WeatherBug Rides Out Traffic Storm

WeatherBug provided photos and streaming video during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, without long waits or site crashes. A new content delivery system saved them from losing customers and confidence.
Moments before Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore, some people in Southern Louisiana accessed warnings on and sought shelter, prior even to hearing local hurricane warnings go off. And as Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, thousands of people across the nation and around the world were able to watch real-time streaming videos of the devastating storm.

WeatherBug, an online weather service, provided this up-to-the-minute coverage largely thanks to Mirror Image Internet, Inc.'s content delivery network (CDN).

Unlike during other major storms, such as 2004's Florida hurricanes and the Asian tsunami, WeatherBug viewers didn't experience long waits or crashes when logging on during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

WeatherBug's traffic spiked 70 percent on the day Katrina hit, up from the daily average of just under 6 million unique viewers to 9.9 million. The Germantown, Md.-based weather network was able to provide photos and streaming video during the traffic spike thanks to its CDN, according to Yossi Firstenberg, vice president of IT operations at WeatherBug.

''We wouldn't have the capacity to handle the traffic without it,'' says Firstenberg. ''We can't [predict] the numbers of page views and unique visitors when severe weather hits. The CDN has the capacity to support these users.''

WeatherBug replaced its previous CDN provider with Mirror Image, a Tewksbury, Mass.-based global content delivery solutions provider, because of performance issues. Firstenberg says they were looking to provide an 'always-on' service to its private network of weather stations, which include consumers, mobile users, businesses, state and local government agencies, the National Weather Service, teachers and broadcasters.

Mirror Image's Content Access Point (CAP) network and Web caching solution is designed to not only allow WeatherBug customers constant access to weather updates, but also frees up the WeatherBug staff and budget, according to Firstenberg.

''The CDN enables us to focus and invest resources on building our core system while they are supporting systems like images and radar,'' says Firstenberg, who adds that the company employs about 250 people and runs on 1,000 servers.

Richard Buck, vice president of engineering at Mirror Image, says his company's CDN provides customers, like WeatherBug, with a service that would be difficult to execute independently.

''Almost no customer can support a global network and support traffic spikes,'' says Buck.

Counse Broders, resource director for network services at Current Analysis, a Washington, D.C.-based IT analyst firm, says CDNs provide companies with assurance that their content is going to be delivered during high traffic periods.

''The big fear with content on the Web is the flash crowd,'' says Broders. ''You have to think about how to set up severs, get content out to the end user, and how to allocate all of this. CDNs provide that level of support.''

Firstenberg adds that without Mirror Image's services, WeatherBug would have suffered financial and reputation losses during Katrina.

''We had 100 percent up-time during the hurricanes and couldn't have had that without the CDN,'' says Firstenberg. ''We would have lost customers that rely on us for data.''

With 155 customers and only 70 employees, Mirror Image is a smaller company than its biggest competitor, Akamai, a global on-demand content and business provider based in Cambridge, Mass. Akamai, with 1,700 customers, extends its global reach to 69 countries and operates on 17,500 servers over 1,000 networks.

Ira Weinstein, senior analyst with Wainhouse Research, an independent market research firm headquartered in Duxbury, Mass., says size and locations aren't as important as they were five to 10 years ago.

''Mirror Image is definitely small compared to Akamai, but that doesn't make much of a difference because CDNs are becoming a bit of a commodity,'' says Weinstein. ''The access point isn't the big story anymore.''

Weinstein says Mirror Image distinguishes itself from the crowd by offering an appealing pricing plan and a strong caching system.

''Mirror Image has a very good caching system,'' says Weinstein. ''The centralized, big data centers allow requests to get around the world fast.''

''Mirror Image is gaining customers because they are bending over backwards for customers,'' says Weinstein. ''The technology is not much better or much worse then other CDNs, but they are working to make it easy for the customer and to minimize their exposure.''

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