How to Test Your Web Apps to Avoid Website Downtime This Holiday Season

The upcoming holiday shopping season is one of the most active times for consumers and retailers, with 2010 anticipating even more online shoppers than ever before. Faced with significantly increased Website traffic, it will be critical for retailers to have properly prepared their Web applications to avoid Website downtime. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Neil Ashizawa explains how retailers can properly test their Web applications in time for the busy holiday season.


Retailers have solved many challenges related to legacy technology platforms, including rapid payment processes and back-end integration. Unfortunately, these challenges have been replaced with new pressures on software quality. These pressures include higher customer expectations of online shopping, rapidly-evolving Web 2.0 platforms, and the sheer unpredictability of buyer behavior.

Historically, retailers' IT organizations have designed best practices to deal with spikes in Website traffic during busy holiday shopping seasons. Imposing development freezes months ahead of the holiday rush helps stabilize IT systems and simplify database performance testing. However, these holdups create new headaches for retailers that want to display the latest merchandise, preview sales and showcase new advertising campaigns before the holiday rush.

Rich Internet applications

The advent of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) has exposed consumers to highly interactive Web 2.0 user interfaces. Built with tools such as Adobe Flex, Adobe Flash and AJAX, these feature-rich applications allow for rapid, centralized application updates-meaning complex new functions are easily added and rolled out. That said, the very nature of RIAs presents performance headaches for application testing teams that can find it difficult to predict real-life use cases. RIAs can also invalidate previous performance benchmarks, which only bring on the need for new testing. Furthermore, tolerance for poorly performing Websites among shoppers has dropped, as major retailers have set new standards of acceptable performance.

With increased pressure to satisfy consumers' constant searches for the latest deals, the balance between quality and speed of application development has become skewed, negatively affecting testing. Additionally, increased competition between retailers may cause a permanent end to lengthy development cycles. The ability to develop applications rapidly, a selling point for RIAs, is clearly beneficial to retailers. But retail Websites, fronted by RIAs, are exposed to global public scrutiny from their inception, bringing new meaning to "Right First Time."

Traditional application testing will not cut it in such a rapid-fire environment and "throwing resources" at testing is not an option for businesses today. Cloud computing is one solution, offering instant access to more computing power when needed without permanently driving up testing budgets. The cloud can offer virtually limitless computing power to test a myriad of scenarios but, more importantly, the tools that manage the testing processes need to offer best of breed automation to effectively decrease the testing work load.

For obvious reasons, most retailers have unwavering policies about brand integrity, requiring in-depth evaluations of test suites for e-commerce sites to understand how objects such as graphics and forms are rendered on the page. This complex and labor-intensive testing adds to time pressures and IT budgets. The ability to use trusted, third-party professional services helps provide expert best practices that may keep a vital project on time and on budget.