Apr 28, 2016

Magento Hosting Provider – Hosting Providers Software Review

Shane Blanford

This is the fourth post in a multi-part series on selecting a hosting provider for your Magento site.

Once you understand what hardware each hosting provider is offering up the next area to focus on is the software on the physical servers.

The following are the question I suggest you ask the hosting companies you are getting bids back from.

What version of PHP is supported by the hosting company? – PHP versions have a big impact on the performance of your Magento site. If you are running Magento 1.9 then you need to request PHP 5.6, any earlier versions of Magento and PHP 5.4 is the safest version I would recommend. If you are running a Magento 2.x site, then you need to run PHP 7 to realize all of the performance gains. Considering that you will be signing a multi-year contract for hosting services request to see their support roadmap for future versions of PHP. Also, request to understand the process to upgrade your server to a new version of PHP. The goal here is to ensure that the hosting company has a plan in place to upgrade servers to newer versions.

New Relic Monitoring? –  More in-depth monitoring can help troubleshoot performance issues with your site. Find out what level of monitoring comes with the hosting companies service beyond hardware monitoring. Some hosting providers are including NewRelic monitoring in their packages. This would be the ideal monitoring solution for your Magento site.

Redis or Memcache? – You will want to verify that caching technology is available to your site. Using Redis for full page and block caching should be a requirement. If the hosting company only supports Memcache I would suggest that you do not move forward with that provider.

Apache or Nginx? – There is significant difference between these two web servers. However with a Magento site and assuming that both web servers are properly tuned there is not much of a difference in performance that you will realize with one over the other.

Without getting any further into deep technical questions this should give you a good handle as a site owner on what questions related to hosting software you should be asking. If you are working with a developer on your hosting provider selection there will be many more technical questions that they will be asking. Far too many questions to cover without going into the deep technical background required to understand what each one could potentially mean.

Next up in this series is how you put all of this information together and successfully negotiate a hosting contract with a provider.

Apr 27, 2016

Magento Hosting Provider – Hosting Providers Technical Review

Shane Blanford

This is the third post in a multi-part series on selecting a hosting provider for your Magento site.

This post assumes that you have already assembled the information about your site and are now ready to start comparing bids from various hosting providers.

The following are the question I suggest you ask the hosting companies you are getting bids back from.

Is it shared / virtual server or a dedicated server? – You can have a great performing site on a shared environment or a bad performing site on a dedicated server. If it is a shared environment find out physically where the database & caching processes live. If they are located on separate physical servers and you are just sharing the web server this type of solution can deliver excellent performance. If it is a dedicated server ask the same questions, where do the database and caching services physically live at? It is better from a performance standpoint if the services are separated on different hardware, not just virtual instances.

Do they offer integration with a content delivery network (CDN)? – If they do and will help set it up for you this can significantly reduce the number of requests coming to your actual web server. The key is to make sure that you understand who will be responsible for actually setting up the CDN and ensure that your site is working with it. Just by turning on a CDN does not mean that you will get the benefits of it.

Backups and recovery process. – I cannot stress how important it is to understand what exactly is being backed up, how long you can access it and the process to recover data. This is not part of the hosting contract that you want to skim over or assume how this process is being done. Your website is your business, it’s how you make money and live your life. If and when someone goes wrong and you need to revert to the backups they need to be current and quick to restore. Here is what I strongly suggest that you get in writing:

  1. The entire document root of the web servers file system is backed up nightly.
  2. If you make a significant amount of changes to your product images, or you store images uploaded by clients ask to have the media folder incrementally backed up hourly.
  3. Ensure that the database is being backup up “live”. This means that a good backup can be taken while the database is up and running and does not require you to manually dump the database for a backup. This is critical as there are hosting companies that will NOT backup the database services live and rely on you to run a database dump to the file system.
  4. Depending on how many orders you get during the day making a request to have the database backed up hourly is reasonable.
  5. Find out how long it will take to recover your entire site in case of a failure. Not all backup systems are equal, some can take 24 hours to restore your site from tape.
  6. What happens during a hardware failure? Do they have exact replacement servers on standby or do they need to be ordered.

