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magento & ecommerce

Time to Scale: How to Handle Growing Traffic on Your Website

In terms of web performance, scaling refers to a website’s ability to handle growing traffic loads. Unfortunately, many business owners neglect scaling until their website goes down due to heavy traffic. Anticipating peak website load, tracking traffic load, and optimizing performance are vital to avoiding downtime and customer frustration.

What Is Scalability, Server Scaling, and Autoscaling?

Before we dive into the tools and methods used for website scaling, we should understand three core concepts. Despite a common misconception, websites and applications aren’t stagnant things – you can’t forget about them once they’re designed and developed. Most businesses strive to expand, and as a company grows, its website or application should too.

Scalability is a system’s ability to maintain consistent performance despite growing traffic loads. In other words, a website must not only handle the loads without going down – it must perform equally well with high traffic as with low traffic. Websites and applications require increased computing power to serve more users.

Systems rely on computing power from servers, so adjusting server performance according to traffic loads is vital for a website’s or application’s scalability. This process is known as server scaling and can be done either horizontally or vertically. The former means combining multiple servers to increase the total power. Meanwhile, the latter means replacing current servers with more powerful ones while maintaining the number. For instance, you may add more memory or increase the CPU thread number for faster processing.

With vertical server scaling, costs increase exponentially. Horizontal scaling is less expensive in terms of hardware, but you need more space to store more servers. The increased rent, cooling, and power usage costs can balance vertical and horizontal scaling expenses.

The main problem with horizontal scaling is the increased latency. If datasets are spread across multiple geographically distributed servers, user queries take longer to reach the destination. Furthermore, horizontal scaling makes your server infrastructure more complex.

Autoscaling is a relatively new concept referring to automatic server computing power adjustment depending on the traffic load. This can be achieved by utilizing cloud computing. When a website’s or application’s traffic grows, the system automatically expands the used server web horizontally. A good example is Amazon’s AWS Auto Scaling. The system monitors your application or website traffic and adjusts the capacity to ensure steady performance by utilizing additional Amazon servers.

Why Scaling Isn’t Simple

You may wonder why website owners can’t get powerful enough servers in advance to solve the scaling problem. The devil lies in details – timely server scaling doesn’t mean that all website or application elements scale equally well. Sometimes, scaling attempts crash system components. There are four problems you may encounter when scaling a website or app:

  • The search problem describes the complexity of finding the necessary data as its amount grows. Website or app needs more time to scan through a larger dataset and organize it.
  • Concurrency problem refers to the difficulty of making information available to several programs, resources, or users simultaneously. Imagine that you have one leaflet and 100 people who need to read it. This would lead to a massive queue, but if you make 100 copies, the concurrency problem would be solved.
  • The consistency problem arises from the concurrency problem’s solution. Say you distributed the 100 leaflet copies, and now, you need to update information on each of them. You can’t do this simultaneously, so for a while, data becomes inconsistent.
  • The speed problem is the easiest to understand. As visitor and interaction number grows, servers need to use more power to maintain the same speeds.

When Do You Need to Scale?

Every business owner should know the right time to scale to act in advance. Ideally, you should start planning your scaling strategy as soon as the website or application is launched. But if you’ve already missed that stage, begin to monitor your traffic loads and page loading speeds right now. Here are some questions that can help you determine whether your website or app needs urgent scaling:

  • Does your website or application perform consistently well with sudden traffic spikes? If so, how many concurrent users can it handle without dropping response speed?
  • Does your system have any hardware bottlenecks - components that limit the entire system potential?
  • How quickly does your traffic grow, and how long will your system be able to handle it if the trend continues?

Planning your scaling in advance is vital because you can’t predict when the traffic spike will happen. You want to avoid placing the “Please hold tight – traffic is causing delays” message on your page and frustrating your visitors. Scaling pitfalls affect e-commerce websites the most, especially during sales.

Scale Testing Tools

To choose the right scaling model, you must first determine the weak sides of your website, server, or application performance. These may be hardware bottlenecks, high network utilization, low loading times, or anything else. Below are some tools used for website and application scale testing.

Scale Testing Tools

Real User Monitoring

Real user monitoring, also known as RUM, is an approach to analyze every user interaction with your app or website. Simply put, RUM refers to passive monitoring of a specific user’s experience. It allows you to understand how quickly real website or application users are served and pinpoint lags and speed drops.

RUM doesn’t affect system speed because it uses a tiny part of the code and computing powers to conduct the analysis. RUM can be performed via tools like Google Analytics, New Relic, or Pingdom.

Server Monitoring and App Performance Management

Server monitoring tools analyze key performance metrics and pinpoint problems. The metrics include but are not limited to server temperature, power supply, CPU utilization, server uptime, disk activity, page file usage, context switches, network traffic, TCP activity, and OS log files.

Load Testing

There’s no need to be a foreteller or wait until your website crashes to determine the maximum traffic load it can handle. Instead, you can utilize load testing tools. These tools model the expected website or application performance with different traffic loads by simulating certain user numbers accessing the system simultaneously.

Website Traffic Scaling Methods

Replacing servers for more powerful ones isn’t the only system scaling method. Let’s look at other ways to handle growing traffic on your website or application.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A content delivery network or CDN describes a geographically distributed server group, reducing latency and ensuring faster internet content delivery speeds. Although CDNs don’t host content and can’t replace website hosting, they help cache content at the network edge. Caching reduces hosting bandwidth and prevents service interruptions. Consequently, it improves website load times and reduces bandwidth costs. As a bonus, CDN improves website security by mitigating DDoS.

Load Balancing

Load balancing refers to distributing the same data across multiple servers, thus lightening each server’s load. Load balancing is carried out by software that collects user requests and forwards them to a backend server with the lowest load. Not all servers may be up, have the same capacity and storage. Load balancing ensures that servers are utilized most efficiently, reducing downtime risks and providing a better experience to visitors.

Scalable Databases

All website or application information is stored in databases, and database scalability defines its ability to retrieve queries fast. In the modern application and website sphere, databases mainly handle analytical or transactional workloads. Web developers can utilize different database scaling methods depending on the database’s purpose, design, and hardware.

One such method is sharding. Database sharding is splitting a single large dataset into multiple databases processed individually. This way, each data cluster is processed faster, and the server can handle more requests.

Another option is replication, where one dataset is copied into multiple identical databases for added system fault tolerance. If one of the copies goes down, the server can still serve the user by reaching another copy. Typically, the best way of scaling databases is combining sharding with replication.

Network Upgrades

Old, weak networks are prone to downtimes, attacks, and delays, costing your business money and time. Network upgrades are a wise long-term investment ensuring consistent performance regardless of the website or application traffic.

Network Upgrades

Asynchronous Processing

Most small websites or application servers use the synchronous processing model. This means that the user must wait for the server’s response, and the server needs to complete the first task before moving on to the next one. Consequently, it can lead to higher waiting times for other server users.

Often, websites or applications need to perform long-running tasks, so synchronous processing isn’t an option. Here’s where asynchronous processing comes in handy. It lets the server process other queries while running the longer task.

Scale and Optimize

Website and application scaling is complex yet essential for any developing business. The best way to ensure your system handles any traffic with consistent performance is by seeking professional help. Interactivated team can help you choose the best scaling method and implement it the right way. Get in touch today to get your business ready for the growing traffic load.

By interactivated • on April 15, 2022

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