Web Performance Trends 2013 – Third Party Services

Every site has them. Whether they’re for analytics, advertising, customer support, or CDN services, third-party services are here to stay. However, for 2013, I believe that these services will face a level of scrutiny that many have avoided up until now.
Recent performance trends indicate that while web site content has been tested and scaled to meet even the highest levels of traffic, the third-party services that these sites have some to rely on (with a few exceptions) are not yet prepared to handle the largest volumes of traffic that occur when many of their customers experience a peak on the same day.
In 2013, I see web site owners asking their third-party service providers to provide verification that their systems be able to handle the highest volumes of traffic on their busiest days, with an additional amount of overhead – I suggest 20% – available for growth and to absorb “super-spikes”. Customer experience is built on the performance of the entire site, so leaving a one component of site delivery untested (and definitely unmonitored!) leaves companies exposed to brand and reputation degradation as well as performance degradation.
In your own organizations, make 2013 the year you:

  • Implement tight controls over how outside content is deployed and managed
  • Implement tight change control policies that clearly describe the process for adding third-party content to your site, including the measurement of performance impacts
  • Define clear SLAs and SLOs for your third-party content providers, including the performance levels at which their content will be disabled or removed from the site.

When speak to your third-party content and service providers about their plans for 2013, ask them to:

  • Explicitly detail how they handled traffic on their busiest days in 2012, and what they plan to do to effectively handle growth in 2013
  • Clearly demonstrate how they are invested in helping their customers deliver successful mobile sites and apps in 2013
  • Lay out how they will provide more transparent access to system performance metrics and what the goals of their performance strategy for 2013 are.

Take control of your third-party content. Don’t let it control you.

Web Performance – At What Cost? Trends for 2013

As we moved through the traditional start of the holiday shopping season (Thanksgiving / Black Friday / Cyber Monday), it is clear that most sites were prepared for what was coming. No big names went down, no performance slowdowns rose to the headlines, and online revenue – both web and mobile – appears to have increased over 2011.
But when you these companies do their year-end review, they need to take a step back and ask: “Could we have done it better?”
While performance events were few and far between (if they occurred at all), companies will need to examine the cost of scaling their sites for performance. When planning for the peak performance period, companies will need to asses whether simply scaling-up to handle increased traffic and sales could have been managed more effectively, by implementing sites that were not only fast, but  also efficient.
Joshua Bixby (here) noted that web page size has increased 20% in the last 6 months, an indication that efficiency is not always at the top of mind when new web content is presented to visitors. In order to deliver ever more complex web content, companies are spending more on services such as CDNs and cloud services to deliver their own content, while incorporating ever increasing numbers of third-party items into their pages to supply additional content and services (analytics, performance, customer service, Help Desk, and many more) that they have outsourced.
Increasing page size, outside acceleration and cloud services, and third-party services – a potent mix that companies need to asses critically, with an eye to understanding what all of these mean for the performance experienced by their visitors and customers. Add in the increasing importance of the mobile internet, with its variable connection speeds and service quality, and things become even more interesting.
In 2013, I see companies assessing these three trends with a focus on making sites perform the same (or better!) at the same (or lower!) cost than they did in 2012.
Over the next 12 months, I will be watching the performance industry news to see if those companies that have been successful at making their sites perform under the heaviest loads increasingly focus not just on speed and availability, but on efficient delivery of their entire site at a lower cost with the best user experience possible.
The key strategics questions that online businesses will be asking in 2013 will be:

  • Have we optimized our content? This does not mean make it faster, this means make it better and more efficient. It is almost absurdly easy to make a big, inefficient site fast, but it is harder to step back and “edit” the site in a way that you deliver the same content with less work – think Chevy Volt, not Cadillac Escalade.
  • Are we in control of our third-party services? Managing what services get placed on your site is only the first step. Understanding where the content you have added comes from and whether it is optimized for the heaviest shared loads will also become important checklist items for companies.
  • Can we deliver the design and functionality our customers want at a lower cost? This is the hardest one to be successful at, as each company is different. But Devops teams should be prepared to be accountable for not just cool, but also for the cost of creating, deploying, and managing a site.

image courtesy of Corey Seeman – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cseeman/

Effective Web Performance: Third-Party Providers (Or Why Herding Cats is Fun)

It’s a rare Web site these days that hosts all of its own content. From the smallest blog to the largest retailer, Web sites farm out their images, streams, and pages to CDNs, and absorb feeds, ads, and data streams from any number of outside providers.
Effective Web performance demands that a site take responsibility for the entire site, not just the parts under direct local management. Why? Because customers see a problem with your site, not with a provider.
How can the performance all of the third-party content on a site be managed? Using the exactly the same strategies already place to manage the performance of local content.

Measure from the outside-in

Customers come from the Internet. That measuring the performance of a site from the perspective of visitors is being mentioned here should not be a surprise. Critical to this part of managing third-parties is the ability to see into the page and determine if there are performance issues requesting and transmitting data from third-parties.
In the first article of this series, I detailed a number of approaches to actively gathering performance data. This method, whether from the datacenter or the last mile, will provide the early warning signs that there is an issue with a third-party, and feeding this data into the performance issue management plan.

Measure from inside the browser

The network and application performance of a third-party page component is just the start of the process, as this is what it takes to get the object to the browser. But what if this object then launches a number of actions, or starts to render on the screen. This may lead to a whole different range of issues that are a blind spot when analyzing Web performance.
Measuring the performance of discrete page elements from within the visitors browser will provide deeper insight into what effects the customer sees and which third-parties will need to be approached in order to improve the overall Web performance of the site.

Have clear and useful SLOs and SLAs

Service level objectives and service level agreements are often thrown about whenever there is the suspicion that there is a Web performance issue. Using these documents and frameworks as a club to beat up partners with is counter-productive.
SLOs and SLAs should clearly detail:

  • the performance expectations of the Web site owner
  • the performance and delivery capabilities of the third-party provider

Guess what? Arriving at this in a way that doesn’t lead to resentment and mistrust on both sides requires open and honest discussion.

Share data

If Web site owners and third-parties are going to work together to ensure the most effective Web performance strategy possible, then data must flow freely. Vendors will need access to the same data that Web site owners have (and vice versa) in order to ensure that if an issue is detected, everyone can examine all of the available data, and solve the problem quickly.

Communication

A recurring and critical theme when establishing a culture of effective Web performance is communication. When working with third-parties, this is even more critical, as the performance culture of one organization may be completely different from another. The Web site owner may have one site of criteria that determines a Web performance issue, while the vendor has another, and unless these are understood, problems will occur.
Clear communication paths must be baked into the SLA. Named contacts or contact paths will be there, as will expected response times for inbound requests, and escalation procedures.
When there is a performance issue, both sides will need to be very clear about how each other will respond.

Takeaways

Third-party content on Web sites is a fact. It shouldn’t be a headache. Effective Web performance measurement strategies, shared sources of Web performance data, and clearly understood paths and methods of communication will make using third-party content less stress-inducing to everyone.