Daily deals relies on 'gut feeling' for site spikes

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Daily deals relies on 'gut feeling' for site spikes

How much do you spin up in the cloud?

The team behind Harvey Norman's daily deals site Big Buys relied on "gut feeling" to determine how far it needed to scale up infrastructure to meet an 18-fold increase in site traffic this month.

The daily deals site was established by Harvey Norman - traditionally considered as having an aversion to e-commerce - as an independent franchise of the retailer, establishing much of the infrastructure it required in eight weeks before going live with the site.

That site runs on three instances of Windows Azure from Microsoft's Singapore data centre to support the average 25,000-30,000 page views the site currently experiences daily.

Transaction and customer subscriber data are held locally on a Microsoft Dynamics Nav installation in Sydney, with the help of Microsoft partner Hands-On Systems.

"It was a very soft launch, intentionally so," franchise director Kaine Escott told iTnews. "We haven't spent any money on marketing or PR at all, zero."

The start-up had hardly considered alternatives to cloud due to what Escott called the "volatility in retail" and the "added challenge that the chairman is a bit of a media magnet".

"How do you plan for that? We can spend $1 million on infrastructure hardware and you might utilise 90 percent of that one day a year," he said.

The site's biggest hit so far was a peak in traffic to 375,000 page views over three hours, following features on chief Gerry Harvey on two current affairs shows on the same night.

The site had doubled its Azure instances to six just 15 minutes before the shows aired in order to handle the expected traffic from the media appearances, but Escott said he ultimately had no idea how much to cater for.

"It was just a gut feeling, GH [Gerry Harvey] is going on TV tonight, we should get a spike, let's double it," he said. "It was a good guess because those six servers peaked at 80 percent each."

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Traffic has dropped off significantly since, with the three instances now activated by the company running at an average 20 percent daily.

The site experiences daily peaks at 12.30pm and 6pm and weekly peaks on Mondays, with the site receiving most attention whenever deals are offered on groceries.

Despite reported indications the subsidiary would hook into Harvey Norman's imminent ERP rollout, the site infrastructure used to run both the Harvey Norman and Big Buys sites are likely to remain separate for some time to come.

Where Escott is unwilling the move to traditional infrastructure, the IT guys at Harvey Norman are yet to actually consider a switch to cloud deployments.

"You weigh up the costs and advantages of the cloud but I can't imagine doing an IT project again and spending all that money, time and energy and resources on infrastructure," Escott said. "They're the experts."

James Hutchinson travelled to Tech.Ed 2011 on the Gold Coast as a guest of Microsoft.

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