Case Study: A CMS That Handled 21 Million Hits in One Day!

Volvo Ocean Race 2001-2002 Web Site

Formerly known as the Whitbread Round-the-World Race, Volvo bought the race in 1997. The 2001 race was the first sponsored by Volvo Ocean Race. The Race started at Southampton, England on September 23rd 2001. Eight professionally-crewed yachts covered 31,600 nautical miles in approximately ten months, circumnavigating the world with the prevailing winds.  The nine-leg race visited 10 ports, racing through four oceans, and finishing in Kiel, Germany in June 2002. The race was jointly owned and sponsored by Volvo Car Corporation and The Volvo Group

After the first contractor was unable to complete the web site by February 2001, Volvo Event Management retained four of its key personnel - a producer, a technical project manager, a project manager and a production manager – to finish the website. This team had is a collective experience covering live web sites for the previous Whitbread (97-98) race, The America’s Cup 2000 (sailing grand-prix), an Everest expedition, the BT Global Challenge 2000/01 (in which yachts race around the world against prevailing winds and tides); QuokkaSailing.com (a popular sailing portal) and coverage of many other sailing events on the web. Based on their experience, they decided to rebuild the website themselves

The Challenges

When the team took over the project, the start of the race was only a few months away, and there were already several hundred press releases and news items on a pre-existing site. Plus, with all the associated indices and other pages, they were looking at rebuilding a fully content-managed website of just under 600 html pages in 90 days -- with a team of four people!

Another challenge was the complexity of the data. The race circled the globe, with a team of media following the sailing crews around the world, stopping at 9 ports along the way. Site content might be generated any time, anywhere. They needed a robust, efficient and secure way of managing the process of inserting content into the site.

Most content would be originated by people with no knowledge of HTML. Editorial content (news, features, tactical analysis stories) were to be generated by an outside group (for reasons of editorial neutrality), so the team needed a way to restrict their access to specific areas of the site and to control their workflow.  They also wanted to distribute the maintenance of the sailing teams' areas of the site to the teams themselves, so that they could insert press releases and crew biographies into our workflow, with restricted editing permission and no publishing capability. Additionally, the team wanted the Volvo internal press team to be able to maintain its own areas of the website, again restricting the right to publish.

The team estimated that website needed to be able to sustain nearly 20,000 server requests a second, or 140 million per day.  They felt that the best way to handle this volume would be as flat, non-dynamic HTML pages. However, this would raise a larger problem: that of inserting delayed real-time telemetry into selected web pages.

Thus, the primary problem became how to introduce dynamic content into static web pages without harming the performance requirements caused by the world-wide audience. Race telemetry, audio and video were to be beamed via satellite from the yachts as they race around the world. The Team needed to be able to produce a set of results pages, the most complex of which would include copy from multiple sources, periodically putting single pages together that contained text reports from Race Headquarters, weather reports from BBC, a weather maps, and photos showing conditions on board at the time of the report. The most complex requirement was the insertion of graphics showing boat tracks and the like, from the 3D Race Viewer partner, including tabular telemetry readout of conditions on board each boat – air temp, wind, etc., and telemetry summaries depicting race positional data of each yacht.

The content management solution would have to satisfy all these requirements and also be user-friendly enough to be configured and administered by a single user.

The Search for a CMS Solution

“I love the simplicity of the new WebSite Director interface,” said Marion Brennan, Project Manager, Internet, at Volvo Event Management, UK. “Because of its similarity to Windows Explorer, it is familiar, intuitive, and simple to use. WebSite Director provides me with a clearly defined step-by-step process that ensures I can complete all of my web content management tasks quickly and completely.”

A short but intense period of research was undertaken. Given the immovable deadline of the race start, together with the other issues they faced, the Team knew there would not be a great deal of time or personnel available to conduct a detailed analysis of all the available products on the market.

The team found a comprehensive list of CMS providers on Microsoft's web-site, and worked their way through the list, starting with “A” and working their way through until they had a list of three potential providers.

With pricing and time constraints as major issues, the team began the elimination process. When they contacted CyberTeams about WebSite Director, they were given full access to a live, working version hosted at CyberTeams. This proved invaluable in helping them come to a purchasing decision. They were able to create workflows stages, approval classes and the like, and immediately found that they could involve other members of their organization in the assessment process. If they had questions, CyberTeams was there on the phone to answer them.

The more they looked into the WebSite Director solution, the more they liked it. They could buy a 20-user license and upgrade it on a user by user basis. They liked that it produced flat HTML content, updating all associated index pages automatically. They liked that it would allow them to permit restricted access to external users, and that the content they generated could be inserted into a fully customizable workflow designed to suit their needs. They liked that WebSite Director had an external API that provided the ability to build their own customized components and integrate them into WebSite Director. They liked the support package. And, the price fit well within their budget.

“I was amazed at how easy it was to set the system up,” said Peter Dakin, Production Manager. “Starting with the initial download from CyberTeams, through the installation (guided via telephone by a CyberTeams technician), and into the initial configuration of workflows.”

The Team found that from installation of the content management system, through workflow configuration and template design, to the first additions of new documents took about two weeks. They were easily able to port the pre-existing site into WebSite Director, and the ease of implementation meant they had enough time to do some abstract thinking about who was to do what in the workflow, together with some careful planning of directory structures, permissions and so on. They started on the easy stuff -- press releases -- which were simple documents consisting of a headline, blurb and body text. While one user took on the onerous task of entering historical data via WSD, the rest of the team began configuring the more complex templates and indexing processes, using a combination of WSD features and server-side scripting. These integrated beautifully into WSD, allowing for a totally customizable solution.

When the team realized that they needed a more complex indexing system than WSD natively supported, they found that with a minimal amount of scripting, these indices could be integrated into the WSD system with ease. Amazingly, by the end of the fourth leg, CyberTeams had released an upgrade that did this for them!

The Result

The four-member team installed WebSite Director on 14 May 2001. The new Volvo Ocean Race website containing 2800 files (600 html) in 300+ directories, was completed and re-launched on 1 August 2001. All CMS configuration was done by one person, with unlimited online support from CyberTeams. Data entry was accomplished by two people: the site's producer and the project manager!
On start day, 23 September 2001, the system handled 900,000 page views from 57,000 unique visitors. The only technical problem on start day was with the BBC Real Audio feed of the race start. It went down because, apparently, the load crashed the BBC server, although it did not affect WebSite Director.

Through all of this, WebSite Director remained steady.

Through 6 May 2002, the first 7 1/2 months, Volvo website reported the following statistics:

  • On average, over 96,000 unique visitors viewed the site each day.
  • Visitors viewed an average of 362,449 pages per day.
  • The highest number of hits in one day was 21 Million

Total hits through these
7-1/2 months were 1,400,462,578.

 
 
 
 

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