Once again I cannot stress how important it is to understand the backup & restore process up front. When a failure occurs you, your site and the revenue your site was generating will be at the mercy of the hosting company’s backup and restore process. Orange Collar has worked with clients on subpar hosting providers that have taken 24 hours to restore a small simple site. During an outage is not the time to start asking these questions. Get all of this in writing in the hosting contract before you sign on the dotted line.

What type of storage devices will your website run on? – Not all hard drives are equal when it comes to performance. The best performing storage is locally attached solid state drives (SSD). You want to ensure that you get the best performing storage devices you can. Disk IO operations have a huge impact on the performance of a Magento site.

Memory, memory, memory. – This is not the area to go cheap and save some money. RAM is essential to the performance of your site. I would recommend a minimum of 32GB of RAM for just the web server requirements. If you must collocate your database and caching on the same physical server you need to have 64GB at a minimum.

Next up in this series will be what software should be installed on your server and why.

Apr 26, 2016

Magento Hosting Provider – What your site needs

Shane Blanford

This is the second post in a multi-part series on selecting a hosting provider for your Magento site.

Assuming that you either do not work with a solution integrator or you do not want to use their suggested hosting provider these next posts in this series will help you choose your own.

Before you can start accurately comparing hosting plans and providers you need to understand what you need to ensure that your site will be successful. Just as not all hosting providers are equal, not all Magento sites are equal. Knowing the following information will allow you to inform the hosting providers that you request bids from to accurately quote a hosting footprint that will work with your site.

How many requests per second to you get on average & at peak? – A page view is not the same as a request for the purpose of our discussion. To understand the difference head over to http://tools.pingdom.com and put in the URL of your home page. Run the test and once it is complete click on the Page Analysis Tab. Towards the bottom of this page is the Requests Per Domain box. This will show you the number of requests that were made to your web server to render the page on the screen. Now that you have an idea on how many requests per page you need it is time to figure out how many page views per second you get. This can be hard to get but it vital to understanding the size and scope of the hosting footprint you will need. Google Analytics will only go down to as small as an hour. Hosting works in time slices of requests per second, so you will need to get more detailed information. Start by asking your current hosting provider to either answer this question for you by looking at the Apache or Nginx logs. Or if they cannot or will not tell you the requests per second ask for the raw log files to be sent to you. This is where getting a solid number can require the assistance of someone pretty technical. There are a number of free tools that can analyze these log files and give you a number. This number will allow you to know how many requests per second your hosting footprint will need to handle to ensure your site is successful.

How many store fronts are you running with unique URL’s? – One of the best features of Magento IMHO is that you can create and run multiple unique stores from a single installation. This is important when it comes to hosting for two big reasons.

  1. You need to understand the traffic patterns of each store and how that adds up to the overall traffic that your hosting footprint needs to handle. This includes how you intend to run promotions and marketing in the future. If you have just launched a 2nd store and it currently does not get much traffic but will be ramping up a marketing campaign, then you need to take that future growth into your plans.
  2. Search engine bots. Don’t forget about these guys when looking at site traffic. Remember for each store front the bots will crawl them independently of each other. It is pretty easy to have multiple bots crawling all of your sites at the same time adding up to a huge increase in traffic volume.

How many products are in your store and what type of product are they? – Not all products in Magento are equal when it comes to the technical cost of rendering them to the client. For example, a category page with 24 simple products is simpler and requires less hosting horsepower to render that page than a category page with 24 configurable products. This starts to matter due to the cost incurred in updating promotions, running the indexes and rendering the products to the page.

How many employees will be accessing the Magento Admin? – Do you have a team of customer service or warehouse employees in the Magento admin during the day? If so you might want to consider a separate server for your admin portal access to keep the load off of the main customer facing site.

