THE BLOG
11/03/2014 04:13 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2015

Scaling in Real-Time: How Businesses Can Maintain High Availability during Growing Pains

Most businesses are designed to grow. Even my business, which I intend to operate mainly as a one-woman show, has had its issues of scale. In fact, I expanded just enough to make room for a virtual assistant. Most business owners, though, start their businesses intending to "make it big." They know that they will have to scale up at some point.

As your business grows, whether you are rolling out new services and products, or whether you are upgrading your technology to better meet the needs of your customers, it's important to ensure that your business website, mobile apps and web applications remain stable, secure and available.

Downtime and Business Profitability

According to research collected by Evolven, downtime can be a real problem for businesses. Some of the costs associated with downtime on your blog include an $11,000 cost-per-minute impact on supply chain management, and a $10,000 cost-per-minute on ecommerce. This risk will be greater if you're running high demand apps accessed from hundreds of thousands of global users. That's some serious lost revenue -- and it hits you where it hurts.

Unfortunately, when you scale up your business, you run the risk of downtime. While many businesses think that two hours of downtime is unacceptable (and when you think of the high per-minute cost, it really can be more expensive than you might imagine), the reality is that many accept that downtime will be needed as they upgrade their technology and is part of the process. It's a poor standard to be adopted in the current age of high demand and intense customer scrutiny and technologies are now available that make this a thing of the past.

If you want to avoid the costs that come with downtime, it's vital that you plan ahead, and get the right tools to help your business maintain availability, so that you don't end up crashing when there is a surge in traffic, or as you upgrade your servers or add a new data center.

Plan Ahead

One of the most important things you can do as a business owner, no matter the situation, is to plan ahead. If you know that you will be upgrading your servers, migrating between hosts, or re-deploying a new version of your apps, you need to plan ahead for the changes. Make sure you know the steps ahead of time so that you are ready when the time comes. A smooth transition can go a long way toward reducing downtime and making sure you are ahead of the game.
There are some situations, like an unexpected surge in traffic, which you might not be able to prepare as well for ahead of time. For these situations, it makes sense to double-check your systems on a regular basis, and make sure you are ready for potential problems. This includes backing up your data, and having other plans in place. That way, a crash or some other problem won't result in the complete loss of everything your business relies on for revenue.

Using the Right Technology

A switch to a proficient SaaS provider offering managed cloud based security solutions will make sense for any business. These providers not only manage the entire application delivery process but also offer comprehensive protection against DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks and other web security threats and provide significant speed boosts through global CDNs (Content Delivery Networks). In addition, since all traffic goes through their data centers and web application firewalls before hitting your servers, there's no need to invest in security appliances or staff to monitor service availability.

One of the problems with trying to scale your business, or trying to accommodate a surge in traffic, is that you might not have the server capacity to facilitate a quick response. Turning to a technology solution rooted in the cloud will be your best bet.

For periods of growth and to maintain high availability, ensure the provider you choose offers high availability solutions, including failover and disaster recovery services. These services ensure that a server is always available whenever there are system or application errors, lost connectivity due to updates and upgrades, or in the case of complete network failure, the provider will automatically route traffic to another data center while your network comes back online. Another thing to look for is the inclusion of a load balancing option, which is crucial for those who operate a multi-server or multi-data center IT environments. Load balancing solutions will help you to evenly distribute traffic among those servers, to ensure a smooth "lag-free" experience for visitors.

Rather than investing in dozens of backup servers and other equipment to manage your growth situation, you can instead use a traffic distribution service that helps balance the situation so that, even as you scale up, most customers will be able to see your website and access mission critical apps and resources.

You might also need to change other aspects of your technology. One of the hard lessons I learned as my business grew was that I couldn't just stick to the free web hosting anymore. I had to upgrade and start paying for quality and responsive web hosting. I've been fortunate in that my business partner has us on Storm on Demand, which has been pretty good. However, if you are providing high traffic and demand services requiring sophisticated deployment, you will need to go even further in your quest to ensure that you have the right cloud solutions.

Outsource to Maximize Impact

Availability isn't just about your website and making sure that people can find you online. You also need to be personally available, as a business owner, while you are experiencing growing pains. You need to be available to work on what you do best so that you can maximize your time -- and your profits.

My life is much easier now that I have a virtual assistant to take care of some of the more mundane tasks that come with my business. This allows me to focus more on "big picture" items, as well as on my strengths. You can outsource a number of tasks as your business grows, and that is often the best course to follow.

Figure out what you do best, and determine where you should be spending most of your time. You can even apply the Pareto Principle to figure out what to outsource. You should focus on the 20 percent of things that produce 80 percent of your results, and then outsource the rest of the items in your business. That way, you can scale up in a way that is profitable, and helps you stay on top of the situation.

Bottom Line

Your growing business is exciting. You want to be able to expand smoothly. However, there are often bumps in the road when you are scaling up. Many businesses fail because they can't quite get through the growing pains. With the right plan and the right tools, though, you can maintain high availability during your growing pains, and transform your business into an even greater success.