Managing spikes

Fascinating post about current traffic patterns on the Net.

Lately, I see more sudden eyeballs and what used to be an established trend seems to fall into a more chaotic pattern that is the aggregate of different spike signatures around a smooth curve. This graph is from two consecutive days where we have a beautiful comparison of a relatively uneventful day followed by long-exposure spike ( compounded by a short-exposure spike (

The disturbing part is that this occurs even on larger sites now due to the sheer magnitude of eyeballs looking at today’s already popular sites. Long story short, this makes planning a real bitch.

And the interesting thing is perspective on what is large… People think Digg is popular — it is. The New York Times is too, as is CNN and most other major news networks — if they link to your site, you can expect to see a dramatic and very sudden increase in traffic. And this is just in the United States (and some other English speaking countries)… there are others… and they’re kinda big.

What isn’t entirely obvious in the above graphs? These spikes happen inside 60 seconds. The idea of provisioning more servers (virtual or not) is unrealistic. Even in a cloud computing system, getting new system images up and integrated in 60 seconds is pushing the envelope and that would assume a zero second response time. This means it is about time to adjust what our systems architecture should support. The old rule of 70% utilization accommodating an unexpected 40% increase in traffic is unraveling. At least eight times in the past month, we’ve experienced from 100% to 1000% sudden increases in traffic across many of our clients.