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E-Retailers Prep For The Holidays

1-800-Flowers and Handspring use tools from Empirix to boost Web-site performance
This holiday season, retailers have scrapped Web-site frills in favor of basic load and performance testing--preparations that are visible to shoppers only in what they don't see, such as slow-loading pages or those that don't load at all. 1-800-Flowers Inc. and Handspring Inc. are using tools from Empirix Inc. to boost Web performance during critical selling periods.

All of 1-800-Flowers' IT efforts center on how they'll affect Christmas, Valentine's, and Mother's days. "We live for the holidays," says Alex Pelaez, director of IT architecture at the Westbury, N.Y., company. It recently began a yearlong enterprise architecture project to use Java 2 technology to reduce development costs of its call center and Web site, as well as improve performance. "They're two systems with the same business logic, so we wanted to use technology that's easily scalable to different hardware," Pelaez says.

To check the coding for its order-tracking module, 1-800-Flowers bought Bean-test from Empirix. It paid $75,000 for a test of 1,000 simultaneous virtual connections to the site, more than three times what the company would need on Mother's Day, the busiest day of the year, Pelaez says. Test results helped Pelaez select Solaris as its platform and WebLogic as its application server.

Handspring, which makes and sells the Visor handheld device, used a hosted load-testing service from Empirix to measure its site's scalability. The company wanted to make sure it could handle holiday traffic, as well as a surge in visits in early December for the announcement of the Treo, a PDAcell-phone combo. Traffic that day jumped to more than three times normal levels.

The tests, in early October, were conducted from outside the firewall. "In the past, we hadn't conducted as rigorously from end to end," Handspring CIO Glenn Noga says. "Empirix allowed us to script different orders, different mixes of product. We could better simulate what real Web traffic was going to be like."

In preparation for the tests, Handspring installed new hardware and application servers, which Noga declined to name. Handspring runs its Web site on ATG Dynamo and Oracle databases.