Web hosting for enterprises poses unique challenges. These include data breaches, digital transformation, migration difficulties, high costs, disaster recovery, and more. How do enterprises overcome these struggles to deliver powerful digital experiences?
Hosting is one of those things that is best appreciated by not being noticed. Like hidden pipes, good hosting can’t be seen. It’s the absence of friction, when a website is doing everything it’s supposed to do, even under less than ideal circumstances, that makes a well-hosted website.
Poor hosting, on the other hand, is painfully visible. At best, weak hosting can result in rage-clicking and abandoned shopping carts, and at worst, data breaches and unacceptable downtime.
Nowhere is solid hosting more important than on enterprise websites. While popular hosting providers like GoDaddy and Bluehost lead the hosting provider industry and are totally appropriate for the majority of digital properties, they often fall short of what’s required to maintain a true enterprise site.
There are currently over a billion websites currently registered worldwide - traditional hosting methods simply aren’t enough to cater to the complex, evolving needs of enterprises. Enterprises often own multiple digital properties with high levels of traffic 24/7/365. As such, they must have excellent and secure server architecture, intense scalability and a robust server that can withstand high loads, cutting-edge developer tools, and top-tier customer service and support.
How powerful hosting solutions protect enterprises
In the event of a disaster at your physical hosting site, you need a contingency plan. For enterprise hosting, redundant methods such as having hot standby applications spread across multiple regions mitigate risk. For those who are unfamiliar with the terminology, a hot standby is a method in which one system runs simultaneously alongside an identical primary system. When the primary system goes down, the standby system immediately takes over.
There are a number of different redundancies (or in layman’s terms, backups) that reliable enterprise hosting services should employ:
- Network redundancies involve multiple internet carriers used by servers.
- Hardware redundancies involve multiples hard drives and other forms of equipment in case a piece of hardware fails.
- Power redundancies involve backup power supply units, often with feeds from different utility companies. Each feed should have a battery backup as well as a diesel generator for longer outages.
- Geographic redundancies are essential in the case of complete datacenter failures - which, from inclement weather to mechanical failure, cannot always be prevented. If your Dublin datacenter goes down, your Toronto datacenter on standby can pick up where it left off.
In 2018, Microsoft’s Azure faced an eleven-hour service outage due to cooling systems failing in their Dublin datacenter on an 18°C day. To mitigate the risk of such an unnecessary outage, enterprises should seek hosting providers that offer these redundancies along with robust SLAs to make disaster recovery seem like a walk in the park.
Data loss has plagued mankind since the tragic burning of the Library of Alexandria.
Security measures should be firmly embedded in every layer of an enterprise’s hosting architecture. An ironclad data backup strategy and rapid response to security vulnerabilities are key. From legal consequences to lost revenue and productivity, data loss can be truly devastating to companies.
Enterprises are especially vulnerable to data breaches. For example, the emerging trend of omnichannel marketing and Internet of Things (IoT) devices increases risk significantly. In fact, according to the 2018 IBM report on the costs of data breaches, extensive use of IoT devices increases the cost of data breaches by $5.4 per compromised record. In other words, every new channel an enterprise pursues to reach customers is a channel that can be breached.
The IBM report also shows how deploying security automation lowers costs of data breaches by USD $1.55 million on average. 38% of companies sampled plan on deploying security automation in the next two years, and only 15% of companies have fully deployed security automation. Enterprise hosting platforms that use artificial intelligence to automatically identify security vulnerabilities are extremely important to maintaining data security.
In terms of cost savings, the two most significant factors according to IBM’s study are having an incident response team ($14 saved per compromised record) and extensive use of encryption ($13.1 saved per compromised record). As such, enterprises must adopt a hosting solution that maintains a world-class protocol for incident response and employs impressive file system encryption across the entire infrastructure.
Without appropriate security, your entire online presence is vulnerable to cyber attacks. A secure hosted environment protects you from attackers, while proactively monitoring, patching and alerting for vulnerabilities. The physical security of the host’s servers must also be military grade. Finally, a routine and firm data backup protocol must be in place when prevention fails.