Once you have this information put together you can then move on to the next step, contacting hosting providers and start comparing what they offer. That is the next post in this series.

Apr 25, 2016

Selecting a Magento Hosting Provider Part 1 – SI Suggestions

Shane Blanford

Choosing a hosting provider to host your Magento site is one of the most important decisions you will make. This post is part of a multi-part post series that discusses the different approaches to selecting a Magento hosting provider. I am hoping this discussion will help you make the right decision and give you a few tips to look for when making your decision.

To start with let’s get a few things out in the open to help level the playing field between hosting providers. Most site owners start their search by calling up their chosen solution integrator (SI) and asking for recommendations. Quickly you will get back a very short list and advise on what provider to go with. What you might not know is that the SI probably has a horse in the race when it comes to where you take your hosting business.

The majority of hosting providers provide some level of financial kick back to the SI for each client that they bring to their service. If you are working with an SI that is reputable they will have no problem disclosing this relationship and most do so up front.

What are you getting out this relationship by using the provider that your SI recommends? In all honesty, you get a much better level of service and price from the hosting provider. Over the past 6 years, we have referred a large number of clients to various hosting providers. In each of these cases, the clients got much better pricing and contract terms compared to what they would have received by just calling up the general inbound sales line. To understand why this is the case you need to understand a few factors that are going on behind the scene between your SI and the hosting provider.

  • Your SI has the motivation to ensure that you use a hosting provider that will work for your site. Imagine if your SI recommends a hosting provider that does not deliver for what your site needs. Not only are you going to be disgruntled at the hosting provider but at your SI as well. Here at Orange Collar, we have been an SI for over 6 years. I can tell you from first-hand experience that if a recommendation we have given to own client starts to go south it does have an impact on our relationship with the client. Trying to avoid disgruntled clients keeps us motivated to suggest hosting providers that will help make for happy clients.
  • On the opposite side the hosting provider has motivation for the SI to keep sending them business. In an effort to maintain this sales channel they attempt to make the process as easy as possible for the SI to recommend a service and get the client signed up. Because the SI will be in the middle of this relationship most hosting providers will start off with excellent pricing and contract terms. They know that the SI does not want to become a negotiator and they want to close the deal as quickly as possible.

The greatest benefit that a client is receiving by going with this recommendation is how issues are handled. Hosting issues do happen and when they do normally your first call is to your SI to “fix it”. If you went with your SI’s suggested hosting partner it starts to pay off in this moment. Your SI will have a dedicated contact person for the hosting provider and access to 2nd tier support directly. The developers at your SI will have the ability to quickly get an engineer on the phone avoiding the frustrating tier 1 tech process that you would normally have to go through. This is due to the relationship that the SI has with the hosting provider. There is a level of trust that is built where the 2nd tier support engineers at the hosting providers know the SI engineers and can skip past the elementary troubleshooting steps. Having this existing relationship can at times shave hours off resolving support incidents, that in turn can save you thousands in lost revenue.

Due to these factors, I would recommend that you go along with the hosting provider that your SI suggests.

In my next post, I will discuss how to evaluate different hosting providers on your own.

Apr 06, 2016

Why Run Your Magento Store On Amazon Web Services?

Shane Blanford

Your Magento store runs on a powerful, scalable platform, but is it suffering from slow response times? You already know that slow response times can have a big impact on your business. Amazon studies have found that every 100-millisecond increase in load time decreased sales by 1%. 40% of shoppers abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. How about scalability? Do you have a robust enough server set-up that allows easy, seamless scaling as your business grows?

 

Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosting addresses these issues and is a popular choice for large businesses seeking a flexible, secure, scalable and low-cost solution for online retailing. With the right configuration and management, your website will be able to make light work of millions of catalog views and hundreds and thousands of orders, thereby impacting your bottom line positively. Here are some reasons in favor of running your Magento store in an AWS environment.

