Carbon60 and Akamai: Two Halves of an Ideal Public Sector Hosting Solution September 6, 2012 Carbon60 and Akamai have a long history servicing the public sector in Canada. Last week we announced a partnership to deliver a cost effective, fully-managed cloud hosting solution that meets the public sector’s rigorous availability, performance, and security requirements. Below, we look behind-the-scenes at how this partnership came together and some of the technical details that make our combined services an ideal web hosting solution for the public sector as well as many private sector organizations with business-critical web properties. In the US public sector, Akamai is the leading provider of edge caching services (a.k.a Content Delivery Network (CDN) services). The US Department of Defense, NASA and most US Federal Government Agencies rely on Akamai’s services to deliver public information over the Web. Despite its proven benefits, the public sector in Canada has been slower to adopt edge-caching services. Of course, this is something Tom Ruff, the VP of Public Sector Sales at Akamai, and David Cole, Akamai’s public sector sales representative in Canada, are trying to change. We were introduced to Tom and David last year when both companies realized through side-channels that we were responding to the same RFP from Natural Resources Canada. This led to a joint submission and a deeper discussion about ways that the two companies could leverage their strengths to deliver a technically and fiscally compelling cloud hosting solution to Canada’s public sector. Carbon60’s key strengths are its Canada-based cloud hosting platform, its comprehensive technical support for enterprise workflows, and its deep domain expertise around WordPress and other content management systems typically used by large media companies and public sector organizations. Akamai, on the other hand, brings the world’s largest network of edge servers, intelligent request routing and filtering technology, and granular content caching controls. While technically both are world-class solutions it is when the services are brought together that you get a uniquely potent web hosting solution. For example, a key federal agency – which I cannot name – had difficulty maintaining acceptable quality of service levels during important public information updates when traffic increases one thousand fold for a brief period before and for a couple hours after the scheduled release. The problem of exponential spikes in web traffic is compounded by the need to flush local and edge caches and update the site during the surge of traffic. This caused the agency’s web servers to take all the traffic directly and slow down unacceptably. The agency wanted the problem solved without the expense of a much larger hosting infrastructure to handle the load during peak periods and, of course, they wanted this while achieving the highest levels of availability and security. Jointly, Carbon60 and Akamai provided the solution: dynamically scalable production web and database server clusters hosted on a geographically distributed cloud computing infrastructure with granularly configurable local and edge caching services. In this architecture, Carbon60 hosts two active “origins” on its cloud computing infrastructure for content distributed by Akamai’s edge delivery network. For high availability purposes, one origin is in Ontario and one is in British Columbia. Content between the two origins is kept synchronized via asynchronous block-level LUN replication. Akamai’s intelligent routing service is used to direct requests – if not served from its own cache – to the nearest available origin. As a security measure, only Akamai’s trusted edge servers can reach the two origins directly. In this way, all requests are filtered through Akamai’s network of 100,000+ edge servers around the world. This network is able to shield the origin sites from the largest spikes in legitimate or illegitimate traffic. If both origins are unavailable, Akamai is configured to serve either a “maintenance page” or content stored on its own NetStorage. When fully “tuned” the offload rate of end-user requests to Akamai’s edge caching is typically in the 80% to 90% range. This high offload rate significantly reduces the load on the origin web and database clusters while lowering page load times for end users by an average of 34%. Even without Akamai, extensive performance testing showed each origin was capable of handling over 15,000 requests per second without any significant increase in response times. This scalability is further enhanced by the quality of service controls that are part of Carbon60’s cloud infrastructure which can dynamically add compute and storage resources to the agency’s environment to maintain pre-determined response times. To manage performance levels during critical updates to the agency’s web site, Carbon60 implemented: proprietary caching controls with Varnish (a high performance reverse-proxy technology), optimized code on the agency’s content management system, and leveraged Akamai’s object-level cache controls to minimize the impact of cache clears during peak traffic periods. In fact, performance testing of the Carbon60/Akamai solution for the agency measured almost no change to site performance under peak loads after critical updates. Aside from the technical aspects of the Carbon60/Akamai cloud hosting solution, another goal of the partnership was to find ways to turn our synergies into cost savings for Canada’s public sector. Due to reduced administrative overhead, lower support costs, and cost sharing between clients, Carbon60 created a unified pricing model that includes both Carbon60’s and Akamai’s services at a significantly more affordable rate than trying to contract the services separately. Overall, the technical services delivered through the combined Carbon60 and Akamai solution are very compelling from an availability, performance, and security point of view. While there are too many elements of the solution that can be touched on here, the example above provides some idea of the technical capabilities of this solution and how it can address the most demanding web hosting requirements. Combine this with the cost savings associated with our unified service model and you have a best of all worlds.