/cooling requirements during those periods. Next, make adjustments for the growth that your business has seen since then, and calculate the extra power, rack space, servers, and cloud service capacity you will need to absorb the projected usage.
- Avoid over-provisioning
Failing to put a plan into place to meet demand spikes is the single worst mistake a company can make during the holiday season. That said, over-provisioning in preparation for the holidays is also a costly error. Companies can blow through IT budgets and rack up huge losses during the most important weeks of the year if they spend more on extra equipment than they earn in goods and services.
- Invest in good data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software
To be able to prepare adequately for the holidays, consider investing in a DCIM suite that will enable you to comprehensively track your power and cooling requirements along with compute, network, and storage resources. With a DCIM solution, you will be able to see which servers have capacity to scale and which ones don’t, which can then help you determine how to pre-position resources or re-assign workloads in advance.
- Push further into virtualization and the private cloud
Some data centers might still have applications that run on bare metal. For these businesses, it’s a no-brainer that moving these applications to virtual machines (VMs) will free up additional resources and allow the servers to use much more of their available capacity. For companies whose application servers are already 100-percent virtualized, the next step is to move toward private-cloud software that will enable efficient creation, coordination, and re-allocation of services and resources throughout the data center as needed. For example, private-cloud software can enable data center managers to create and destroy VMs anywhere in the data center on demand.
- Strongly consider public-cloud services
The elasticity of public-cloud services provides an especially attractive option to help absorb usage surges during the holiday season. For many organizations, it makes sense to use these services as much as the budget will allow. If a company is unsure which public cloud and plan to choose, it can consult independent trusted advisors or consultants for objective, sensible recommendations.
- Embrace a hybrid-cloud approach
Relying on public-cloud services is far from an all-or-nothing proposition. Companies can, in fact, forge the most effective holiday coping strategy by using their existing physical resources and then supplementing them with public-cloud services. This strategy can save companies from investing unwisely in expensive hardware that might go unused the rest of the year.
- Use offloading and load balancing strategically
You can optimize performance for certain applications by dispersing resource demands among multiple components wherever possible. For example, you can offload Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) transactions from your website to free up resources for applications. You can also use load balancers on your website and firewall to prevent bottlenecks.
- Use content delivery networks (CDNs) to improve website performance
A CDN provides a strategy to place website content closer to consumers. CDNs typically consist of servers with duplicate content spread across the world at various data centers. When a user connects to a company’s website, a CDN allows the web request to be redirected to a web server geographically close to that user. CDNs can dramatically reduce latency and improve a website’s speed.
- Make sure human resources are in place
So far, we’ve talked only about the technical aspects of meeting seasonal spikes; but implementing any strategy, technical or other, requires human resources at the foundation. Be sure to plan ahead by ensuring that IT staff members have cleared their schedules and are available to put in the extra hours required during the holiday season.
- Review the results
After the boom subsides in January, review performance data to determine the successes and failures of your holiday strategy. What were the peak moments of usage, and how was performance during those moments? Did you have any downtime, and why? Make sure to note what you would change and what you would do the same way so you can improve upon this strategy for the following year.
Take a Holistic, Year-Round Approach for Seasonal Success
Many consumers will interact with any given business only during the holiday season, and that’s when they will form their lasting impressions of that business. Slow performance and downtime during this period can therefore be extremely costly. Maximize your chances for success by taking a comprehensive approach to handling seasonal spikes, and put in place a year-round strategy that reviews the lessons learned from each season and immediately starts planning for the next year.