Last November, shortly after Toys "R" Us mailed out 62 million catalogs to customers and offered everyone free shipping on its Web site, ToysRUs.com slowed to a crawl-leaving thousands of would-be buyers without access during peak hours. SecureTax.com faced an even graver situation when its site, used by hundreds of thousands of customers for preparing and filing taxes, crashed outright. Even eBay, the Net's leading auctioneer, with more than three million users in 50 countries, experienced at least four major crashes this past year due to a corrupted server and various and sundry software troubles. In one instance, eBay had to shut down its site for nearly 22 hours, incurring between $3 million and $5 million in losses.
Are you scared yet? You should be. As Internet commerce continues to surge in popularity, so does the potential for technical problems-and don't think you're immune just because you operate a small business. Although most of the crashes you hear about happen to giant corporations, small businesses also regularly experience shutdowns and blackouts costing thousands-sometimes millions-of dollars. Such site crashes and failures happen for a variety of reasons: errors in programming, seemingly innocuous software glitches, the failure of servers, both in-house and at Web hosting companies-even human error.
Businesses using Web hosting companies often run into problems because they end up in a shared-server environment, meaning their Web site is being hosted on a server shared with one or more other Web sites. "The customer may be doing all the right things," explains Preston Dodd, an analyst at Jupiter Communications, an Internet research firm in New York City. "But another customer, who is growing and who shouldn't be in a shared-server environment any longer, may overload that server and thereby hinder the performance of the [other] customers."
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New
York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing &
Communications and Sales & Marketing Management
magazines. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.