Got Infinite Scalability?

I was perusing the usual RSS feeds today when I ran across a link to New Yorker article written by Malcolm Gladwell. The article is apparently a pretty lashing review of a book titled Free by an author named Chris Anderson. Since I'm a pretty big fan of Gladwell's work I thought I would head on over and take a gander. Only one problem, the website has been timing out for the past 30 minutes. Thats right, the New Yorker is likely getting more traffic right now then it received all of last month, yet its servers are seemingly balled up in the corner weeping and asking it to stop. Considering the fact that the article is currently is linked to by Slashdot, Techmeme, and Silicon Valley Insider (and probably a ton of literature focused blogs) I can't say I am surprised that they cant handle the traffic, thats a flash crowd and a half.
Its situations like these where having the ability to scale out your website is quite critical. It's not like they didn't know it was coming...they must have seen a decent uptick in traffic when the Silicon Valley Insider article and Techmeme link came out yesterday morning. I'd be very surprised if there wasn't some inclination that things needed to be ramped up.

The cynic would note that flash crowds from Slashdot are notoriously difficult to deal with and that one gets almost no warning. While this is true, the Slashdot article came out over six hours ago. By now they could have gone down to the local Fry's, bought some cheap servers, formatted the hard drives, and had their entire stack up and running if they wanted to. From the looks of a quick whois on their domain it seems like they are hosting their own servers, whoops.

Since it is apparently my new favorite website, I ran a pagetest on their site (sorry servers) and the results go to show that what I was talking about in my last post is pretty damn important. If you take a look at those results you will see a waterfall so big you'll want to swim in it. After 11 seconds and an impressive 123 requests the website should be nice and loaded for everyone to enjoy. Alright, first load performance is hard but at least they are using expire headers right? Ooops. Yep, thats right, the second page load takes a whole 116 requests, and just about all of them are 304's (Not Modified). The fact that its not actually fetching the data makes the second load a little faster (~7 second) but its still pretty slow, and when you are getting tons of traffic having to serve over 100 requests per page load makes a server quit on you much faster then it should. It should be clear that they aren't using multiple asset hosts or any thing fancy like that, but what is the kicker of the whole thing? Not only are they loading a zillion objects, but take a guess where their server is located. Dallas? San Fran? Virginia? Nope, how about the Netherlands. And there is my queue to stop trying to explain what on earth they are thinking...


Unknown said...

Haha that sucks for their servers. I know you were semi-joking about getting servers from frys. While sure getting the servers up and running if they knew exactly what packages to install were is possible in a few hours, they may not have the bandwidth nor the power capable of running the extra machines. Now having a push to EC2 to handle flash crowds, that would be a sweet feature :-D

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