Prepare for Heavy Loads this Holiday Season - The Three Types of Downtime
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What can an online retailer do to make sure their business doesnít die on that late November-all-of-December spike? More importantly, what can a web host do, especially one who handles the accounts of a number of online retailers? If you have been through this drill before, you should have at least some idea of what is coming. If you havenít, then you need to prepare yourself to deal with one of the biggest threats to any online business: outages, or, if you prefer a more neutral term, server downtime.
Generally speaking, there are three types of server downtime: planned, semi-planned, and unplanned. I will address each of these in turn. By the way, not all three types are actually bad, but they all need to be handled properly. Whichever kind you are dealing with, communication is very important. With good communication, you customers may be willing to be patient, understanding that you are doing everything in your power to fix the problem. Without it, you will take a hit not only in your uptime percentages, but in your PR and customer goodwill.
The first type of downtime Iím going to discuss is planned. If you buy or sell on eBay regularly, you know that it has planned downtime once a week for server maintenance and related issues (or at least it did when I was a regular). It announces that downtime in advance, and while it is down, its site features a friendly message explaining the situation, complete with a statement of how long the site with be down and when it is coming back up. Short of creating totally redundant systems, this is the best way to handle planned downtime. You will probably want to plan your downtime for the time your sites have the lowest volume, which you can determine from your server logs.
Semi-planned downtime is similar to planned downtime, in that it is usually done for maintenance issues. But someone else is driving your downtime. For example, you find out from one of your vendors that it has released important security patches that will require you to reboot your system. You may not have to take action immediately, but you want to handle it quickly so that you do not fall victim to the vulnerability. Again, the only way to completely avoid this kind of downtime is through a totally redundant system. The best way to minimize its impact on your customers is by informing them in advance, use your normal maintenance windows if possible, and display user-friendly messages that explain the situation.
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