Keeping up With Growth
After many all-nighters with the EMC team testing the new system at a colocation facility, the company moved its production database over to the new facility at the end of the third quarter.
"We talk about building the Ark during the first three quarters of every year," says Tryon. "And last year was the first year we weren't still hammering boards onto the side as the rain started to come down."
At the same time as Overstock's IT people were building redundancy into the system, they were also enhancing the company's database storage architecture to stay in front of customer demand.
The company built a storage area network to handle the expected increase in customer data, while also moving to a database clustering technology to provide fault tolerance and increase scalability.
The company went with an Oracle 9i database for its online storefront, and ultimately Oracle 10g for a new auction business, aimed squarely at eBay customers, that the company launched in September 2004.
By this time, Overstock.com execs realized they had so many customers that a vigorous analysis of data could open up myriad new selling opportunities.
So they built a data warehouse to capture, mine and analyze those terabytes of customer dataa task for which it recently partnered with data warehousing industry leader Teradata.
"We'd like to perform more sophisticated analysis on our customer base than we're currently capable of doing," says Tryon, who thinks Overstock.com will ultimately be able to use that analysis to ensure it doesn't lose its best customers. Beyond a deeper understanding of pricing, he sees any number of ways to put the information to use, including e-mail promotions and enhanced customer service. "We'll use it as a customer retention tool," he says.
Just as important as the company's data safety and analysis, says Tryon, is managing the growth of the human element.
The number of Overstock.com employees has more than doubled, to 427, since the end of 2002, and IT personnel now number 49, up from just 13 two years ago.
"We have to plan on some installation time for people as well as hardware and software," Tryon says. By pairing new employees up with veterans, everyone gets a leg up from day one. And while incentives such as cash bonuses are handy motivators, Overstock tries to make sure it hires people who are motivated by the challenge of the job itself.
The latest example: In mid-November, the company came across the opportunity to add a design-your-own-jewelry component to the site. But to make the effort worthwhile, they needed it ready for Valentine's Day. That left the IT department just three months to add the feature to the site.
The employee responsible for shouldering most of the burden spent several nights sleeping in the office to make sure it happened on time. He was unavailable to comment about his experience at press time, as he was in the middle of a two-week vacation he had earned for his efforts.