Sings a Sweet Lullaby

E-tailer signs up MSP SiteRock to watch site for signs of crankiness

Few e-tailers are getting much sleep these days, after last years holiday Web traffic brought many sites to their knees. But Gordon Jones is sleeping like a baby.

Jones, chief technology officer at startup, based in Paramus, N.J., has been assured that if his new site experiences performance problems or outages this year, they will be dealt with quickly and decisively. The Toys "R" Us Inc. subsidiary, launched last July, has signed on SiteRock Corp. to monitor its site and pinpoint the source of any problems on a 24-by-7 basis.

The Emeryville, Calif., MSP (management service provider) will provide with basic site monitoring that looks at availability, provides alarm filtering and verification, and includes geographic performance profiles using measurement tools from Keynote Systems Inc., of San Mateo, Calif.

Defined within the SLA (service- level agreement) between the service provider and the e-tailer are specific escalation procedures that kick in when predefined events occur, as well as predefined corrective actions that SiteRock is authorized to take for certain events.

By clearly defining processes and procedures for handling problems and identifying individuals at both the service provider and e-tailer who are part of the escalation chain, the service allows each side to focus on what it does best, according to Jones.

"Their core competency is monitoring Web sites. They have procedures defined and people who know what to do," he said.

"At the most basic level we check for availability, check for URL and content off the URL, and we check for verification of transactions [executed from] a variety of locations," said SiteRock Chairman and founder Robert Fanini, in Emeryville.

But key to the service are the SLAs that are a part of every contract. "Our SLAs are written in a lot of detail," Fanini said. "They list the alerts we are looking for, the actions we take when they happen and what we do to validate that the alert is real. They list an escalation path for each particular type of problem." Beyond the details, the SLA "is written in a way thats very deterministic—for example, if this, then that; we are taking the expertise out of system administration and making it procedural. This is key to our scalability," he added.

To ensure that the site continues to provide the "ultimate customer experience," Babiesrus.coms operators focus on proactive change management to continually improve the site in its ease of use, scale and performance.

"Change management is an area you can never be complacent about," Jones said. "We have process improvement meetings each week and look at whether all components are working as planned, what response time is, what went wrong and the reasons for it."

Because SiteRock measures Web site performance from the end customers perspective—simulating orders and watching to ensure that theyre completed within given response times—it also has a role in proactively working to avoid performance problems.

"We have performance engineers who design in scalability. We are forever researching new technologies. It goes back to having trend analysis capability in looking at response time, search times," and so on, Jones said. "SiteRock fits into that in the historical response-time data they provide, including average and maximum response time, [and] any adverse response times. They can even, with Keynote, tell us which [Internet service provider] had an adverse response time. Then you start drilling down."

By offloading monitoring responsibilities from key personnel, the site was also able to focus on integrating the online version of the Babies "R" Us baby registry with the brick-and-mortar version in time for the holidays and the busy baby season next month and in February. The registry, a key feature for both, now boasts more than 800,000 registered babies. Customers looking to buy gifts online or at a retail outlet can access the registry and find up-to-date entries on whats already been bought.

The site, also an online community for parents, provides advisories, tips and other information on parenting. "Its the ultimate place to go for baby care," Jones said.

The baby e-tailer, like its parent company, intends to migrate its site over to Inc., which will host the operation. Although the site is already hosted by, will not move until spring. Going with an MSP in the interim, rather than staffing up with temporary help, also made sense, according to another company official.

"It was very critical for us to maintain our reputation as being a good resource with parents. We knew we needed to bring in the experts who could hit the ground running," the official said. Also impressive was SiteRocks ISO 9001 certification. "Thats not a distinction you earn easily," the official said.