 

Easy server management

 

Amazon Web Services delivers a great deal of flexibility. Its API offers the ability to create new instances, external database, load balancer and storage on-demand. To get more server space, power, and memory, all you need to do is change the instance type.

 

Data privacy

 

Amazon Web Services offers the basic platform to implement an end-to-end encryption solution without any complexity. SSL connections are used by default, and you can easily and securely manage custom SSL certificates for your applications. Amazon Web Services is compliant with most of the important data protection and privacy certifications your business needs. AWS also conducts regular and comprehensive audits to demonstrate the security of its infrastructure.

 

Fast deployment

 

New servers are usually ready after 5 to 15 minutes. By opting for Amazon Web Services, you can get started immediately and test your new Magento instance instead of wasting time. Shorter deployment times are significant, especially when you want to update your Magneto store or run large-scale promotional campaigns.

 

Top notch performance

 

Amazon Web Services offers excellent speed, which is not a surprise given that Amazon invests millions of dollars on data center infrastructure. Even in the event that you face an issue, your site still stays online with reduced capacity. In the case of a standard hosting service, such a scenario would mean having to deal with downtime. Being able to stay online versus not being available to customers makes a big difference to revenue.

 

Competitive pricing

 

With Amazon Web Services, you only have to pay for the services you use for the time they’re running. There is no need to commit to a long-term contract, spend a minimum amount, or make an up-front investment. On the other hand, you have to lock into a 12-24 month plan with a traditional web host. AWS is especially useful when you want to quickly add or remove resources to applications in order to address customer demand and manage costs.

Apr 05, 2016

Five Current eCommerce Trends with Magento

Shane Blanford

Each year brings with it new trends in the ecommerce community. Specifically, with regard to open source ecommerce platform Magento, noticeable trends have emerged in line with evolving purchase habits and proliferation of mobile devices. Here’s a look at five trends making waves.

 

Personalization and targeted marketing

Marketing campaigns are increasingly targeting niche or smaller focus groups of customers. You’ll already be aware that customers are more likely to buy from you if your promotions resonate with them. Businesses are leveraging Magento’s promotional tools for targeted promotions and merchandising while also improving customer segmentation. A simple way of making the shopping experience more personal for customers is to suggest products based on what the consumer has previously looked at or had in their basket. Such strategies are helping businesses increase average cart values, especially during peak and holiday seasons.

 

Mobile responsiveness

Mobile commerce now accounts for 30 per cent of all ecommerce in the United States. If your ecommerce store is not optimized to the mobile screen, you may be losing out on a huge chunk of customers. Savvy businesses are already using Magento’s extensions to convert their desktop site to a mobile optimized website. It is easy to create a mobile-friendly website using one of Magento’s extensions such as CouchCommerce and responsive themes like Argento, Magento Mobile HTML5 or Neddev Magento Mobile. Another option is to convert your ecommerce store to a mobile shopping cart app for different operating systems. An improvement in the usability of such apps makes them a good alternative to mobile sites.

 

Social eCommerce

Purchases, in large part, are influenced by user recommendations, comments, ratings and other user- generated content on social media. Prevailing ecommerce trends point to a tighter relationship between social media and eCommerce platforms. From Magento’s perspective that means investing in social commerce extensions that allows customers to seamlessly move from site to social media site. For instance, with the AddThis extension, you can choose the social networks on which you want to facilitate sharing of products. Another option is SocialShare, that makes it possible to configure a share button for the main social networks: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest. There are also some interesting extensions that allow you to integrate Facebook comments in your store, and enable users to log in to your store through their social profiles.

 

Responsive website design themes

The massive adoption of smartphones and tablets have made it essential to consider Magento responsive themes. It has become critical to ensure that your ecommerce store can be viewed just as easily and clearly on a tablet or smartphone as it can on a desktop. Responsive designs optimize webpage viewing experience across all screen sizes. Other benefits include scalability, SEO friendliness and cost effectiveness. The best responsive Magento themes include: Trego – Premium Responsive, Legenda – Fluid Responsive, Sweet House Free Magento 1.7.0.1 Template, HelloWired, Granada and Mango.

