Every ecommerce merchant knows: every second counts. From the moment a customer lands on your website to the final click of the purchase button, the user experience should be seamless, fast, and error-free. One of the critical aspects ensuring this smooth experience is the hosting infrastructure, particularly the deployment process.
Enter the concept of zero-downtime deployments. In this article, we'll delve into the technical intricacies of zero-downtime deployments and explore the commercial ramifications of downtime for ecommerce platforms.
What is Zero-Downtime Deployment?
Zero-downtime deployment, often referred to as blue-green deployment, is a strategy that allows businesses to release new features, updates, or fixes to their platform without causing any interruption to the user experience. This is achieved by having two separate environments: one that's live (blue) and another that's idle (green). When updates are needed, they are first applied to the idle environment. Once tested and verified, traffic is gradually shifted to the updated environment, ensuring that at no point is the service unavailable to the end user.
Typically, this is a problem for self-hosted e-commerce platforms such as Magento, Adobe Commerce, Shopware, WooCommerce, etc. Fully hosted SaaS platforms such as Shopify and BigCommerce typically do not suffer the same underlying concern unless you have a separately hosted headless front-end implementation that sits apart from the SaaS back-end.
The Technical Benefits
- Seamless Rollbacks: If an issue arises with the new deployment, traffic can be instantly rerouted to the previous stable version, minimizing disruptions.
- Staged Releases: Allows for canary releases where the update is rolled out to a subset of users first. This is useful for A/B testing and gauging user feedback before a full-scale release.
- Enhanced Performance: Since the deployment happens in the background, there's no strain on the live environment, ensuring optimal performance for users.
The Commercial Impact of Downtime
- Lost Sales: Even a few minutes of downtime during peak shopping hours can result in significant revenue loss. For major ecommerce platforms, this could translate to thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
- Damaged Reputation: Frequent downtimes can erode trust. Customers expect 24/7 availability, and any deviation can lead them to explore competitor platforms.
- Reduced SEO Rankings: Search engines prioritize user experience. Downtime, slow load times, or errors can negatively impact SEO rankings, making it harder for potential customers to find your platform.
- Increased Operational Costs: Downtime can lead to a surge in customer support queries, necessitating more resources to address grievances and technical issues.
Embracing the Future with Zero-Downtime
As ecommerce continues to grow, the expectations of consumers rise in tandem. They demand fast, reliable, and secure shopping experiences. Zero-downtime deployments are no longer a luxury but a necessity for ecommerce platforms aiming to stay competitive.
We often hear from merchants that their agency or hosting company tells them that downtime is inevitable for every deployment and that outages should be expected of anything up to 30 minutes. Whilst this used to be true, agencies need to evolve to modern best practices for deployments.
At On Tap, we provide fully orchestrated deployments that minimise the impact of deployments on the business to zero. Our customers tell us that they do not ever notice any downtime as part of deployments with On Tap.
We implement a deployment pipeline that offloads the manual steps normally involved into a fully automated and orchestrated process. Much of this process occurs away from the actual web server, so customers are still able to use the website as normal during the process. It can be automated with tools like Github and Gitlab.
If the deployment only involves code, then you get a true zero-downtime deployment. If there are database schema updates, then these can sometimes take time, but often only a few seconds. In all cases, there is never anything like 30 minutes of downtime.
What's more, if a problem does develop during the deployment process, it often has no impact whatsoever on customers accessing the website. In fact, it is far less likely that deployment problems happen at all because the process is automated, which means that it always occurs the correct way each time. Compare this against an agency that undertakes some, or even all, of the steps manually directly on the server itself - and there are likely to be some problems at some point in the future.
On Tap's Devops services can provide zero-downtime deployments in two ways:
- Consultancy to help you achieve zero-downtime deployments with your current hosting provider.
- Migrate your site to ontap.cloud, which comes with zero-downtime deployments as standard.
In conclusion, while the technical aspects of zero-downtime deployments are fascinating, it's the commercial implications that truly underscore its importance. In a world where the digital experience directly correlates with business success, ensuring uninterrupted service is paramount. By embracing zero-downtime deployments, ecommerce platforms can offer the seamless experience users demand while safeguarding their bottom line.