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Maximizing Your Online Store's Uptime: Its not just hosting!

Apr 26, 2008
Keeping your website running isn't the only technology concern for today's small e-commerce businesses. Your customers rely on your ability to communicate with them via email, telephone, or fax. A failure in any one of a number of your infrastructure technology systems can disrupt your operations, keeping you from shipping orders, answering calls, taking orders, and processing credit cards.

The true cost of downtime can be significant, and includes many things other than just lost revenue from lost orders. Increased (and expensive) customer service time, refunded and cancelled orders, loss of customer loyalty, and opportunity loss associated with handling the outage itself can be tremendously expensive.

An e-commerce business's critical infrastructure items include the telephone systems, Internet access, AC power, the website hosting, and basic application software used daily. The failure of any single component can disrupt operations, and impact your business.

If your Internet connection is down due to your DSL or cable provider system being unavailable, most of the typical e-commerce business's systems grind to a halt. Without Internet access, you are unable to send or receive email, produce shipping documents, or receive orders from your storefront. Setting up a wireless Internet access system as a back up to your primary ISP is a cost effective way to reduce your system downtime.

Setting up your network to access multiple ISP services is becoming easier, and less expensive. Low cost intelligent routers which monitor the ISP connections, and automatically route connectivity to the service that is "up" are easy to install, and will keep your business up and running when your primary high speed connection goes down.

Losing your telephone service is another major infrastructure risk. Both clients and vendors are unable to reach you if the phones are down. The new breed of Internet based toll free service providers can provide a creative, and inexpensive solution for back-up telephone services. These services allow you to program the routing of your inbound phone calls to your landline, mobile phone, VOIP phone, or a combination of them. Setting up your inbound calls to route to an alternate number (such as your cell phone) if there is no answer on your landline is easily done.

In areas of the country where power is less reliable, you need to be creative in the set-up of your electrical systems. Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS's) can give you short-term back-up power, while assuring you have clean, spike free electricity flowing to your devices. Make sure all your critical equipment has a UPS including routers, modems, switches, phones, servers, and of course your PCs.

An inexpensive solution for longer-term power outages is to have a back-up generator available onsite. You can pick-up an inexpensive generator at your local home center, and you can have an electrician install a basic generator connection switch to your circuit panel. In the event of a power outage, you can start-up your generator, plug it into the generator transfer switch, and flip a couple switches, and all your systems can be operating. Make sure you test this system occasionally to make sure your generator starts easily, and that you have configured you switch on the proper circuits.

Using reliable hosting companies for your website and on-line stores is critical to making sure your business can serve clients. Don't focus only on the site hosting, but also make sure all systems that plug into your store are high availability providers (payment processing, authorizing network, etc.)

To protect yourself from a disaster like a fire, flood, or theft, make sure you are backing up on-line store's data files at least weekly, and store the back-up off site. Make sure you get copies of data that might be on various PCs at your business.

The worst time to find out that one of your back-up systems isn't working is when your primary system fails. To keep your online store running well, test your back-up systems periodically, and perform required maintenance when things are running well. Trying to fix your back up systems when your primary system is down is a double whammy to your business.

A carefully thought out set of investments in your infrastructure can make your life much less stressful, and can reap a good return on investment. An online store doing $500,000 in revenue per year risks over $100 per hour when business is incapacitated by a system outage. Only 1% of downtime per year can cost up to $3,000. When you consider that you may have ten critical systems, if each is 99.9% reliable, combined they are going to cost you 1%.
About the Author
Edward Cole's online baby shower party store has served thousands of clients. Edward is part of the management team at PartyPail.com, and he will tell you that the rubber ducky baby shower is one of his favorite shower themes.
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