Five ways to improve Web site uptime

You can't fix the Internet, but you can tap these tools to decrease downtime for your organization's Web site.

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1. Use speedier Ethernet connections

Most organizations currently connect their Web servers to the public Internet via Ethernet networks running at 10Gbit/sec. Tom Daly, president of Dyn Inc., a network services company based in Manchester, N.H., says the IEEE -- which controls the 802.1 spec -- is evaluating standardized 40Gbit/sec. Ethernet as a remedy to traffic outages. He says this increased performance would dramatically help high-transaction customers.

Some users aren't waiting for the final specification. One success story is the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, which links 16 10Gbit/sec. switches together to handle about 500Gbit/sec. of daily traffic without disruption. "40Gbit/sec. and 100Gbit/sec. is dearly needed to reduce overall congestion on the Internet," says Daly.

Networks running at 40Gbit/sec. or 100Gbit/sec. won't solve bottlenecks at specific sites, such as Twitter.com, that are overloaded by a spike in requests. Still, these networks will become more important as more and more users gain access to the Web and use it for watching television shows online, making online backups and visiting the most popular sites. All of that activity will increase the stress on 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet and 10Gbit/sec. routers.

"40Gbit/sec. router-to-router links are already being utilized in backbones to help alleviate traffic," says Cory Crosland, the president of CROSCON, a New York-based Web development company. "As Internet usage continues to explode, the backbones will need to be continually upgraded to keep up." This means faster Internet speeds for consumers and better connectivity. Verizon's FiOS is one example of the type of network that could deliver the necessary speeds and connectivity. "Moving to 40Gbit/sec. will help the Internet as a whole move faster, but not improve [any] one site's uptime or speed," Crosland says.

2. Use content delivery networks

For handling large amounts of media -- such as iTunes music or Amazon.com and Netflix video-on-demand services -- the public Internet relies heavily on CDN (content delivery network) providers such as Limelight and Akamai. Microsoft recently launched a free CDN to cache AJAX libraries and boost Web site performance.

CDNs are designed to quickly route traffic onto private networks, easing or eliminating the burden on the public Web site itself, Forrester's Staten explains.

Without a CDN, massive media files would cripple a site like Netflix.com or Cinemanow.com almost immediately.

A CDN provider handles congestion by adding "last mile" communication centers in cities that, according to the provider's own data models, absorb most of the traffic. For example, in areas of California, video-over-the-Web is more common than elsewhere in the country, so Akamai or Limelight might install a center in San Francisco to handle the load.

More use of content delivery networks can definitely help, because these services keep traffic at the edges of the Internet rather than having to route it all the way through, says Staten.

According to Staten, one issue with a CDN is that not all content can be cached. Crosland explains that "CDNs are great for static content" such as videos and music but can't be used for dynamic or database-driven information such as search results and Twitter updates. "That's where intelligent caching comes into play," says Crosland.

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