Thursday, April 26, 2007

Server stability problems again yesterday

We had an incident with a higher-than-normal error rate on the site again yesterday. Apparently some bug in .Net triggered the problem and one front-end server was at times doing odd and unpredictable things. This caused e.g. some links to be written in incorrect format, producing errors when users clicked on them. Once discovered the problem was quickly fixed by clearing the .Net cache and restarting the IIS server on the affected front-end.

We are soon introducing better monitoring for the websites. Until now we have used the standard Group IS monitoring tool but this fucuses only on slow server response. The page view error percentage seems to be a much better indicator of the general health status of the site so we plan to constantly track that error rate to generate alerts.

Waiting for your page to refresh?

You have updated your home page with time critical information like the quarterly results but nothing seems to happen on the site for ages? Or perhaps; Your colleague can see the updated page but you can't?

The reason is caching; Pages on the server are updated only every half hour to make it possible for the servers to handle the huge traffic we have on the site. As we have three so-called front-end servers, each of them refreshes it's cache individually so results may differ depending on which server you are connected to. Refreshing the page will not take you to a different server, you need to close your browser and restart Internet Explorer to have a chance of hitting another server.

We could theoretically empty the cache manually when important news is posted but currently that means removing the whole site from the cache which would cause a severe strain on the servers once they is restarted and need to rebuild all pages; This could make the whole site go down. We're looking at whether it will be possible to empty the cache of individual pages and hope to have a solution included in our May release.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lots of useful feedback from "Rate this page"

Giving more prominence to the "Rate this page" function on was one of the changes in the new design we introduced in February. Previously this function was "hidden" close to the page footer, now it is conspicuously displayed in the search box on every page. As a result the number of feedbacks has increased from 5 per day to 30-50. Many users see this as an opportunity to let off some steam if they cannot find what they are looking for and more than half add additional comments explaining their frustration. But some just want to share that we have made their day by serving them exactly what they were looking for.

What happens to this feedback? The form is automatically passed on to the person last editing the page who can then decide if and how the issue can be solved. We get feedback in all 25 languages represented on our sites (and possibly some more) but as the feedback goes to the person last updating the language version, this usually takes care of that.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The FT Bowen Craggs Index and ABB

Some of you will already be familiar with the FT Bowen Craggs Index, published for the first time in Financial Times at the beginning of April this year. The Index covers 60 of the world’s largest companies by region – there are 20 each from Europe, the US and Rest of the world. Their report can be found at

ABB is not included as we are not (yet?) among the 20 largest companies in Europe measured by market value, but we have received a separate Bowen Craggs report about our web sites, using the same methodology. If we had been included the report shows we would have ranked as number 22 out of the 60. In other words a good reason to be proud, but no reason to be satisfied...

The 22 page report on ABB'S web sites is full of useful advice on how to improve, and I hope to come back to many of the recommendations in this blog. ABB employees interested in receiving the full report about ABB can request a copy by sending me an e-mail at my Notes address Stein-Ivar Aarsaether/ABBZH/ABB.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Welcome to this blog

Every day, an estimated 175,000 new blogs go online, according to Technorati, a blog tracking firm. Not sure if anyone is able to keep a tab on those that die...

Many have a great idea to get started, but have problems to keep it going. I find my challenge is the opposite; There are so many issues that should have been included from the beginning that it is diffcult to get started, but issues keep popping up so I don't expect a problem getting enough ideas to keep going. Finding the time, on the other hand... Well, we will see.