Holiday cooking brings major traffic spike to Allrecipes.com

Careful planning involved push into virtualization, more powerful servers, traffic shaping

It's the busy time of year for Allrecipes.com, which gets 700 million visitors annually, and to accommodate the surge of recipe-seekers, it's necessary to cook up some serious network changes in the data center.

In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Allrecipes.com went from the usual 1 million page views per hour to 2.2 million page views per hour, and December is also a high-traffic time. This year, to support this peak period, Allrecipes.com went through a major VMware-based virtualization re-design of its server infrastructure to squeeze about 30 to 40 virtual machines into a single physical host, with a total of nine new Dell PowerEdge R720 servers. "We added 50 VMs to get through the spike," says Eamon Gavin, director of network and data center operations at the Seattle-based company.

Eamon Gavin

Eamon Gavin

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These new Dell servers with the VMs are hosted in Internap's Seattle facility, and one of the main considerations at this time of year is adjusting for bandwidth, so that the firm accommodates traffic but doesn't spend needlessly. The base traffic is typically 175Mbps but the holiday traffic surge drives that up to around 550Mbps, and the F5 Networks BIG-IP Traffic Manager 3600, used as a redundant pair, helps gracefully spread that across the multiple VMs, Gavin says. Once the holiday surge in traffic starts to reside after the start of 2013, some of the VMs may be re-purposed.

Allrecipes.com app

Credit: Allrecipes.com

Allrecipe.com's iOS mobile app.

As well as this approach is working this year so far, Gavin said it's not out of the question that Allrecipes.com may eventually adopt cloud-based services for elastic expansion of capacity. "That's where everything's going," he says.

One interesting trend at Allrecipes.com is there's much more traffic from mobile devices than there was last year — 30% is mobile now in comparison with 8% last year. It sways toward Apple iOS, says Vice President of Marketing Esmee Williams, though she notes there are apps for Google Android and Windows 8, too. The hard thing for website developers is creating a "consistent experience across screens," whatever the mobile device or desktop machine may be, she says.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email: emessmer@nww.com.

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