Application Delivery Optimization: SMB vs. Enterprise

Scenario 1:

Lisa walks into her favorite brick-and-mortar clothing boutique. A salespersons greets her by name and says, "We just received a shipment of those jacket you like. Let me show you!"

The salesperson then suggests to Lisa that other women who purchased the jack also bought a certain turtleneck to go with it. Lisa purchases both items.

Scenario 2:

Lisa walks into her favorite brick-and-mortar clothing boutique. The store is a mess. Sweaters are on the same racks with pants and lingerie. Nothing is organized. Nobody offers to help her and she leaves the store without making a purchase.

Scenario 3:

Lisa uses her PC to access her favorite store's website. She signs in and gets a "Welcome Lisa" response on the screen, while also reminding her immediately that the jacket she likes is on sale this week.  After she selects the jacket, she places it in her virtual shopping cart. The site then reminds her that others have purchased a particular turtleneck to go along with the jacket, so she buys that as well.

While the first and third scenarios both exemplify successful operations, only the last takes advantage of additional opportunities beyond the organization's local region. The customer does not have to be in the same city or the country as the actual brick-and-mortar shop. The new small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), whether a retailer, bank, realtor or other vertical market, are all moving towards web-based operations.  This requires that both the user experience and the website delivery be extremely efficient and reliable. Otherwise, revenue and eventually the business itself would be lost. The end result would be equivalent to a physical store closing its doors during business hours of the busiest season.

The web experience is changing for consumers. While the National Retail Federation reports that over 90 percent of customers research products on the web prior to purchasing, a single product photo and description is simply not enought to close the sale. Through broadband, Flash, jpeg images and videos, retailers are providing information to potential customers that will improve the likelihood of closing the sale. According to Infonetics Research, 32 percent of SMBs sell goods online. In order to be successful, these businesses need to handle the traffic associated with a successful e-commerce site, connecting to employees, customers and suppliers.

Beyond retailers, SMBs in a wide range of vertical markets use intranets to share information among employees and use extranets to link up to their suppliers. The information shared is becoming more strategic rather than bureaucratic, and includes marketing support documents, medical imaging for collaboration, customer relations and payment information. As the information accessed and shared becomes more comples and bandwith-consuming, it becomes more important that network and application infrastructure performance be optimized and reliable.

This whitepaper explores the needs of SMBs compared to enterprise business with regards to e-commerce and optimizing server and application performance through the use of application delivery controllers (ADCs).

The Move to E-Commerce

Size no longer matters in business. Broadband access and web hosting services have brought SMBs the websites, intranets and other resources previously only affordable to large enterprises. The Internet has seriously leveled the playing field among businesses of all sizes. Approximately 42.7% of small businesses are online according to the Small Business Research Board. These companies represent a new breed of SMBs that derive profit and revenue from the Internet. With a web-based business, it is no longer essential for the buyer, seller and distributor to be in the same geographic loaction for them to transact business and one can expand their business hours to 24/7. A website should be easy to use, regardless of the user's level of technical expertise. Websites may be translated into multiple languages to serve an international customer base. In addition to sales through the website, the site may also drive telephone and brick-and-mortar sales.

With broadband in the home or office, consumers are better able to view videos and high resolution graphics and have an overall better quality of experience online. In turn, businesses can display rotating product data sheets and offer such enhancements as "Buy Now" icons, promotion codes, cross-selling, or "Email to a friend" options. In addition to customer-facing business applications, there are also sell-side applications that enable a company to improve internal business processes and functionality.

The good news is that businesses are increasingly taking advantage of the power of the Web. The bad news is that the website or intranet must be able to handle the traffic, or it will be as useless as rollerskates on an interstate highway. A company needs to manage its web growth as traffic increases, perhaps after a favorable product review or mention elsewhere that drives new traffic to the site. If customers try to access a company's website and experience the "World-Wide-Wait," they will probably abandon the visit and a potential sale is lost.

Site availability is therefore key to having a successful e-commerce site and is one of the primary functions of an Application Delivery Controller (ADC). Availability includes having ample bandwith, memory, storage and also redundancy, failover, load balancing and persistence. Small business that are not using the Internet are falling behind their competitors who are better connected internally and have greater availability to their customer base. These new e-commerce companies have the advantage of automation, which saves money and frees up personnel to do other tasks. There does not need to be someone "on call" to monitor and troubleshoot a website at 3:00 AM. The smaller business that does not have an efficient website is losing a window to customers who "let their fingers do the walking via thier keyboards." Imagine a company without a telephone - unthinkable! The modern day equivalent would be a company without a website. A website also saves companies customers service time and money. If sales staff is not taking up their time answering questions on the phone, then when simple questions can be answered on a website via a FAQ, they will have more time to assist customers with more complication situations.

In the book, "The World is Flat," Thomas Friedman explains that the year 2000 ushered in the era of Globalization 3.0, in which the world is shrinking and individuals and companies are empowered to compete globally. Through the Internet and other telecommunications technologies, geographic boundaries to communicating and competing are falling, driven in part by the development of global supply chains. Companies are gaining the electronic resources needed to compete with much larger players.

There was an old New Yorker cartoon that had a puppy sitting in front of a computer and the caption read, "no one knows I'm a dog on the Internet." Small businesses can appear to be much larger based on their websites. Naturally, while this level playing field concept is a good one, it also brings challenges to the small business to maintain the resources needed to compete with larger players, and to do so without breaking the budget.

Today's SMBs are undergoing the same IT evolution as their enterprise counterparts, only on a smaller scale. For SMBs, website reliability, flexible scalability, performance and ease of management are as essential to SMB website infrastructre as they are to an enterprise. It's air to say that these capabilities are an important operational imperative for businesses of all sizes. SMBs can gain efficiencies and competitive advantages by adopting appropriate networking technologies. However, without the proper systems in place, they will suffer from poor performance and they will be competitively disadvantaged. For this reason, choosing the appropriate application delivery controllers and server load balancing products is critical to ensuring efficient and effective website infrastructure to meet today's needs, while ensuring the right upgrade path for tomorrow's business requirement.

Read the full case study here.