May 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Are We On?

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Like many retailers, Overstock relies on the content delivery network of Akamai Technologies Inc., which maintains more than 105,000 servers in 78 countries so that clients can serve consumers all over the world web content from nearby servers. The e-retailer also works with Internet-hosted product recommendations content and technology from RichRelevance Inc., which helps to improve conversion rates and the overall shopping experience, Carter says. "All of our recommendations on our pages are coming from RichRelevance," he says.

He adds that cloud-hosting technology is still new and quickly evolving, causing some concern over how it will continue to perform. But with the ability to constantly monitor page load time and application performance, Overstock doesn't consider it a problem, he says. "We love to be able to have things like RichRelevance powering our site," Carter says.

Site monitoring technology from Compuware starts at about $40,000 for a licensed version of the software that the retailer maintains on its own computers, or about $10,000 a year for a subscription to an Internet-hosted version. The licensed version can monitor customer-facing web sites as well as the back-end connections of applications hosted by external data centers or cloud-computing environments. The SaaS, or software as a service, version, however, is intended only for monitoring customer-facing web sites.

StubHub's mobile watch

At StubHub, much of the recent excitement is about a sharp increase in mobile sales via the retailer's mobile site and apps. Mobile sales rose 500% in 2011 over 2010, and StubHub expects mobile to account for about 10% of total sales this year, says Marc Escuro, technical duty officer for site operations.

"It's very crucial for us to monitor the performance of the user experience on mobile," he says.

To do that, while also monitoring and managing the performance of its web site, StubHub works with several applications. SmartBear's AlertSite tool serves as what Escuro calls a "first responder," providing minute-by-minute updates of any interruptions of site or app performance caused by problems such as software code glitches.

SmartBear has upgraded its performance monitoring to include data on the time it takes for a web page to begin showing content to a viewer, says Ken Godskind, vice president of monitoring products. If a web page takes six seconds to load and doesn't start rendering content for three seconds, that delay could prompt a visitor to leave. SmartBear will send an alert about the delay to the site operator, which then could explore ways to revise the page so that it displays within a second or two, he adds.

Deeper dive

StubHub also relies on other technology that can analyze problems. "Depending on what we see, we can bring in a variety of other tools," Escuro says. "If we're seeing a large variety of failures in the buy flow, the checkout, for example, we can take a deep dive into specific shopping sessions."

StubHub works with technology from Splunk Inc. to ensure that sellers aren't having difficulty uploading their ticket documents, often presented in portable document format, commonly called PDF. Splunk, which first shipped its software in 2006, successfully sold its shares publicly for the first time last month, demonstrating the interest in data-analysis technology. StubHub also uses Quest Software Inc.'s Foglight to track the performance and availability of the network hardware supporting its operations.

And to dive into shopping sessions, it uses an application from Tealeaf Technology Inc. that provides StubHub with page-by-page records of particular shopping sessions experienced by customers, enabling the retailer to see what may have led to a problem with completing a checkout transaction. "This is used by our customer service agents, who can see what the buyer sees," Escuro says.

If there's a problem, he says, "we can notify a specific software developer team, or marketing team, or a third-party vendor."

Even with all of the technology it deploys from outside performance management specialists, StubHub also relies on its own engineers and systems to ensure its web site, mobile site and mobile apps are performing as expected, even during peak ticket-buying periods such as the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. "We make sure our architecture has redundancies built in," Escuro says, "so if a portion of our site manages to fail we can flick a switch to use the next server."

But in order for a web site operator to be able to solve a performance management problem with a flick of a switch, it has to invest considerable time and money in making sure it has the technology at hand that can manage the increasingly complex job of keeping web pages loading quickly.

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