May 12, 2004

Binoculars.com moves to Debian, increases stability

Jon Thralow writes "Binoculars.com has achieved triple digit percentage sales growth since 2001. This growth also brought heavy increase of traffic to their servers. Unfortunately this traffic stressed their system to the point of failure during the 2003 holiday season. After the holidays, the top Binoculars.com priority was fixing the instabilities in their technology. The result of the focus of the entire tech staff was the creation of the technology they call: Dynamically Generated HTML.

Some web technology experts might view Binoculars.coms new method of serving plain text HTML as a step backwards. However, the people at Binoculars.com feel the benefits are worth the funny looks they sometimes receive. A popular opinion in website technology is that cutting edge web sites are entirely dynamically driven. Dynamically driven websites query a database when a web page is requested which produces the content. Binoculars.com found their dynamic site was a problem for their database as the processing power necessary to manage the increasing traffic was enormous. Therefore the company took radical action.

First, the company severed the link to the database from their web server. Second, they switched to open source technology, more specifically, the Apache web server. To say the least, says Joseph Warner, CIO the results have been stunning. One of our main problems at Christmas was our name brand SQL server consistently crashed. Warner continues, With SQL down, our entire site was down. Not a good thing for a company that does 99% of their business on the Internet. The other issue Binoculars.com faced was slow processing of Active Server Pages for web content itself. Data from Veritest, an organization commissioned by Microsoft, suggests that static HTML running on Apache web server can serve over four times as many concurrent users as Dynamic pages running on Microsofts IIS. With a few tweaks of Apache they are seeing over 10 times the serving ability.

Binoculars.com still uses an SQL database, but only to store data. Then the company uses code to make the HTML web pages from this data. The HTML pages are finally pushed out to the web servers every five minutes. This keeps the servers up to date while keeping the strain off SQL.

Previously, Binoculars.coms server pairs (one server for web pages and the other for the database) would max out at 20,000 visitors a day. Now a single Apache server has hit traffic spikes of over 200,000 visitors. Another benefit to the companys technology change is price. Last Christmas serving costs were running $2500 per month. Now the company has more servers and the ability to handle 90% more people in a day and the bill has dropped to $1000 per month. This has allowed the company to locate multiple servers throughout the United States. The use of multiple servers creates redundancy and stability. If one server goes out, then pages are served from other locations.

CEO Daniel Thralow says, Our old system crashed at least twice a week. Now we have a structure in place that seems to rarely, if ever, go down. We have been running on this new system for a month and customer complaints of a slow or frozen site have gone to zero. We have also noticed an increase in new orders. This has been such a period of positive change, that we brought in food and few cases of champagne for the entire staff to celebrate.

Jon Thralow
THRALOW INC
http://www.binoculars.com
218-625-2002
jthralow@thralow.com"

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