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Firestone Web site crippled in wake of tire recall

InfoWorld

(IDG) -- Hours after Bridgestone/Firestone announced a massive recall of millions of its tires last week because of serious public safety concerns, the company's Web site lay completely dormant for nearly a full day because it could not support the sheer amount of visitors trying to access the site.

The lockout occurred from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. PST Wednesday according to research by Keynote Systems, an Internet performance management company based in San Mateo, Calif. Keynote began to monitor the site's download time on a hunch the site's availability may be a "big deal" once the recall was issued, said Allen Tsai, product manager for public services at Keynote.

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By sending agents from its 57 Internet access sites around the United States, Keynote discovered that it was unable to achieve full page download of Bridgestone/Firestone's site during those more than 14 hours on Wednesday, despite using speedy T1 and T3 connections, Tsai said. The problem alleviated somewhat throughout Thursday, he added, but still showed less than 10 percent availability from 8-9 a.m. PST before improving as the day wore on. By early Friday, it had reached 75 percent.

Bridgestone/Firestone, based in Nashville, Tenn., could not be reached for comment.

Similar to the high-profile Web site crashes of Victoria Secret and Encyclopedia Britannica, the Web site immobility suffered by Bridgestone/Firestone last week proves how critical a role IT departments are playing in company business plans, said Carlsbad, Calif.-based Stan Schatt, vice-president of Networking for Giga Information Group.

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"There's very little IT can do once the announcement hits the press and people start to dial in. How long ago did Firestone think there was a problem and why wasn't IT involved?" asked Schatt. "This is a perfect example of where IT was probably not involved when strategizing was brought in, but they should've been to let them know to look at the [Web site] infrastructure to prepare for the deluge."

On Wednesday night, Bridgestone/Firestone began a voluntary phase recall of P23/75R15 Radial ATX and Radial ATX tires and certain Wilderness tires. Those brands of tires have been linked to several fatal crashes around the country, particularly in warm weather climates including Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. Bridgestone/Firestone officials said a three-phase recall has begun in those states before branching out to other parts of the United States.

In times of crisis, Schatt said users or customers who intend to get information from a company but find themselves with no access can quickly grow disinterested or resentful.

"Let's face it, people going to a site like Firestone are upset to begin with. They're frustrated and angry. Being turned away from the Web site, the inference they're going to make is the company doesn't care, which is very damaging," Schatt said. "A Web site really reflects the image of the company."

A deeper understanding of its infrastructure's tolerance and improved load-balancing and content-caching processes might have protected the Bridgestone/Firestone site from bombardment, remarked Schatt. He said the idea of having the extra servers set up for quick and easy access when needed, or taking advantage of technology like that of Intel's Netstructure box, which sends error messages to a different server before it can be sent back to the client, are worthwhile options.

However, paying initial heed to the potential of being hit by a customer online "storm" might be the most important planning a company can do for its Web site.

"In Bridgestone/Firestone's defense, they're probably not one of the highly visited sites to begin with. They're not eBay or Yahoo," said Tsai. "But the lesson here is even if you're not one of the bigger dot.com's or e-commerce sites, you should be prepared for the worst case scenario."




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