Monday, May 10, 2021

WeatherBug Rides Out Traffic Storm

Moments before Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore, some people in Southern

Louisiana accessed warnings on WeatherBug.com 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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