 

Niche marketplaces

There has been a steady uptick in the number of niche online marketplaces, in large part due to consumers’ expectations for specialized products and services. This trend has seen an increase in the number of niche ecommerce sites developed on Magento. There is no dearth of responsive Magento themes created for specific markets. You can choose from thousands of templates to deliver the desired user interface and experience.

 

Interactive product displays

More and more Magento users are using interactive product and lifestyle imagery to present their products in a compelling way. Lifestyle imagery connects emotionally with customers by showing a real life situation. For instance, you can showcase your clothing on a man or woman at a café or on the street instead of displaying it against a white background. You can also add videos – how-to, demonstrations, reviews and more – to your product pages for a more interactive experience. Custom interactive product pages enhance user engagement, and along with social media functionality, can take user experience to another level.

Apr 04, 2016

What Are the Advantages of Magento Support Services?

Shane Blanford

Magento’s powerful yet complex open source ecommerce management system is used by 26% of the world’s one million most popular websites. But websites are not immune to code-related, performance and downtime issues, which is why businesses engage 24/7 Magento support services to tide over problems smoothly with minimal or no downtime.

What problems does a Magento support service handle?

Downtime

95% of large enterprises say that even an hour of downtime can cost them US$100,000. The consequences of downtime can be felt across all business touchpoints. With 24/7 support, you can reduce downtime to a couple of minutes, and prevent catastrophic consequences altogether.

Code issues

Magento support teams monitor your website’s health to keep it in good shape. Using site-auditing software, personnel monitor site performance, address any underlying code issues and take the necessary steps to minimize the risk of any future incidents. This proactive support goes a long way in preserving the performance and security of your website.

Small or big issues that you may face from time to time

On-demand access to a help desk is a part of literally all Magento support services. Whenever you face a problem, you can raise a support ticket or contact the service via email. Real-time or quick responses allow you to resume work and extract maximum business benefits from your website.

24/7 Magento support services also provide daily reports and instant notifications on serious issues with your site. This helps you take strategic decisions in a timely manner and also helps you take better calls in the future.

What benefits do you stand to gain?

  1. Let experts take care of maintenance while you focus on your core business: With a team of Magento experts handling routine back-end tasks, you don’t have to waste time on solving technical challenges.
  2. Optimize IT staff budget: A Magento support service reduces the need for many in-house resources. The service can act as an extension of your in-house IT department, and help you save on labor costs.
  3. Enjoy peace of mind that your site is in good hands: If you’re one among the busy ecommerce retailers without the time or resources to monitor your site’s availability, performance, synthetic transactions, and global URLs all-day, a Magento support service is invaluable. You can go about your daily business knowing that there are professionals taking care of your site.
  4. Give site performance a boost: Magento support services will monitor your site’s performance 24x7x365. It’s a lot more than what you can achieve on your own as a solo entrepreneur or one with a limited staff.
  5. Plan for increased traffic: A support service offers load testing services wherein a traffic rush is stimulated to your site to gauge its performance. By preparing your site for the busy holiday season, you will be averting potential issues well in advance.
  6. Disaster recovery may be built into your support plan: Magento support services may perform site backups automatically. In the event of a man-made or natural disaster, you don’t have to worry about a loss of data. This assurance can also assist with business continuity and prevent your customers from getting affected in a major way.
  7. Maintain a high level of site security: Your Magento support service may include security provisions that help identify vulnerabilities and have a mechanism in place to restore your site to normalcy in the event of a security scare.

Bottom line

A 24/7 Magento support service ensures that your website is up and running in peak condition. The technical maintenance can provide you cost savings in the long run and you don’t have to contend with a bad case of nerves every time your website encounters a problem.