Can a website ever be too popular?
This week saw problems on the UK Government’s voter registration website, just hours before the deadline for the EU referendum. With users finding the site unresponsive or completely inaccessible, technical issues have been blamed on “unprecedented demand”. In other words, the Government’s servers couldn’t cope with a last-minute stampede of would-be voters.
Ideally, any website expecting a big traffic increase should have resources in place to manage the strain. But what can you do to minimise the risk of your site buckling under pressure?
Unleash the cloud
The advent of cloud computing means it’s never been easier to get a specific level of server performance when you need it, and dial it back when you don’t. In practice this means adjusting server resources to meet current demands, and only paying for the capability you actually use.
The new CloudNX platform from Fasthosts offers virtual machines that can be easily scaled – both vertically in terms of processors, memory and storage, and horizontally by adding new servers to your infrastructure. This makes it possible to quickly boost performance at short notice, while also building and developing your system in anticipation of predictable traffic rises. With no contracts and pay-as-you-use pricing, your costs only reflect minute by minute usage.
Take a load off
One way to cut down server stress is optimising the flow of traffic across your infrastructure using a load balancer. Once you’ve created more than one CloudNX virtual machine, you can set up load balancing to share traffic across two or more servers. Configuring the distribution of traffic is simple, with options to either share it evenly between servers, or automatically send it to the server processing the least amount of traffic at the time.
Load balancing can improve the performance and reliability of your site, and gives users a better experience by lowering response times. When combined with the flexibility of cloud features such as shared storage, load balancing allows you to build a highly resilient, large scale infrastructure. If your web applications need to be deployed from multiple servers, you should definitely consider using a load balancer to maximise availability.
Stay alert, stay online
Even with flexible, load-balanced servers, you still need to keep track of demand to ensure you’ve allocated the right level of resources. But how do you actually know when your system is being pushed to its limits?
CloudNX allows you to set up monitoring alerts to notify you whenever resources, ports or processes reach a certain threshold or state. You can set alerts to be sent via email for specific levels of usage of CPU, RAM, SSD, network transfer speed, and ping response time. Alerts can also be set at two levels: ‘Warning’ and ‘Critical’ – making you aware of potential problems and enabling you to resolve them before they can impact on users.
Finally, while it’s vital to maintain the level of performance you need, it’s equally important to be aware of expenses. CloudNX gives you a clear overview of your usage and costs in the Cloud Panel, including future forecasts.
Separate alerts can also be created to stay on top of costs – just set a threshold at a particular percentage, and you’ll get an email whenever your costs per day increase by that much. This ensures you don’t lose track of spending when you boost your configuration to match increased traffic, taking the pressure off your website, and your wallet.