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Democratic National Convention Website Easily Handles Peak Traffic Volume with F5

The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), which is responsible for planning and hosting the Democratic National Convention, chose a Tier 1 service provider to host its website, which included live event coverage September 4–6, 2012. Months prior, the site was launched in the provider’s public cloud, but later, in anticipation of high traffic volume during convention week, the site was moved to a private cloud.

To ensure 100 percent reliability, availability, and response time, the DNCC turned to F5. Within weeks, F5 built, tested, and deployed a traffic management solution that integrated easily with the existing infrastructure and met all of the DNCC’s expectations for performance and availability.

Business Challenges

For millions of people who didn’t have access to broadcast television the week of September 4, 2012, the demconvention.com website was the official online source for all things related to the Democratic National Convention. The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), which is responsible for the convention website, used a Tier 1 service provider’s cloud offering to host the website. “The cloud was the perfect environment to meet our needs,” says Andrew Binns, CIO of the DNCC. “We provided and managed the operating system, database, and web application for our website, and the cloud provider supplied unlimited computing and storage capacity.”

The provider’s shared public cloud environment delivers similar services to hundreds of enterprise customers in addition to the DNCC. It uses a variety of security solutions to protect the network itself and to protect its customers’ websites and applications. Long relying on F5 as a trusted technology partner, the cloud provider uses F5 Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs) to manage all traffic that passes through its cloud environment.

The DNCC, which took the website live almost four months prior to the convention, recognized that traffic would be moderate at first, and then gradually build toward peak volume during convention week.  When the site launched, it featured mostly static content, such as general convention information, the convention schedule, news stories, a blog, photos, and articles about speakers, delegates, volunteers, and other party activities. To ensure that all of this content was readily available to visitors, the cloud provider implemented a content  delivery network (CDN), which enabled all static content to be cached, thereby offloading a portion of the traffic from the website servers.

During convention week, however, the website would feature live streaming coverage of convention speeches, as well as a live Twitter feed. Anticipating considerably heavier network traffic during this time, the DNCC wanted to ensure that the website would be absolutely reliable and able to deliver excellent response time for all visitors. Knowing the website was built on a platform not inherently optimized for high traffic volume, the DNCC was concerned how overall site performance might be affected.  At the same time, the service provider needed to ensure that a spike in demand on demconvention.com wouldn’t disrupt the performance of other cloud customers’ websites and applications.

To ensure 100 percent reliability of the website, the DNCC chose to have the cloud provider move the convention website into a separate, protected area—a private cloud within the public cloud environment. To do this, the service provider would need to reconstruct the same infrastructure—virtual servers, security solutions, and the CDN—on a smaller scale. It would also need a highly flexible and scalable traffic management solution that integrated well with these infrastructure components in order to guarantee uptime and the performance required to handle huge traffic volume. Finally, this new environment needed to be built, configured, tested, and deployable within a very tight timeframe—about two weeks.

“The stakes were high for the DNCC,” says Nikki Sutton, Deputy Director of Communications for Digital Media at the DNCC. “The Democratic National Convention is a high-profile event that receives significant media coverage. Our goal was to make this convention the most open and accessible in history, so it was imperative that our website be absolutely available, reliable, and responsive.”

“F5 delivered as expected in an extremely tight timeframe. We were impressed with the rock-solid stability and responsiveness of our website—even at peak traffic volume.” Andrew Binns, Chief Information Officer, Democratic National Convention Committee

Solution

Not knowing exactly how much traffic to expect, the DNCC and the cloud provider erred on the side of caution and chose one of the highest-performing F5 ADC solutions. It deployed a pair of F5 BIG-IP 8950 devices running BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) in front of about 40 virtual machines that hosted the website.

“Going with F5 was an easy decision for us to make,” says Binns. “Every vendor and consultant involved in this project overwhelmingly recommended F5. We didn’t even consider another vendor.”

The service provider adds, “We have a very strong partner relationship with F5, and we do a lot of work together. Based on the strength of our partnership and on F5’s industry-leading reputation in the ADC market, this was the best choice.”

“Every vendor and consultant involved in this project overwhelmingly recommended F5. We didn’t even consider another vendor.” Andrew Binns, Chief Information Officer, Democratic National Convention Committee

Benefits

After deploying a high-performance traffic management solution from F5, the DNCC was able to ensure that the demconvention.com website was always available, reliable, and responsive, regardless of traffic volume.

Rapid deployment

With an immovable convention deadline looming, the DNCC knew it could count on F5 to put a reliable traffic management solution in place quickly. “F5 is known for integrating well with other vendors’ solutions. In this case, the solution needed to integrate easily with all the other components in our cloud environment, such as the security and CDN solutions,” says Binns.

“There were no special requirements to get the F5 devices up and running,” Binns continues. “In fact, we were able to configure, test, and go live with the F5 solution in about two weeks.” Binns adds that the solution has been steady ever since. There were no issues whatsoever, even during peak traffic periods during the convention.

Application visibility and control

For the cloud provider, a primary benefit of the new solution was the unique analytics and monitoring tools F5 provides.  Previously known as Application Visibility Reporting (AVR), F5 Analytics is a module on the BIG-IP system that lets customers view and analyze metrics gathered about the network and servers as well as the applications themselves. Making this information available from a dashboard-type display, F5 Analytics provides customized diagnostics and reports that can be used to optimize application performance and to avert potential issues. The tool provides tailored feedback and recommendations for resolving problems.

“F5 monitoring and analytics tools were great because the dashboard displayed  various kinds of charts and graphs in real time that let us constantly monitor how  the site was performing,” says the cloud  provider. “That made it possible for us to make immediate configuration changes and, for example, redirect traffic if one of the servers went down. That was especially critical during the three days of live convention coverage when traffic was at its heaviest.”

Reliability and responsiveness

Given the nature of this deployment, the DNCC’s highest priority was uncompromising website reliability. To deliver on this requirement, two BIG-IP 8950 devices were configured in an active/standby configuration. “A single BIG-IP 8950 easily handled all of our traffic needs, while the other BIG-IP 8950 device was ready to take over in case of a failure,” says Binns. The DNCC also had a backup BIG-IP device on hand but never used it. “Had we needed that backup system, we knew we could have configured it within a matter of hours rather than days—without any disruption to ongoing traffic,” Binns explains. “That’s the kind of peace of mind we needed.”

During the three days of the convention, demconvention.com had more than 3 million unique visitors. The average page load time was about half a second. This speed was described by Alexa, a web traffic information company, as “very fast,” with 91 percent of other websites loading slower.

Cost savings

Unable to predict just how high the traffic volume might climb during convention week, the DNCC originally thought it would need to upgrade from the standard 1-gigabit Ethernet interface to a 10-gigabit interface, but with the F5 solution, an upgrade wasn’t necessary.

“Because F5 was able to effortlessly handle high traffic volume, and because the solution was so easy to integrate with the CDN, we didn’t need to upgrade our Ethernet interface—even though it would have been possible with the BIG-IP 8950 devices,” says Bins. Avoiding that upgrade made for a much quicker and easier implementation, and it ultimately saved the DNCC a significant amount of money.

Overall, the DNCC was pleased with the results F5 delivered. “F5 delivered as expected in an extremely tight timeframe.  We were impressed with the rock-solid stability and responsiveness of our website— even at peak traffic volume,” says Binns.  “The F5 solution met all of our expectations for delivering great, timely online content.”

The cloud provider adds, “This project demonstrates why F5 is a trusted partner.  They helped us bring together disparate teams and vendors in a truly collaborative effort to deliver the best possible solution for the customer.”