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How to Prevent a Website Crash After a Traffic Spike

Traffic director: Michael Kupermanof Akamai.
Traffic director: Michael Kupermanof Akamai.
Photo© Eva Kolenko

Q: How can I manage crash-inducing traffic spikes to my website?

A: First off, congratulations--this is a good problem to have. Maybe a new product on your retail website got big media attention. Suddenly your online traffic jumped sevenfold, and 90 minutes later, your site shut down, the victim of too many consumers trying to access your product.

What could have prevented this catastrophe is a content delivery network (CDN) from Akamai, Amazon, CDNetworks or one of the many other providers worldwide. It's a cloud-based automatic scaling service designed to optimize the delivery of any content--most commonly software and video--to your customers in the most reliable fashion. With a CDN in place, customers can access your site no matter how many visitors have the same idea at the same time. And they can quickly download your content whether they're across town or halfway around the world.

We turned to Michael Kuperman, senior director of platform operations at Akamai, who has a decade of experience in the content delivery network space.

Who needs a CDN?
If your consumer base is distributed over a wide geographic area, or if you have predictable online traffic patterns--for example, you know Cyber Monday and Mother's Day are big days--or concerns about unexpected flash crowds due to content or a promotion, you need a CDN. If you require online speed to compete with rivals, as you would with online shopping services or travel reservations, you need a CDN. If your concern is a denial of service or cyber attacks, you, too, need a CDN.

Who doesn't need one?
If your business is regional with a focus on local customers, you might not need one. If your website's revenue isn't tied to its performance, or if you have no global audience or no chance of showing up on Yahoo News, you don't need a CDN.

How do you choose a CDN?
If your network is to serve, say, the Chinese market, you'll want a CDN with a Chinese presence to add stability. You'll also need to know if the CDN will support your application and meet your goals. And ask your short list of providers if they're willing to do a head-to-head test using your application and content.

How much do CDNs charge?
If yours is a video delivery site, you'll likely be charged in GBT (gigabytes transferred) or Mbps (megabits per second). If you have a shopping site or advertising application, costs may be by transaction, page views or other metrics related to your application. The prices per data delivery or transaction requests are mere fractions of a penny, but when you're talking about millions of people flooding your site, keep in mind that it can quickly add up to real money.

How fast can a CDN be put into place?
With a good provider, once the terms are ironed out, turning it on can take just a few minutes. However, complicated applications can take a few days or weeks to configure. Give yourself at least one month to sort out what you need and whom you'll use so you can make sure you're getting a good deal.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. For more information, visit MikalBelicove.com.

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This article was originally published in the June 2012 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Surge Protector.

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