Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A CDN of one

On theatermania, we recently had a good-but-scary thing happen: a particular piece of content "went viral." (Is that still a thing?) It involved politics, sexuality, and musical theater, so the blogosphere lit up like crazy. Traffic shot up to 5-10x normal, with all of the new traffic hitting that one page. Now, we've got some nice caching mechanisms in place, and most assets are served by a CDN, but we're still working toward infinite* scalability. For now, all page requests involve at least one database round-trip, and the db was getting hammered with increasing intensity.

So I had a bit of an idea. There was only the one page lighting up like that, so we loaded it in a browser, copied the HTML source, and saved it to a file. Then we uploaded that file to a directory of static content, and added a single matching pattern -- that page's precise URL -- to the .htaccess file. Apache short-circuited those requests right to the saved source and bypassed all dynamic processing. The requests were still all hitting the app servers, but they required hardly any effort to fulfill. Most of the dynamic content is loaded via third-party Ajax calls (e.g. disqus), so it was still updating in real time, and for anything that was processed server-side, it was okay if it only got updated when we manually refreshed the page source.

It's not a scalable strategy for scalability: too much human intervention, and it only works if you catch a spike on the upswing. It's a quick-and-dirty thing, and not a reason to slow down at all on implementing a true scaling mechanism. But I'm going to keep it filed away in my bag of tricks just in case.


  1. interesting...

    just to expand on your idea... you might as well try to simply cache the whole page and have extremely small code that does key based access to the cached page/s... this key mechanism probably also has potential to evolve as scalable solution.

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