NOAA beefs up Web servers for user surge accompanying Isabel

Visitors to NOAA's Web site looking for information about the storm and to view images, such as this one of Isabel coming ashore, pushed traffic to as many as 9 million hits per hour.

Courtesy of NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Web site experienced a dramatic increase in visitors earlier this month 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, compared with an average of less than 2 million per day. At one point, NOAA was sending out 500 Mbps of data about Isabel, said Gary Falk, NOAA's director of IT and telecom operations.

'We were pretty much already out of capacity' at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., Falk said. 'As Hurricane Isabel built up, it was clear we were going to be facing increased demand for our data. The interest was extraordinary.'

By Friday, Sept. 12, the agency's main site was having performance problems from the surge of traffic. It turned to Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., to manage content delivery through its EdgeSuite network of servers.

'We'd been talking to Akamai for some time about long-term possibilities to take some of the load off our servers,' Falk said.

The EdgeSuite 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.

These servers use a customized set of rules for building Web pages from dynamic content on NOAA servers. The EdgeSuite servers poll host servers only for dynamic or updated content, reducing traffic and workload on NOAA servers and improving availability.

By Monday, Sept. 15, three sites', and'were being accessed through the EdgeSuite system of 15,000 servers on 1,100 networks in 70 countries. 'It took the pressure off Silver Spring and increased our capacity,' Falk said.

NOAA also partnered with NASA to pick up an additional 50 to 80 Mbps through a shared connection with Internet2 at the University of Maryland.

'We're keeping that in place' to handle increased demand during future severe weather events, Falk said.

Crisis management has become a major selling point for Akamai in the government market. The White House Web site began using the service in July 2002 following Code Red worm attacks on the site. The FBI began using it following the terrorist attacks 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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