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There is a suit in my wardrobe I’ve had awhile now. I picked it up before attending an event, when I was a few pounds lighter and a few inches leaner. The suit was tailored for a more svelte me. Today, it no longer flatters my form. It’s not about the suit’s design. It’s a size thing. Such is the case with some prominent ecommerce sites this holiday season.

According to a post on WSJ.com, significant slowdowns were experienced over the long weekend on sites such as Amazon.com (running proprietary software) and Saks.com (running Blue Martini). In fact, Sears.com went dark for several peak shopping hours on Black Friday — from 10:00 AM to 12:40 PM Eastern; failing again at 3:30 PM. Sears uses IBM Websphere Commerce Server.

According to the latest Internet Retailer Top 500 report, the number of top online retailers managing an in-house solution grew by 29% in 2007. Unfortunately, budget-minded IT managers frequently fail to plan for growing demand. With the economy lowering expectations this holiday, it’s hard to imagine server outages resulting from unexpected traffic. But that’s just what happened.

NetCraft reports that Sears.com has been using Akamai for content delivery. Unfortunately, distributing static content such as images and stylesheets through a CDN can’t ensure against server overload. That’s because dynamic content still eats up CPU cycles wherever the software runs. Dynamic content includes things like promotions, pricing, product attributes, item availability, personalization, check out, and most Web 2.0 stuff. That’s just about everything essential to the shopping experience.

In my practice, I’ve seen many companies put themselves in this same position. Additional costs are incurred when more CPUs are added. Lowering costs by undersizing infrastructure is ill-advised, yet all-too-prevalent. For a multi-billion dollar site like Sears.com, undersizing can cost millions more in lost sales during peak demand.

Don’t let this happen to you. Hosted options are available for almost any vendor. If your data center is understaffed, consider third party hosting that monitors around the clock and provides service level agreements that guarantee availability.

In addition, properly size each vendor proposal when evaluating options. A thorough set of requirements should be included with each RFP. These requirements must contain information essential for adequate sizing of the entire solution, and its associated costs.

Also keep in mind that system integrators, design firms, software purveyors and full service providers all have a tendency to squeeze square pegs into round holes. Each has a bias that is influenced by the company they keep. So consider the advice of subject matter experts that have no vested interest in the final decision. An unbiased third-party consultant with solid domain expertise is invaluable when measuring vendors for fit.