Greengrocer: Technical details

"... we are not in a beauty contest, if people look at our site and say, 'Gee, it's pretty!
Written by ZDNet Staff, Contributor

"... we are not in a beauty contest, if people look at our site and say, 'Gee, it's pretty!' but can't place an order, it is no use. I'd rather they say, 'It is very simple and functional and easy to place an order.'"

- Doug Carlson
Managing Director

Keeping it Fast
Greengrocer.com.au's recent update to 5 Servers supports its vision of becoming the Woolworths of the Internet. The latest scale in technology will allow Greengrocer.com.au to manage increases in traffic, as well as improving system performance.

"We've moved from a single-server solution to a multi-server distributed model," says Systems Manager Adam Ezekial. "It's faster in terms of our business model - our midnight buyers reports take about 2 seconds now instead of 2 minutes."

Carlson made an early commitment to use Microsoft technology and Intel Architecture, "because they were the two market leaders with the best reputation for delivery." But while the site is easy to navigate and the online purchasing is simple from the customer's point of view, behind the scenes at Greengrocer.com.au is actually quite complicated. One of the reasons is that Doug Carlson decided not to use Java script on the Greengrocer site.

Carlson calculated he could potentially cut off 40 percent of his available market by using Java, because many people place orders from work, and often Java will not run from behind company firewalls. The downside to this decision is that it is more complicated to build the site without this and the site may not be as visually compelling.

"But we are not in a beauty contest," says Carlson. "If people look at our site and say, "Gee, it's pretty!" but can't place an order, it is no use. I'd rather they say, "It is very simple and functional and easy to place an order."

Adding the additional servers addresses the scalability issue and according to Adam, "We can always add another database server or web server independently. Now that everything is split up it makes it easier to manage in that sense."

Making mission critical is probably the biggest issue Greengrocer.com.au has from a technical point of view, if the technology fails the company falls over. For that reason Ezekial moved the whole operation in-house. "We wanted to have it here to minimise the chances of something going wrong, to bring as much as possible under our control."

In February the technical team, now numbering five completed a major ramping up of the system. The company scaled from one to five Pentium lll processor-based servers.

At present the technical team are putting a lot of energy into the backend. They are developing a brand new look and feel for the site and the new back end will be the composite of everything they have learned in the last two years. All the features customers wanted will be available, like recipes with accompanying baskets of ingredients, better navigation, along with a new business to business element incorporated into the commerce edition.

"The most significant benefits of our new system are manageability and scalability of the servers. The software tools are easy to use and we have an all-in-one solution that has been tailored to meet our growing needs," says Carlson.

While the ultimate dream is to become a Supergrocer on the Internet, how Greengrocer.com.au gets there is the only relevant question says Carlson. 'When the time is right to expand into other cities and beyond perishables, we want to make sure we can do it the right way."

Lessons Learned
Carlson's experience over the last two years with Greengrocer.com.au has shown that the choice of technology for the site and the delivery of online service are critical.

  • Starting with a strong and flexible business model that recognises continuous change and modification of services is important to the long-term success of the site and the growth of business.
  • Good site design and management are critical to the usability, accessibility and functionality of the site.
  • All components need to be seamlessly integrated to give the best user-experience.
  • Customer feedback is critical to driving the products and services you offer.

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Culture of the business

This article was contributed by Intel.

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