How best to deal with the online shopping frenzy as Black Friday and Cyber Monday arrive

News by Dan Raywood

As warnings are made about the dangers posed by the online shopping extravaganza this weekend, further concern has been raised over the extra workload for the IT manager.

As warnings are made about the dangers posed by the online shopping extravaganza this weekend, further concern has been made on the extra workload for the IT manager.

There is a need to prepare for a potential network overload situation particularly for sites hosting online shopping. According to Rueven Harrison, CTO of the security lifecycle management specialist Tufin, as workers use their company IT resources for everything from multimedia greetings to videoconferencing connections to distant colleagues, they should prepare ahead of, and react during, busy periods.

Harrison said: “Even at the best of times, the internet is well loaded with web surfing and general email exchanges, but the current cold snap, combined with the impending holidays and the fact that many people are taking their annual leave allocation before the year's end means that workers are turning to the internet to ratchet up their work efficiency.”

He also said that as Black Friday and Cyber Monday have arrived, the potential overload situation will crank up a few more stops. Talking to SC Magazine, Tufin CEO Ruvi Kitov said that it is not a traditional problem but it is a factor that should be considered.

He said: “The big problem is changes within that expose you to risk, along with a complete freeze of traffic. You can monitor CPU usage and you do not want the firewall to be exceeded at certain times during the day; wouldn't it be nice if you got an alert ten minutes before it was overloaded?

“You do not want a denial-of-service to get into your connections and to kill your firewall, you can set the configuration and tweak it so it is not too low or too high. You get an alert and increase the traffic capability to a higher number, it is very dependant on the environment, the type of connections and what traffic is running through it. This is the right way to do it.”

Harrison singled out Amazon as a website that has done its bit to get users online with its UK-based Black Friday sales. He said that while Amazon is using all manner of internet load balancing to ensure that users of its site only have to wait a short while for a page to load at peak times, the fact that the website is exhibiting page loading delays indicates the potential scale of the problem.

He said: “If there are rules that you need to report on, make sure that audit logs are being generated. If you are not recording firewall performance stats, turn them on now before you need them.

“Secondly, start looking for anything that can cause an interruption of service due to resource exhaustion. What is your firewall connection table limit? If it was 25,000 last year, it probably should be higher this year.

“Also take a look at all of your disk drives. Logically, do you have plenty of space? Do not forget to physically walk to your firewalls and make sure there are no failed drives with the little red lights on. With firewalls tucked away in data centres, and drives in RAID, we all sometimes forget to look for faults on devices, like a failed drive in a RAID mirror set.”

David Kelly, former Amazon and eBay director and current senior vice president international at Rackspace Hosting, said: “This Monday marks ‘Cyber Monday' where millions of shoppers log onto retail websites and start mass-buying their Christmas gifts. In the US, retailers and e-retailers offer ‘Black Friday' promotions to attract shoppers and convince them to start their Christmas shopping in earnest; and it looks like the UK is following suit.

“Shopping website Kelkoo recently revealed that on average £22.4 million will be spent every hour on Monday, which is truly astonishing. With so much to lose, retailers will need to be extra vigilant not to slip up over the next few days.”

He recommended retailers consider the following five principles if they want to ensure their site takes a good chunk of this revenue and remains online:  
1 - Ensure your site is easy to navigate around and is accessible; sale items must be clearly displayed and it must be easy to add other items and quick to checkout.

2 - Customer service teams must be well prepared to answer all questions knowledgably and efficiently; as well as there being enough to deal with the influx of customers at peak times.

3 - The site must be able to withstand the extra traffic and have enough capacity across the systems, so performance is not affected or brought down by the extra shoppers.

4 - Make sure that you follow PCI DSS guidance on credit card data handling and follow general security policies so that shoppers are safe when using their cards, tell shoppers that you have made them safe.

5 - Stock levels must be well managed and delivery times must be clear and realistic so customers do not turn to a rival at the last minute. This is one of the biggest complaints retailers receive on a daily basis.


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