E-tailer Passes Stress Test

Segue Software's SilkPerformer application keeps traffic overload from taking down apparel retailer BlueFly's e-commerce site.

Much like the structural stress tests of engineering, load-testing software is helping one up-and-coming online retailer ensure that its e-commerce infrastructure can withstand sudden surges in traffic.

Apparel retailer BlueFly Inc. sells merchandise from approximately 350 designer labels—from Armani to Zegna—online and at discounts of up to 75 percent. Despite a lack of advertising, the publicly traded company has been dramatically increasing its revenues, while decreasing its losses, since 2000.

But 18 months ago, unable to predict growth or traffic patterns, BlueFly didnt know the breaking point of its e-commerce site. Just how much traffic would it withstand before crashing?

"Our business grows by word of mouth, so we dont know how its going to grow," said Carol Mirakove, senior quality assurance analyst at BlueFly, in New York. "If were not measuring our performance, we dont know what it is. We dont know [what would happen] if all of a sudden 1,000 people visited our site without us knowing about it."

What BlueFly needed was insurance that a traffic overload wouldnt cripple its online commerce infrastructure.

Mirakove looked at several application load-testing programs, including Mercury Interactive Corp.s LoadRunner and The Apache Software Foundations JMeter, before settling on Segue Software Inc.s SilkPerformer.

But while she appreciated Segues hands-on assessment of the BlueFly situation, because of the companys Lexington, Mass., location, it would be too costly to have it handle the installation and development work.

At Segues suggestion, about 18 months ago, BlueFly turned to Segue partner Testware Associates Inc. in nearby Somerville, N.J., which resells other testing software solutions as well.

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In addition to the installation of SilkPerformer and some script writing, Testware also provided BlueFly, which has a staff of 88, with mentoring on how best to take advantage of the software.

BlueFly also purchased through Testware Segues SilkTest, which tests and verifies that the sites features and links are live and working.

"The biggest thing theyve done for us was ensure that our customers would have a positive experience. They provide stability," Mirakove said.

In only about three months, BlueFly—which ships its more than 80,000 items from a warehouse in Virginia—had completed its first performance testing cycle. The $40,000 investment was well worth it, according to Mirakove, who said that as part of the process, Testware also optimized the performance of the companys search engine, essentially the core of the site.

"Every time we render our page, a search engine is called," Mirakove said. "And typical Internet traffic patterns would suggest that online shoppers go elsewhere if page time is slow."

"A lot of these tools youre buying for insurance," said Leslie Segal, president of Testware.

Insurance is something BlueFly needed, as it adds new features and links to the site once a month, as opposed to quarterly.

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