August 22, 2013, 8:57 AM

A dedicated web server keeps a Christmas retailer full of holiday cheer

Christmas Treasures saves money because its site never goes down, its webmaster says.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

Christmas Treasures Inc., which sells Christmas décor and gifts online and in a store in Blue River, OR, hasn’t lost a holiday web sale because its site was unavailable in more than a decade, webmaster Steven Wood says. Today, if the site went down for even an hour in November or December—the two months of the year when Christmas Treasures makes 90% of its annual sales—the retailer could lose between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars, he says.

For 10 years, the retailer has been hosting its web site on a dedicated server from technology vendor Hostway Corp., Wood says. Previously, Christmas Treasures hosted its e-commerce site on a shared server from another vendor, meaning it split the machine’s computing power with about 200 to 300 other web sites at a time, he says.

A shared server is often cheaper for each client, because they typically pay based on their total computing usage per month, with the cost fluctuating lower on slow days and higher on days when the server has to handle a high volume of traffic and transactions. For a dedicated server, a client pays a flat monthly fee to ensure sole access to the machine, including as much computing power as it needs at any time.

With its earlier shared set-up, Christmas Treasures used to inevitably go through mid-holidays site outages whenever one of the other web sites on its server ran a faulty program, suddenly taking up all the server memory and causing every site to crash, Wood says.

“That used to happen all the time,” he says. “Whereas in a dedicated server environment you’ll never have to deal with that on your end, unless someone on your team messes up.”

In those days, the retailer’s monetary loss in the same amount of holiday downtime would not have been as great as it is today, Wood says, but the hits were still significant and frequent. “That’s what pushed us to a dedicated solution—I was tired of being on the phone with support,” he says.

Christmas Treasures pays less than $500 per month for its dedicated server from Hostway, he says. So, even though the server handles the vast bulk of site traffic and transactions over just two months of the year, paying the flat fee annually to avoid the possibility of going down in those months is still cost-effective, as the retailer would lose more than that annual cost in one hour of holiday down time, Wood says.

“For anyone out there not on a dedicated server, it’s well worth the extra money,” he says. Crashes are never a fully mitigated risk, he adds, “but you have better odds if you’re dedicated rather than shared.”

Christmas Treasures’ e-commerce site, which includes a live webcam feed of the “World’s tallest lighted Christmas tree” towering over its parking lot, receives more than 500,000 unique visitors annually, he says, and more than 350,000 of them visit in November and December. Whenever there’s a site traffic influx, Hostway’s support staff manages the server so that it can handle the extra computing requests, he says, adding that he’s never had to wait more than two minutes to have a service call answered.

Hostway also offers shared servers and cloud-based web site hosting, plus several business software tools and services, including web site builders, e-mail applications and domain name registrations. Under cloud-based web site hosting, client sites access available capacity in a network of multiple web servers.

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