Why unexpected online demand doesn’t have to mean unexpected downtime

Northern Rock, O2 Arena, Marks & Spencer and BAA are just some of the big-brand organisations to suffer from website crashes under peak demand recently.

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By simplifying infrastructure management, Application Virtualisation can make such infrastructure failures a thing of the past.

The recent failure of Northern Rock’s website under pressure is one of the most high-profile and high-fallout examples demonstrating that online service provision is often not as resilient as it should or could be.

Those trying to book tickets to Glastonbury this year, or indeed, trying to get their hands on the latest album release from Radiohead this past week, will be more than aware of how common and frustrating the problem of online failure under peak demand is.

The Northern Rock case is particularly grave because the website crash itself exacerbated the whole crisis, compounding the lack of confidence felt by Northern Rock customers and accelerating the rush to withdraw funds. As Northern Rock is apparently sitting lamely waiting for a buyout, the whole unfortunate scenario highlights how important it is for businesses to ensure their websites continue to perform during unexpected peaks in demand – not only in order to protect and increase revenue but also to retain customers and protect the brand.

Post-Northern Rock, there has been much debate about the technologies available to mitigate such consequences but almost all agree that these would not necessarily solve the true problem in extraordinary circumstances.

Yes, web accelerators and timing systems help customers feel the online organisation is still up and running, but this is ultimately a distraction rather than a solution.

Yes, you can add extra capacity and have dual-site contingency, but this is expensive, energy and space-intensive and likely to result in low utilisation rates throughout the year, creates waste and flies contrary to the key tenets of aligning IT with the business and getting the best out of the assets in the organisation. Yes, you can outsource, but then the challenges of operational service level assurance will still remain.

Yes, you can open up the pipes and increase network bandwidth or improve load-balancing techniques, but this will simply increase the pressure on your downstream systems, and what happens when the stretch is just too much?

Business demand is dynamic – and often, as evidenced, unpredictable. IT has to be one step ahead of the business and able to accommodate growth and shift capacity to different applications in real-time in order to meet the needs of customers and employees.

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