Updated: When Amazon.com has server problems, it shares them with other key retail players, including Target.com and Borders.com. That's the e-commerce lesson those three retailers—and perhaps others—
When Amazon.com has server problems, it shares them with other key retail players, including Target.com and Borders.com.
At least thats the e-commerce lesson those three retailersand perhaps othersare learning this week.
All three retailers began seeing a sharp drop in server response times starting Sept. 20, at about 9 a.m. Eastern, according to sources familiar with their servers.
The three are connected because, to varying degrees, Amazon is hosting chunks of the e-commerce sites of both Borders and Target.
How sharp a drop in server performance? Amazons uptime is typically one of the best, hovering between 98 percent and 99 percent, the sources said.
Starting Sept. 20 about 9 a.m., it plummeted into the 80s and by the evening of Sept. 21, it had dropped to 73 percent.
The drop in response time for Borders and Target fit "the exact same pattern," starting at the same time and increasing and decreasing at the same rate, one source who examined the data said.
Borders, which is tightly tied into Amazons operations, dropped as low as 75 percent, one source said, while Target fared better, dropping only as low as about 85 percent.
An official with traffic monitoring firm Keynote Systems on the morning of Sept. 22 reported that their logs showed the identical server response slowdown pattern, but added that it appeared to stop at about 4:30 a.m. Sept. 22.
Ben Rushlo, Keynotes senior manager of professional services, said that Keynotes logs showed not only the Amazon server problems but showed how they perfectly matched the slowdowns with both Borders and Target.
Further establishing the connection is that Amazon, Borders and Target "all went back to normal at the exact same time."
All sites returned to server performance approaching 100 percent at about 4:30 a.m. Sept. 22, Rushlo said.
According to Keynotes logs, Amazon overnight had dropped down to 60 percent server response.
The server problems appeared to be national, and the timeout errors most often were affecting Amazons prized homepage, suggesting "some serious problems" possibly involving a hardware repair effort that didnt quite fix a problem.
There were a handful of reports of Amazons site not loading Sept. 19, suggesting that the problem might have started then.
Officials at Amazon, Borders and Target did not respond to requests for information about their server status.
This apparent server problem raises some concerns as the industry heads into the intense holiday shopping season.
First, this is the second report of an Amazon outage in a month.
Read more here about the August Amazon outage.
Secondly, the fact that Amazon is also housing the e-commerce guts for other sitessuch as Borders and Targetmake a crash or a server slowdown at Amazon ripple through the rest of the industry.
This is also not coming at a good time for Target.com, which is also fending off bad publicity from its legal battle against visually challenged consumers.
The fact that the last Amazon outage occurred Aug. 21, which is exactly the same time of the monthto the daywhen this slowdown occurred raises the possibility that the events might be tied into some calendar event at Amazon, such as a schedule for release or patch updates.
Neither Borders nor Target responded to requests to comment for this story.
Amazon.coms director of corporate communications, Patty Smith, e-mailed the afternoon of Sept. 22 but only said she had "not heard of any problems with our servers."
Editors Note: This story was updated to add new information about the timing of the outage and a comment from Amazon.com.Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.
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Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.