Sites That Cannot Fail - Scaling for a Big Publishing Event


Sometimes we can’t plan for it. Sometimes we have a moment’s notice. Other times it’s our most anticipated day of the year. No matter the situation, every organization has experienced a time when their digital properties could not fail—or the business impact would be devastating.

In this blog series, we’re showcasing what it meant for three of Acquia's largest customers to have a site that could not fail. We’ll highlight both business and technical preparation, continuous improvements, platform insights, and the importance of always listening to those providing feedback on the experience.

The Story

In the summer of 2014, a major publisher experienced one of largest traffic spikes in the brand’s digital history. This media and entertainment conglomerate was given the exclusive story to cover one of the biggest news stories in sports all year.

During the publisher’s weekly standing check-in call with Acquia, the customer said that they were expecting a high traffic event—in just a few minutes. The publication's team had just been notified themselves, and they still did not know what the actual event would be, just that it would be big. Not a lot of time, but Acquia was up to the challenge.

While still on the phone, the Acquia technical account manager filed a ticket to Acquia’s support group. But traffic was already starting to spike; the announcement had been made.

It took the Acquia team less than two minutes to triple the amount of virtual hardware they provisioned.

Good thing. Because over six million viewers came to the publisher’s website to learn more about this event. For six hours, traffic poured in at record levels. It didn't settle down to normal for three or four days. All during this time, "the public had no idea that things were anything but rosy," Acquia’s technical account manager recalled.

"As soon as we saw the load going up, we started adding virtual web servers and upsizing the balancers," he added. "We dug through logs to tune and improve performance."

The publisher’s website didn’t crash. It didn’t topple over from the largest single event-driven day of traffic it had ever seen. It continued to deliver on the promise it made to its readership: that high quality content would always be engaging and accessible.

"Because of the level of monitoring we do and the automation tools we use, we could see the problem and respond by scaling and tuning, even before word of the event got around Acquia," the Acquia technical account manager said.

A recent global survey of more than 500 businesses for the Reducing Customer Struggle report found that companies are losing nearly a quarter of their annual online revenue due to a bad website experience. That’s billions of dollars lost and customers who won’t come back because of a digital experience that left a bad impression.

Whether you’re a publisher experiencing an unexpected spike, an enterprise facing transformation in an industry where digital transformation is lacking, or a smaller brand on the cusp of breaking into a new market, your digital presence can’t fail.

And bottom line: Acquia’s robust platform, based on the open source Drupal software, combined with expert support and operations staff wouldn’t let this publisher’s site fail.

"This was a situation that was either going to be the best day of the year or the worst day of the year,” Acquia’s technical account manager said. “It's very satisfying that it turned out to be one of the best."

Behind the Scenes

When it comes to capacity planning, some organizations plan for a worst-case scenario. They purchase larger-than-necessary capacity to be permanently available. But this is wasted money. Conversely, some organizations under-plan for traffic. Without the means to increase capacity on demand, they suffer outages and, ultimately, loss of revenue.

With Acquia Cloud, the guesswork is eliminated. You only pay for what you need. Acquia Cloud scales with burstable and elastic resources, which can be added quickly and easily on demand. Our operations team can scale up resources for any period of time, and then return resources back to normal levels when traffic subsides.

We know that scaling is complex, so we do the work for you. We add resources in real time to address changing traffic conditions seamlessly when a site needs it most. Scaling on Acquia Cloud does not require risky architectural changes like migrations and resizing. But we do scale the ecosystem, not just the hardware. We scale across all layers of the environment––web servers, file systems, databases, and load balancers. The architecture scales across the MySQL database layer using data replication and the file system layer utilizing GlusterFS to ensure syncing. The web server layer is scaled up by running active web servers in multiple availability zones. We run dedicated Memcached servers for sites with high workloads and multiple load balancers to ensure traffic is distributed. This level of Drupal-aware customization doesn't exist outside of Acquia.


As part of the scaling enablement strategy, it is important for customers to have a site insulation strategy so that visitors are not aware of traffic increases. Acquia uses Varnish caching in front of all traffic to speed up sites. Additional features such as geolocation, mobile redirection, and CDN implementation can be enabled. Acquia has over 25 personnel across our Professional Services, Technical Account Management, and Support organizations who specialize in performance, focusing load testing, database query rewriting, stack tracing, and more.

At Acquia, our passion is customer success. Because of that, your site doesn’t become the next headline. Your best day doesn’t become your worst; your biggest events are uneventful behind the scenes. In essence, we don’t sleep, so you can. Our team of experts is on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year so that you don’t fail. You get a true partnership with Acquia.

No matter the time of day, or the size of the traffic spike, we have your back. So instead of downtime, your traffic spikes yield growth and success.