Are You Looking at the Right Metrics?

August 17th, 2011
Posted in Tech

The most dangeours type of downtime is the one you don't know about. It is discturbing how true that one line actually is. Should it occur, website/server downtime can and will cause problems and ripples throughout your organization. Before we get tarred and feathered for making such a boldĀ statement, let us build our case.

The Problem

In this realworld situation, a business lost roughly 30% of their leads for July. Apart from their initial loss, they simply handed out a good portion of the market to their competitors, in high season. When the figures arrived, all hell broke loose. All major markets felt the downturn. In search for a logical explanation, hours of daytime were invested in finding the reason. After it was made clear that the traffic was stable, the management went on to search for answers somewhere down the line. The marketing team had to pull out detailed reports for their activities in the last three months. Seasonal sales people got numerous tests calls. A full-scale internal audit took place. This caused a ripple effect and the normal workflow was seriously disrupted.

Locating the Issue

Upon request, the IT department emailed external statistics on the webserver's uptime. They had employed the services of a website monitoring service (not ours). According to their information, the server only went down for 20 minutes that month during the scheduled maintenance. What they failed to notice is that the service they used only gave them figures of the network availability of the hardware device, not the server software. The machine was available nearly all the time, but was doing what it was supposed to (serving web pages) only ~80% of the time. We were able to find that out only after we began tracking the server ourselves.

We were able to locate the problem, because the service we chose to test with, actually tested the website itself. We tried loading all major application forms from multiple locations over a given period of time. It wasn't long before we got the first alert about a page not loading. It turned out that the server was failing to deliver the pages after a certain number of concurent connections. With some modest server upgrades and clever workarounds by the IT department, all website returned to normal. Simply the hardware couldn't take the load and the server software decided to drop a number of queries in order to serve the rest.

The website service, employed by the business, worked exactly as it should. What was referred to as website uptime was actually server uptime.

Quick Tips

  • Network availability is only a prerequsite for a website to function properly. Even if the site loads sucessfuly it is not clear if the forms on the site will be 100% functional.
  • One good sign to look for, when trying to find the exact cause for problems with your traffic and conversion rate, are the traffic sources. If you notice significant decrease accross all mediums, then it is most likely that your website is not performing as expected.
  • Make sure you are using the service you need. You can test our range of website and server monitoring services completely free.

About Victoria Pal

Doesn't like queuing (particularly at Wimbledon). Likes travelling, tennis and reading. Loves working as a Project Manager at WebSitePulse.

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