Uptime and Monitoring
From a customer experience perspective, sufficient uptime is essential because the availability guaranteed to you by your web host mirrors the availability you guarantee to your customer. Your organization's ability to reach its customers starts with the host.
There is no such thing as 100% uptime: all systems require maintenance. The industry standard is 99.9% (8.76 hours of downtime annually). Enterprises, however, should pursue 99.95% uptime at a minimum (4.38 hours of downtime annually). Why? Because it’s twice as reliable and downtime can cost enterprises a lot of money.
In 2013, Amazon lost nearly $5 million in revenue due to only 40 minutes of downtime. It gets worse: in 2018, Amazon lost up to $100 million in expected sales due to an hour-long outage on their biggest shopping day of the year (more on this below).
Beyond frustrating customers, having excessive downtime could hurt your search engine optimization. Search engines like Google may see your website as unreliable and lower your ranking. This doesn’t necessarily mean your enterprise will plummet to the bottom of the rankings because your uptime is slightly lower than competitors. It could, however, be enough to put your marketing team’s hard work optimizing content this year to waste.
A lot of hosts offer high uptime, but they better deliver. Enterprises should rely on reliable and renowned hosts such as Acquia and Pantheon can safely deliver on their uptime guarantees.
If your organization must comply with PCI, HIPAA, or other regulatory requirements, hosting platforms such as Acquia Cloud Shield enable you to enforce stricter controls over data by segregating your infrastructure from that of other customers, and by enabling your organization to maintain sensitive data within your network.
In data breach scenarios, compliance failures cost companies an additional USD $11.9 per compromised record on average.
Hosting Heroes & Horrors
Hero: Mueller Report Release via Justice.gov
Excellent Planning and Maintained Uptime
In April 2019, the US Department of Justice was set to release Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on foreign interference in the US election. With the publicity surrounding the investigation, the Department of Justice knew they’d face an unprecedented spike in traffic on their Drupal website as a result.
By taking a proactive approach in collaboration with their host Acquia, the department was able to successfully sustain a 7,000% surge in traffic and 247 million visitors in the first hour the report was released. The Justice.gov site averages 8 million visitors a day. Having the right host and content management platform helped the department ensure they could deliver what was needed when it was needed most.
Horror: Amazon Prime Day 2018
Excessive Downtime, Failure to Accommodate Traffic Spike
Even the biggest companies are not immune to excessive downtime. The most famous example in recent memory is the ill-fated Prime Day 2018, Amazon’s biggest shopping event of the year (even bigger than Black Friday).
Unfortunately, Amazon had failed to secure enough servers to handle the extraordinarily high traffic on Prime Day. As a result, Amazon was forced to launch a scaled-down backup page and cease all international traffic within the first 15 minutes of Prime Day to reduce the load on their servers. Glitches occurred across the site for hours, and Amazon lost up to $100 million in revenue due to service outages.
Hero: Arizona State University
Velocity of Delivery and ROI
Arizona State University decided it was time to transition from self-hosting their 2,000 sites on dozens of internal virtual machines. They weren’t equipped to handle high-traffic situations, and managing the complex infrastructure cost their team hours of lost productivity.
Looking for a cost-effective approach, ASU decided to standardize their 2,000 sites on Drupal, the content management system known for its scalability and multisite capabilities. ASU’s team transitioned to an adaptable, custom Drupal distribution on the Pantheon hosting platform. The transition freed up three full-time employees and gave the university the ability to adapt to traffic spikes instantly.
Inadequate (and expensive) Infrastructure
Poor hosting infrastructure was among the causes of the disastrous rollout of the Healthcare.gov website in 2013, which cost hundreds of millions. Poor planning and flexibility was one problem: the system had only been tested with an estimated 2,000 concurrent users, as opposed to the far larger number of concurrent users that would visit the site in the first week.
Then there was also quality assurance issues: The twelve physical servers running the website’s backend were located in a single data center, which experienced an unplanned network outage (remember geographic redundancies?). Some of the servers in the data center even ran different versions of the cloud computing platform they used for the project.
