CHALLENGES: Spencer needed to create a high-performance web presence that would scale rapidly with 1,000x seasonal traffic growth.
BUSINESS OUTCOME: Rackspace Hybrid Cloud allows Spencer to keep page-load times down during peak traffic, helping online sales to grow 30 to 40 percent a year.
Since its origins as a mail-order catalog more than 60 years ago, Spencer Gifts has emerged as a leader in novelty retail. Including mall-based retailer Spencer’s and seasonal outlet Spirit Halloween, Spencer Gifts operates more than 1,600 brick-and-mortar locations in North America.
As it expanded into ecommerce, Spencer Gifts needed a solution that would be able to withstand the enormous traffic fluctuations inherent in seasonal retail. Lacking in-house infrastructure expertise, Spencer Gifts turned to Rackspace Professional Services, who assessed the company’s unique needs and provided a tailored hybrid hosting solution that could scale rapidly without sacrificing security or performance, resulting in 30 to 40 percent growth in online sales each year.
While most online retailers expect four to five times as much traffic during the annual holiday season, Spirit Halloween traffic grows anywhere between 100 to 1,000 times. This massive amount of short-term growth is perfectly suited to the flexibility and cost effectiveness offered by a Rackspace Hybrid Cloud solution.
Spencer Gifts leverages both dedicated and cloud servers to provide its customers with a high-performance website year-round. Vitale explains, “We keep our core systems on our private environment, but when we want to expand in season, it’s in the cloud. That’s the only way to go when you need to bring that much capacity online that fast. The cloud allows us to quickly expand our systems so that we can service our customers without experiencing a slowdown on the site.”
“This approach really appears to be working for us as we look at the analytics for site speed of our sales versus our competitors’,” he says. “We’re only seeing about a 100% increase in page-load times, whereas our competitors are seeing increases of 300 to 400 percent. Our hybrid infrastructure allows us to provide the best experience to our consumers, which allows our online business to grow approximately 30 to 40 percent a year.”
Data security is another key consideration for any ecommerce site, and using RackConnect® to connect Cloud Servers with dedicated infrastructure allows Spencer Gifts to store its data safely. “We have our own private infrastructure on hosted servers,” says Vitale. “We use that to keep all of the data for our customers secure.”
Sensitive information is stored on dedicated servers attached to SAN and DAS storage amounting to nearly 5TB. This setup allows Spencer to address their PCI compliance requirements and provides a baseline capacity for application processing. The company also runs portions of its application on a VMware-virtualized private cloud environment, allowing it the flexibility to increase the backend capacity of its system during the peak buying season. Cloud Servers handle the rest.
High availability is also a major factor in ecommerce sales, as competitors’ sites are only a click away. “Throughout our infrastructure, everything is fully redundant—there isn’t a system in our infrastructure that we don’t have a duplicate of, from firewalls and load balancers to servers and hypervisors. It’s the same in the cloud; everything we spin up in the cloud is redundant. This ensures our environment is always available, which is critical to us and any other online retailer,” explains Vitale.
Choosing Rackspace Hybrid Cloud has allowed Spencer Gifts to save costs on IT staff. “We have the Intensive® support package,” says Vitale. “That package comes with a team who helps us manage our technology. Leveraging the folks at Rackspace allows me to provide a level of technical expertise without having an army of technology people within the company.”
“Fanatical Support®, to me, is about being able to pick up the phone, send a text, or send an email to my account rep or primary tech and know I’ll get a response within minutes,” Vitale says. “When there’s problem, I know that somebody is on it and will stay on it until it’s resolved, then report back to me so that I have an understanding of what’s happening in my infrastructure. It’s as if I had an internal IT team.”
Vitale sees Rackspace as vital to the success of Spencer’s ecommerce deployment. “Rackspace is providing us with the products, services, and technology that we need not only to continue growing, but to grow with knowledge and expertise.”
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