Before the Internet was around identifying spikes in consumer behaviour would take some unusual forms. Decades ago, for example, the National Grid would often point to the amount of extra electricity used to make cups of tea during primetime TV. This became known as ‘TV Pickup’, with the biggest record to date being set during the England v West Germany semi-final penalty shootout, back in the 1990 World Cup. As over one million kettles were switched on at the same time, the country rapidly needed an extra 2800MW of power, and no doubt one hell of a lot of milk. Jake Madders asks "How can you manage web traffic surges while protecting your technology and business?"

This circumstance became an unplanned indicator of infrastructure elasticity as well as a way of gauging national interest. Its modern-day equivalent is major web traffic spikes, with fluctuations in activity proving a growing challenge for companies with an online presence.

With this in mind, it can be both embarrassing and expensive to have your website fail due to web traffic spikes. Yet they still regularly occur. So, what exactly is the biggest risk of failing to forecast peaks in activity? How can you manage web traffic surges while protecting your technology and business?

The risk involved

Spikes in your web traffic can happen to any business. At any time. For any reason. Whether it is a social media-flamed surge of interest to your site, a marketing email that has really taken wind, or simply a spiteful denial of service (DDoS) attack, the end result is always the same. You can’t make money if your site is offline.

The mistake many companies make is to think that a couple of minutes of downtime aren’t really a problem. In almost every case, it is, and you shouldn’t always assume that the downtime will be short-lived. And as well as the immediate loss of sales, the impact of downtime on reputation and loyalty can be even more damaging,

Prepare for the problem in advance

So what to do? Your hosting provider sits at the centre of the solution. Choosing a partner that can handle peaks during your busiest times is the best way to help you to avoid dreaded downtime.

Questions to ask include: is their infrastructure both scalable and flexible? Can my site manage? Make sure to ask them how they can prepare for any surges in traffic in advance. This kind of flexibility is important – it means your infrastructure can be scaled down during the quieter lulls of activity on your website. Basically, this means you only need to spend money on what you need. What’s not to love? Work with them to plan ahead. If you are running a social campaign that may drive extra traffic towards your site, get ready in advance – don’t wait for the influx to arrive before acting. Your hosting provider should scale your capacity to be able to meet the potential demand around any campaigns you run. Essentially, you and your provider should work together.

When surges in web traffic arrive, your host’s ability to offer strong levels of proactive and reactive service will pay dividends. Make sure you talk to your provider about their previous experience around managing these types of situations. Ask about their existing customers’ track records. Assure yourself they are up to scratch.

A reliable hosting provider will also make sure to run on-going tests, guaranteeing peaks in your website will not lead to sudden – and costly – downtime. This continuous infrastructure assessment will ensure predictable performance in the face of an actual traffic spike. It also means that security measures can be put in place to keep those malicious attackers out there at bay.

If the worst should happen and your site were to go down, reputable hosts offer maximise response times of 20 minutes or less for a mission-critical issue. In this case, or if you just need a little helping hand, what you’ll need is advice at the end of the phone. Any hosting provider worth their salt will provide 24/7 available support, 365 days a year, which a dedicated account team who know your business inside out.

At the end of the day, if e-commerce is the main component to your business, you need to be able to monitor, plan and scale your website to handle the variable amounts traffic. Your provider should be able to ensure you have peak performance during high traffic periods, constant connectivity and uptime, and a support line for that added relief and protection. Executing a trustworthy hosting provider will make sure you have the assurance that your website can withstand any pressure.

Jake Madders, is a Director at Hyve Managed Hosting