NOAA protects Web servers from user surge accompanying Isabel

NOAA protects Web servers from user surge accompanying Isabel

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Web site experienced a dramatic increase in visitors last week as Hurricane Isabel approached the East Coast.

Visitors looking for information about the storm's location and predicted track pushed traffic to as many as 9 million hits per hour, from an average of less than 2 million per day typically.

'It's critical that this site be fully operational at all times,' said Gary Falk, NOAA's director of IT and telecom operations.

But by Friday, Sept. 12, as Isabel was bearing down on the East Coast, the agency's main site was experiencing performance problems from the traffic surge. It turned to Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., to manage content deliver through its EdgeSuite network of servers.

'We had been in discussions with [NOAA] for quite some time,' said Keith Johnson, Akamai's vice president for public-sector operations. By the weekend before the hurricane's landfall, the situation had become critical.

'This information needed to get out,' Johnson said. The alternative to using Akamai's content delivery 'would be to go down. They couldn't handle the volume.'

The service was deployed over the weekend, redirecting visitor requests to Akamai's Domain Name System server, which sends them to a caching server at the Internet's edge. A set of metadata rules for building Web pages from dy-namic content on NOAA servers was developed. The EdgeSuite service polls host servers only for dynamic or updated data, reducing workload and improving availability.

By Monday morning, four sites'www.noaa.gov, www.nhc.noaa.gov, www.noaanews.noaa.gov, and ssd.noaa.gov'were being accessed through the EdgeSuite system of 15,000 servers on 1,100 networks in 70 countries.

The reliance on Akamai for content delivery is becoming fairly common within government.

The White House Web site began using the service in July 2002 following Code Red worm attacks there. The FBI began using it on Sept. 11, 2001, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed suit after the anthrax attacks the next month.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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