Caching works for the British Open

When you log on to the British Open Web site this week to catch the latest changes to the leaderboard or view live video of Tiger Woods detailing his strategy for the four-day championship golf match, you may not realize that behind-the-scenes caching is doing most of the work.

And that's just how TWIinteractive Ltd.(TWIi), the Web site host management company running the site, wants it.

TWIi, which also hosts sites for other high-profile sports events and franchises - including the New England Patriots, the Brazilian National Soccer Team and Wimbledon - has set up a network of servers and CacheFlow Inc.content caching devices in England and the U.S. designed to keep the site up and running smoothly. The company said the site is expected to handle more than four million page view requests over the length of the British Open, which is scheduled to take place July 19-22 at the Royal Lytham and St. Annes golf course in England.

What may catch a Web site or network manager's attention, besides the golf competition, is TWIi'sand CacheFlow's infrastructure design, which the two companies say is configured to prevent the kinds of outages that can kill a live event. Because the British Open is a once-per-year event, outages can be disasterous, just as downtime during a company event, retail holiday or sale period can.

"Taking 2 hours to open up a support call and get a problem solved doesn't cut it for an event that only lasts a short amount of time," says John Watson, vice president of TWIi's hosting services.

In the hopes of preventing any such problems, TWIi's Web infrastructure setup includes a primary site in England that replicates content for the British Open to two sites in the U.S. - one on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast, both hosted by Exodus Communications Inc. The three sites are designed to automatically fail over if one site goes down, and any one site can handle all the expected incoming traffic for the British Open event, says Watson.

The network consists of several servers running behind a CacheFlow cache device at each location. User requests for content, like up-to-the-minute scoring or player placement, are routed to the cache closest to the end user. The majority of the content for the site is continually cached, allowing 95 percent of requests to be handled by the cache devices instead of the Web servers.

CacheFlow and TWIi say response time can be improved as much as 80 percent by offloading requests from the Web servers to the caches. The faster response time is due to the fact that cache devices store content in memory, unlike Web servers, which usually have to start from scratch to construct page views for end user requests.

The Web servers are running Windows 2000 Server; TWIi has its own proprietary software for publishing content.

The cache devices in front of those servers are CacheFlow's cIQ Server Accelerators, which can process static, secure and dynamic content requests. TWIi also employs a backup management network services company, Global Crossing, to help ensure that if its primary hosting and content delivery service provider experiences any outages, it can still provide content.

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April Jacobs

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