Overcome Frightening Seasonal Traffic With The Hybrid Cloud

This is a guest post written and contributed by Steve Vitale, Director of Ecommerce for Spencer’s, a Rackspace Hybrid Cloud customer. Spencer’s is a lifestyle retail company that operates two unique, national brands, Spencer’s and Spirit Halloween, throughout the United States, Canada and online.

Most retailers see seasonal sales spikes – it’s the nature of the business.

We’ve grown accustomed to spiky online traffic at Spencer’s – the holiday shopping rush, the summertime gag gifts; you name it. For Spirit Halloween, however, the spikes can be downright frightening.

Spirit Halloween is built on seasonal sales – it focuses solely on Halloween costumes and decor. To put it into perspective, most retailers see a steady flow of traffic throughout the year, and as you approach a peak season, business increases four to six times the normal volume. Spirit Halloween, however, is a bit different. It’s a highly seasonal environment. In the off-season, we see very little traffic. People don’t think of Halloween in, say, March.

But once Halloween season rolls in, usually starting around August, we see what we call the “45-degree angle.” Our traffic doubles almost every day – day over day – until the end of the Halloween season. Our traffic and business can increase 100 times to 1,000 times what they were in the off-season. Then, much like it swooped in, the traffic is gone – we see a steep drop off and that brings us back down to normal off-season volumes.

This puts us in a unique spot. We have to scale on and off, but we also have to try to not carry too much infrastructure in the off-season. That’s why we went with the Rackspace Hybrid Cloud based on RackConnect – we split our application between a dedicated private infrastructure for our checkout process, credit card info and customer info, which keeps us PCI compliant and secure; and we use the public cloud for our web browsing portion, which includes product descriptions, prices and other information.

We maintain all credit card and customer personal information on dedicated servers that host our database, attached to SAN and DAS storage amounting to nearly 5TB. This allows us to maintain PCI compliance and a baseline capacity for their application processing. We also run portions of our application on a VMware virtualized private cloud environment, allowing us the flexibility to increase the backend of our system during the peak buying season.

Using RackConnect, we can scale up front-end web server capacity as our load increases throughout the busy Halloween season. Starting in August, we add about three 16 GB cloud servers. In September we add roughly another server per week to scale out the front end of our app. In October, we add two to three more servers per week to continue scaling for increasing demand. By the end of October, load almost completely vanishes, and we return to our baseline capacity.

But it doesn’t end there. Through our infrastructure, everything is fully redundant – there isn’t a system in our infrastructure that we don’t have a duplicate of, from firewalls and load balancers to servers and hypervisors. It’s the same in the cloud; everything we spin up in the cloud is redundant. This ensures our environment is always available, which is critical to us and any other online retailer.

This hybrid cloud setup up gives us the ability to carry the minimum capacity during the off-season. Then, during the on-season we can quickly and easily spin up servers in the cloud to accommodate the crush of Halloween traffic. And, once the season ends, we can dial it back.

Halloween is one of those things where you have to execute at 100 percent or go home. Our Rackspace Hybrid Cloud environment gives is the confidence to run at 100 percent – we don’t have to be afraid of downtime, just the frights that come with a great holiday season.


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