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Building a Strong Network for Websites

It's no secret that websites are a major factor in driving corporate revenue goals whether through ecommerce platforms, advertising, or more indirect methods. But they only work if they are reliably accessible by end users. A stable web environment is essential to the success of driving online revenue. This fact puts the network teams that support websites squarely in the spotlight—and in the crosshairs.

The good news is, thanks to technological advancements, developing a reliable website has become much easier in recent years thanks to improved development methodologies. However, if you do not have a reliable network in place to build the website on top of, no matter which technologies or methodologies you deploy, you are most likely just throwing good money away. Much like a house needs a strong foundation so that people can have a reliable and secure home to live in, websites need a good network to make sure that end users can access the website reliably and securely.

Let’s define what exactly makes up a strong network foundation.  A strong foundation means having all aspects of your website deployment lifecycle clearly defined and operational. 

First and foremost, network teams cannot build a network in a vacuum. The teams need to work with their business leaders to define the overall goals of their site. Thus, step one is to work with your business partners to define what exactly the website you are supporting is expected to achieve. When assessing site goals, it is important to take several factors into consideration.

Some questions you should ask yourself include: What is the projected steady state of site visits? What are the expected burst conditions? What is the expected yearly growth? What is the expected expiration date? Technology historically continues to get better and faster. Therefore, the expiration date is the point when your foundation technology has become obsolete by the current expectations of performance. It’s better to understand that now than when it fails.

Next, it’s important for network teams to think about how users consume the online services they are supporting. Improved network speeds have made users forget about the pain of dial-up internet connections and set new expectations about how websites should work. Webpage sizes have grown immensely since then with larger images and more components requiring a network that scales easily. And many pages are now using a “single page app” format that seamlessly transfers information back and forth without the need to refresh the page, requiring extreme network stability. Network teams need to understand what format webpages will take so that they can prioritize the right performance metrics when building out the initial network foundation.

The next step is to define and identify what types of technologies and methodologies you are going to use to build the infrastructure to support the business goals you just defined. The finance teams play a huge role here, as businesses always face the “we need to be frugal” argument. If there was ever a place not to veer toward the frugal side, it would be at the foundation. To further emphasize this point, I have worked with several clients that have had disastrous holiday seasons because the infrastructure could not handle the traffic. Once they committed to investment in the foundation, the success was remarkable. One client realized a $30 million windfall over the following holiday season, which well exceeded the addition investment.

After working with the business and finance teams, communicate with all technology groups across the organization; for example, developers and operation groups in different divisions. This ensures that members from different teams are not working in silos that could lead to structural defects in the foundation. For example, I worked with a major retailer to establish and nurture a strong path of communications for months and, as a result, we were able to support multiple releases in parallel. This led to a much stronger relationship across the customer’s organizations.  

The network is too important a part of the user experience for organizations to ignore. Without it, no website will give end users a digital experience that will keep them coming back for more, making the organization struggle to stay in business. A good network meets your business needs and grows with you. A great network also controls costs without impacting availability and performance to improve bottom line margins. Therefore, network teams need to collaborate with developer and marketing teams to make sure they are building a foundation that will meet business needs now and into the future. 

Howard Chorney is a director of solutions architecture at Akamai, which he joined from SOASTA. He has more than 40 years of experience building and testing solutions for his organizations. His role involves leading development of performance engineering, testing, monitoring and analytical services for Akamai customers.