Saving Cyber Monday: A Retailer Averts Disaster with ExtraHop

Cyber Monday sales grew 20.6 percent in 2013. Cyber Monday sales grew 20.6 percent in 2013.

While Black Friday diehards continue to fight over television sets and parking spots, droves of other shoppers prefer the comfort and safety of their couch. Indeed, this year was the biggest year ever for Cyber Monday, with sales growing 20.6 percent over 2012.

This massive influx of website traffic is a significant boon for retailers, and also rewards those retailers with the best-run IT departments. Now that Cyber Monday has officially overtaken Black Friday as the biggest shopping day of the year, the ability to quickly identify and fix website glitches makes all the difference when it comes to holiday retail supremacy.

Performance Monitoring Tools Behaving Badly

Early on the morning of December 2, 2013—Cyber Monday—one ExtraHop customer, a major home goods retailer, started seeing slowdowns on its website. The time required to process web requests was averaging 20-30 seconds. For web pages with multiple requests, this resulted in loading delays of several minutes. Because the retailer not only had ExtraHop installed in its datacenters, but was also subscribed to the ExtraHop Atlas remote analysis service, ExtraHop support engineers were able to dive immediately into the problem.

Server processing time for database transactions in milliseconds. The red arrow shows when the misbehaving SQL Server monitoring tool was turned off. Server processing time for database transactions in milliseconds. The red arrow shows when the misbehaving SQL Server monitoring tool was turned off.

Working with the retailer's IT team, the ExtraHop engineers spotted unusual activity on the SQL Server database supporting the website. A third-party SQL Server monitoring tool was pushing massive volumes of traffic to the production database. Overwhelmed, the database server was throttling the transaction rate for all requests. Ironically, the monitoring tool was originally put in place to warn against such events. This incident highlights the danger of relying on invasive agent-based application performance monitoring (APM) tools, which can actually do more harm than good. The website of the third-party monitoring tool claims: "Our software is simply the best monitoring and management software for the SQL Server market, providing the deepest insight, the fastest root-cause troubleshooting, most comprehensive monitoring, and the most flexible alerting—all with minimal overhead on your monitored servers."

The retailer's IT department quickly shut down the misbehaving SQL Server monitoring tool. Almost immediately, the database transaction processing time improved seven times over, dropping from 24 seconds per transaction on average to 350 milliseconds. The website that had previously taken minutes to load now did so almost instantly.

ExtraHop enabled the retailer's IT team to see a broad picture of all the infrastructure supporting the retailer's website and to quickly identify the root cause of the slowdown. This end-to-end visibility helped troubleshoot a problem before it tanked Cyber Monday sales.

IT Operations Are a Key Differentiator for Retail

As e-commerce continues to grow, the ability to ensure the performance, availability, and security of websites is separating the winners from the losers in retail, particularly during the holiday season. Massive spikes in website traffic and burgeoning transaction volumes can spell disaster for the unprepared. With insights gleaned from real-time wire data analytics, ExtraHop can help retailers quickly spot and fix problems within the IT environment before they become catastrophes.

Experiencing website issues this holiday season? Try the free, interactive ExtraHop demo Or, read this case study to learn how ExtraHop helped the Nordic retailer Axstores implement a shared IT strategy for its multiple retail brands.

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