Ultimately, only six people were able to sign up on launch day out of 10 million total visitors.
Hero: City of Los Angeles
Increased Performance and Uptime
Between excessive downtime and poor performance, the City of Los Angeles felt like they weren’t fulfilling the diverse and growing web site requirements of their population of over four million.
Prone to earthquakes, the City needed an especially reliable solution that could support dramatic spikes in traffic at any moment. After workingwith Drupal host Acquia, the City was able to deploy and manage over 20 different websites on the Acquia platform, experiencing an increase in site availability from an average of 95% to nearly 100%, a 60% increase in web performance, and a 100% increase in mobile responsiveness.
Horror: JP Morgan Bank Robbery
The 2014 JPMorgan Chase data breach was the worst cyber-attack and data breach in history, and is something every organization that handles sensitive data should learn from. The data compromised in the breach was associated with 83 million accounts or two out of three households in the United States. This was after the bank spent over $250 million on computer security.
So what went wrong? The bank had actually failed to upgrade one of its servers with a double authentication scheme, creating a massive security vulnerability that was entirely avoidable. Security automation, in the form of automatic security updates, version syncing, and rapid incident response can help mitigate the risk of catastrophic breaches like this.
Future of Enterprise Hosting
Growing CDN Market
A content delivery network (CDN) is a network of geographically distributed servers that work in unison to provide faster delivery of content, as reliably and cheaply as possible. They do not host content, nor do they replace the need for proper hosting providers. What they really do is allow for a quicker transfer of assets and files needed to load content on webpages. Essentially, CDN servers act as middlemen between the user and the origin server, increasing transit time by allowing users to connect to a geographically closer data center.
Today, most traffic on the web is served through CDNs, and the technology is popular among big players like Facebook and Netflix. CDNs are credited with improving load times on websites, increasing redundancy and content availability, and reducing bandwidth costs. They are also commonly used as an additional layer of security, protecting websites from malicious attacks.
The content delivery network market is expected to grow from USD $12.4 billion in 2019 to USD $22.1 billion by 2024. Big data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence are technologies that are contributing to the growth of the market. With the growing size of the CDN market, demand will increase for rich media and video on websites - demand enterprises should be equipped to meet.
The Cloud is King
Cloud hosting is a logical next step for a number of organizations. Transitioning to the cloud from internal systems can be expensive, and there is some risk involved (which can be mitigated by the redundancies mentioned previously). However, many organizations are beginning to realize that the total cost of ownership of maintaining internal systems is much higher. For example, according to Gartner’s IT budget report, healthcare companies spend nearly 75% of their IT budget on maintaining internal infrastructure. The resources that can be freed by making the switch are extremely valuable.
Cloud computing is also driving growth in the enterprise software market, which is expected to reach $427 billion in 2019. According to a LogicMonitor study on cloud computing, it is estimated that 83% of enterprise workloads will be hosted in the cloud by 2020. Further, on-premise workloads are to shrink from 37% (2018) to 27% by 2020.
The primary concern among IT professionals when it comes to switching to the cloud is security. Security during the migration process is of particular importance. This highlights the importance of selecting a hosting vendor with a “heroic” reputation (see the last section in this piece for examples).
Based on the unique challenges faced by enterprises in delivering their digital experiences, it is important they get more from a hosting service than just keeping their website up - they need a proactive and trusted advisor.
A proactive approach to security and maintenance is essential. Enterprises should seek a web hosting service that provides frequent backups and is constantly monitoring logs for access from known malicious actors.
Drupal Web Hosting
At OPIN, we strongly recommend enterprises take advantage of the flexibility and scalability of the Drupal content management system. Technologies like Drupal need powerful hosting solutions built to sustain the scalability of the content management system.
The right hosting tools can make the difference in delivering on your customer's expectations for digital experience. However, this is only part of the larger digital strategy for your organization. To help companies navigate their digital projects, we have created a guide to planning your enterprise website. In the guide, we dive into the top considerations and pitfalls for organizations launching a new website, well beyond hosting. Download your copy right here.