19 September 2007

In the last few days we have seen Northern Rock suffer a dramatic loss in consumer confidence and consequently customers. In spite of the Government issuing a guarantee that Northern Rock customers would not loose any money, customers have queued in their thousands to withdraw money from the wavering building society.

Ironically the longest queues were experienced with those trying to log in online.

The biggest area where we see consumers being unforgiving in this instance is when they cannot access the Internet site to view or transfer their money. We are all programmed to expect to access our regular and favourite websites 24 hours a day.

So often I come across clients who spend a fortune on their web site and then underestimate the environment where the site then resides. Ironically, the hosting of the site is probably the most important factor in both winning new business and retaining clients, as it directly affects the customer service your users will experience.

Google keep their cards close to their chest with the rules that may give one company a competitive advantage over another; however one thing that is clear and has been apparent for a few years now is that clients investing in servers that provide a better experience to their customer receive a better ranking from the search engines.

If you are unsure on the importance of a fast site over a well designed but slower site, it is easy to demonstrate. How many times have you come across an ugly text based site that ranks highly on the search engines yet the clever flashy ones selling a similar product appear much lower? It happens all the time. The answer is Google rates sites on the speed they deliver their information.

The Northern Rock’s online calamity is indeed unfortunate. It is always difficult to predict the extremes; however it is possible. In fact it is easier to do now than ever before.

The simple way to do this is create an environment that is scalable. At the same time you need to minimise the risk of downtime and probably the best way to do this is, is with database replication. It may sound complicated, however there are companies who specialise in this type of hosting.

Tick these 2 boxes and you are some way to creating the perfect online environment. Capacity and resilience are key to guaranteeing your customers get the best experience.

So why are Northern Rock customers unhappy, and are they right to be unhappy?

The answer to this is down to the fact that their confidence is dented. It is one thing having to get information second hand via the news or word of mouth. It is another if your site that you rely on disappears. Sadly I think Northern Rock should really have been ready for this sort of potential disaster. I’d imagine they may have felt that having the absolutely massive infrastructure to deal with this unusual problem was unnecessary as the chance of this happening was unlikely.

Worryingly they collapsed with real customers however the biggest threats on the Internet come from Service Denial attacks. These could happen to literally anyone hosting a site and they are very common these days. A service Denial attack is when a computer or multiple computers around the Internet all try and log on to a site at the same time, literally flooding the network, switches and servers. The result is down time.

Most businesses who take hosting very seriously will have this at the top of their agenda when designing their network. If Northern Rock had a scaleable infrastructure they would have dealt with this matter far more effectively.

Some of the larger businesses in the UK often suffer from wanting to host their main database in their office. This creates a bottle neck in the time of adversity and high bandwidth. The modern approach is to host your company data on the Internet in a purpose built datacentre, protect it as you would if it were in your own office and host it to as near the hub of the Internet as possible.

Do this and you are guaranteed success.

Do you ever see Google fall over? Google is a company who takes its hosting very seriously indeed, and they have got quite an impressive online track record!

If you ever want help on this matter, or if you have questions, drop me a line at UKFast. I love this subject. Clients who take my advice make millions literally. It is the future and it needs to be taken so seriously if you want to be successful as a business person.

For all the Northern Rock customers who have had a bad time, as the press dies down so will the traffic and eventually they will be able to deal with all your traffic again. If you move to another bank sadly you have no guarantee that they’d have been able to deal with a similar problem.

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