Managing Load Increases in Style with Cloud Computing

This picture is an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. It wasn’t taken backstage, on the runway, or at an after party. This image comes from the monitoring console in the CG war room where I was working with a few other engineers on a rapid response to a load increase on mbfashionweek.com, the event’s new website.

Since Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week only runs for a week, we needed to boost the website infrastructure quickly so that it could continue to provide updates and information about the event for seven days despite heavy traffic.

If this was a few years ago and we were using a traditional web-hosting infrastructure this would be difficult — maybe even impossible. But fortunately this is 2010 and IMG Fashion, the company responsible for the event, was using Amazon Web Services.

The application that powered their website was good, but there were some unexpected issues preventing it from performing well in a very high traffic environment. There was no time to profile, troubleshoot, and retool parts of the application. The fastest solution to the problem was to create more web server instances and to distribute the traffic to them.

We were already using an Elastic Load Balancer to spread traffic between their two web serving instances, so adding new instances was simple. We created new EC2 instances in several different Availability Zones to ensure that the site would stay online no matter what happened. A sophisticated system built into the application’s content management system (CMS) kept content on the different web servers consistent. And we used Amazon’s Relational Database Service to handle the database tier.

We increased the amount of servers several times over the course of the event to handle the incredible amount of traffic on the website. You can see two of those increases in the graph at 15:00 and 20:00. After the event was over and website traffic slowed down, we were able to reduce the infrastructure and costs. This proves that systems for events like Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week are perfect candidates for cloud computing — organizations can pay for exactly the amount of compute resources they need and no more.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is over now. The models and designers have moved on and their EC2 instances are spinning down. And, while trends in computing seem to change as often as trends in fashion, I think we’ll see cloud computing and scalable websites stick around for a few more seasons.