website performance during breaking news

crashBreaking news makes people turn to the internet for every bit of latest information. This causes enormous traffic spikes in news websites that report on the event and on organisations that are directly related to the event. After yesterday’s crash of a Turkish flight in Amsterdam we saw a multiple fold increase in traffic in one of the news sites we monitor. 

For the schiphol.nl site I estimate traffic yesterday was at least 100 times the traffic of a normal day. Handling such amounts of traffic requires special planning. Tweaking performance is then often not enough and placing excessive hardware is too expensive. An alternative option many websites have ready is to switch your website to a secondary state. Your pages should contain less content, must be simpler to load with less images, scripts and css. Also get rid of dynamically composed pages, make use of a small set of static pages you refresh each minute from your Content Management System. That way even a simple architecture of a few front end web servers must be capable of serving 100 pages per second. It also helps when you website is hosted in a professional hosting facility where there plenty of room to spike in network traffic. Hosting providers like Terremark are now experimenting with cloud type infrastructures where you can get capacity on demand.

 Schiphol put up a special site within one hour of the crash. This means this must have been part of their emergency response plans. So a job well done.

schiphol-term2

Website performance during a emergency situation requires you to plan ahead. You will see website visitor traffic levels you have never seen before. If you are a news organisation this is the time people need you most, be sure you are there for them. If you are an organization involved in an emergency situation, your brand is at risk, having adequate and available information on the Internet is of crucial importance. Handling these amounts of traffic is not very difficult, but it requires different setup and tools you normally use. So make sure you have them ready when you need them. And test them regularly to make sure they still work when you need them.

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3 Responses to “website performance during breaking news”

  1. Lennaert Says:

    Important to note: right after the emergency, there is a huge need for the most basic information. In time this need decreases and processing power comes available again. Also, your website can start serving regular customers again.

    To illustrate this, the schiphol screenshot you made at (i think) somewhere after 12:00 (the crash was at 10:30) offers already more functionality then the 11:30 version, which only showed a 3 sentence block without the arrival and departure functionality links. A day later, the schiphol website has returned to full functionality.

    * initially, somewhere at 11:00 the schiphol website could not be reached, apparently the news had not reached the person who should throw the switch.

    You say a job wel done, and I agree. Turkish Airlines was far slower in its respons, but had a dedicated emergency respons site, Schiphol did not.

  2. Sjors Pals Says:

    Nice post, this is about the CNN servers and 9/11: http://www.tcsa.org/lisa2001/cnn.txt

  3. Neil Webster Says:

    Even if you have a slimmed down site it’s still worth load testing this plan and your main site so that you know what your capacity is for both options. Even with a slimmed down site the smallest configuration issue can trip you up if it isn’t properly tested under the appropriate load.

    It’s also worth looking at something like Cloud sites from Rackspace which can scale on demand and don’t cost much to keep as a back-up for these sort of scenarios.

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