The performance problems the HealthCare.gov website has experienced highlights how challenging it is to build an efficient website and database infrastructure that can scale to support millions of visitors.
HealthCare.gov went live on October 1 and immediately experienced painfully slow speeds that officials attributed to high traffic. Officials expected to draw approximately 60,000 concurrent users at any given time—but the service ended up being much more popular than expected, and the site experienced as many as 250,000 users at a time in its first days.
Just thinking about these types of stories can give hives to both IT executives and database admins. Preparing for an initial launch can be an intense and stressful time, and it becomes even more so when launching to serve millions on day one. However, these examples also present an opportunity to better understand what can be done to effectively scale out when launching a new service or experiencing rapid growth.
Flash memory represents one way to address this need. IT executives and system architects working to launch a new system need to consider a number of factors, from the user experience design on the Web front end, to database connections and networking infrastructure behind the scenes. They also have to evaluate where to store their data for fast access and website performance.
It’s a Matter of Time
Nobody likes to wait. Long gone are the days when users would sit patiently for slow web pages to load. Customers today demand nearly instantaneous results, even if you’re offering a free service. A customer delayed is all too often a customer lost forever – or worse. Some jaded customers can eventually even become adversaries, feeling they were wronged in some way or another.
No matter what the industry, online services need to deliver low latency performance for customers, users, and employees. Amazon found that 100 milliseconds of latency cost them 1 percent in sales, which can quickly add up. A study by Google showed users preferred receiving 10 search results instead of 30 because page load times were faster. Delivering speedy performance shows your customers you value their time just as much as they do, ensuring they keep coming back for more.
Rethinking IT Infrastructure
Keeping up with growing customer bases that want rapid access to more products, services, and information is one of the most common challenges businesses face today. Adding to this challenge, businesses are finding they can greatly increase their value to customers if they know more about what they are interested in—so they are adding even more data to analyze in real-time. All of this requires organizations to rethink their IT infrastructure. Tuning databases and applications often isn’t enough and becomes a chronic battle. For one of the most common problems – slow I/O – flash memory can be used to create easy, affordable solutions that can be deployed throughout datacenter to take the wait out of the Web.
Flash memory is being used by leading companies around the world to affordably scale with exponentially increasing user bases and data workloads. When I/O is the problem, deploying flash memory in existing servers, as cache for storage, or in shared appliances that run websites allows companies to deliver ultra-fast response times, virtually eliminating wait times for users.
My company is one provider of flash memory systems, and our experience shows the technology can improve website response times and accommodate spikes in demand. For example, Polaris Industries, a maker of off-road vehicles, incorporated a flash memory caching solution into its NetApp infrastructure to extend the life of its system and reduce Web page load times from up to five seconds to less than one second without Polaris having to upgrade its storage. In another example, Kakao, a Korean talk and text messaging service, found its flash-based system enabled it to handle a huge (and unpredictable) surge in traffic during the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake in Japan without delay. An associated benefit of flash systems is that they take up less physical space than disk-based systems; in this case one-third as much.
There are plenty of challenges associated with meeting unexpected demand, but scaling IT doesn’t have to be one of them. The sign of a job well-done for IT heroes, is a happy customer base that takes your super smooth online service for granted.
Josh Miner is director of product marketing at Salt Lake City-based Fusion-io, a storage company that offers a software-defined storage platform based on NAND flash memory.