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Spreading a viral XMAS candle without server overload - testing Coral CDN caching


Want a cute animated gif XMAS candle on your web page? Sorry, come back in January - Not!

It was close, but eventually I found a promising solution for the bottleneck that forces everyone to load the .gif from my server. Coral CDN caching. Feel free to copy some HTML and try it on your own webpage to see if Coral can take the heat so the bottleneck really is gone.

My animated XMAS countdown candle boomed already in November for the Swedish version. I was prepared to give up the English (December 25) version to keep the server load within reasonable limits. Then I learned about the Coral Content Distribution Network (Coral CDN).

Coral CDN will take the load. Thus you can get the XMAS candle by just cut-and-paste of some HTML. And put Coral CDN to the test and see if they really can help a small server to sustain a big load.
Candle burning towards XMAS.

To get a candle on your WWW, just copy and paste this HTML:

<a href="" title="Click to get your own animated candle." target="new"><img src="" alt="Candle burning towards XMAS."></a>

Then you'll get a similar candle as the one beside this text.

Gimp Tutorial for the animated GIF XMAS Candle if you want to learn how to draw your own candle.
This tutorial helped the decision to completely hand over to the Coral CDN ie use their URL visibly instead of redirecting to them through my server. I have already given away the "secret recipe" for the candle.

The important thing is the idea and the point is that anyone who wants the candle should be able to get it. I rather see Coral CDN as a part of the "secret recipe" for the animated GIF candle; a tool that helps a small site to deliver content to the whole world if necessary.

Free beer? Too good to be true?

By just changing URL is my content automatically cached by their huge peer-to-peer servers. Sounds like free beer or free lunch. Really worth a test. Especially since I already decided to not promote the XMAS candle outside Sweden to avoid overload. There is not very much to lose if the test fails since the candle was not really intended to go international this year.

Defensive limiting of the overload

It was simply not worth the risk of letting the existing Swedish users down; killing my server by deliberately offering the XMAS candle to the world without having the capacity for it. And upgrading was not an option. I created the candle just for the fun of doing something new and not to force myself into an over-sized server plan just to stand the XMAS rush.

Using Coral CDN as a free insurance policy

This made Coral CDN a very tempting solution for offering the candle worldwide. Maybe I'm too careful. The candle is viral, but not explosive. It offers a link to the interested viewer, but it is neither sticky nor aggressive in its spread. Still, I see Coral CDN as insurance for surviving success. The price or rather insuranse premium is slightly lost control since I will be unable to see the logs and directly tell from them how popular -- or impopular the candle really is.

New York University peer-to-peer project improving internet

As for the "free beer", it looks reasonable; Coral CDN appears to be a New York University project experimenting with peer-to-peer systems. The basic idea is to improve internet by moving load from small sites to a gigantic peer-to-peer network that easily can handle a Digg or Slashdot. It looks like they have a point. Sure. Everyone can publish on the net, but an average citizen on a low cost web hotel will survive at best 15 minutes of true fame. Then is the account throttled or closed. The small guy cannot afford too much popularity. And this is indeed an internet problem. A huge crowd of readers want to see some very popular content but is unable to get it just because the publisher happens to be in the long tail and not prepared for mainstream attention.

It would be interesting to see what happens if the XMAS candle should really boom. Coral CDN should be perfectly able to cope with a Digg/Slashdot/whatever of this page. It is designed for that. But is it able to serve millions of requests for a tiny 12 kbyte file?

Losing control

The only real concern I have with losing control of the serving is lack of logs. I have no direct means to see if the candle is successful. Huge success is easy to see, but even 10 000+ candles spread over low traffic sites like this one would be a success, but hardly possible for anyone without access to Coral CDN logs to notice.

Another side of losing control would be the far-fetched scenario of the candle to spread like wildfire (or be a new kind of load scenario) able to actually overload Coral CDN. Even for that scenario is the XMAS candle a great test candidate, since the wildfire and load will quickly go away in the end of December.