Wilson & Horton Interactive gets major upgrade

The online division of NZ Herald publisher Wilson & Horton is upgrading its IT infrastructure in a move it says will transform its Web service from corporate to carrier grade.

The online division of NZ Herald publisher Wilson & Horton is upgrading its IT infrastructure in a move which technology manager Patrick Van Rinsvelt says will transform its Web service from corporate to carrier grade.

Wilson & Horton Interactive, which has 42 staff, is responsible for the Herald online and 14 other sites.

Van Rinsvelt says the number of visitors to W&HI Web sites has grown 20% to 35% per month for the last year.

Most of the growth has been for the Herald site with half the traffic coming from overseas, 80% from the US and the rest mainly from the UK and Australia.

“With this type of Web site, capacity planning is a little different,” he says. “The peaks are very strong. The Fiji crisis was one and also when [Private Leonard Manning] died in Timor.”

Van Rinsvelt says existing hardware couldn’t push any more data so the company bought carrier grade networking equipment.

As well as increasing bandwidth from 12Kb to 10Mb, W&HI installed a CacheFlow 3000 intelligent caching device and an Alteon Ace Director 3 load balancing switch, both of which are distributed by Asnet.

W&HI systems engineer Grant Taylor says the CacheFlow 3000, a device usually used by ISPs, has taken a huge load off the servers.

“The CacheFlow box keeps statistics on what it serves and learns the trend of what sites do. It is intelligent enough to know that at a certain time it should start caching information that it is likely to be requested,” says Taylor.

The Ace Director 3 is a layer 4/layer 7 switch which enables W&HI to load-balance across multiple servers.

“Layer 4 allows you to create a virtual server which sits across the real servers. Layer 7 enables the switch to detect what sort of request it’s getting - whether it’s for an HTML page, gif or jpeg - and to direct the request to a server with the capacity to handle it.”

The next step is to implement a three-tier server architecture, comprising database, application and Web servers from Sun Microsystems.

Van Rinsvelt says the benefits of the upgrade will be increased speed and up-time, plus greater potential for future application development.

“We have to generate revenue. The Web is very customer focused and if the site’s not fast enough, customers leave and revenue targets are not met. We need equipment to satisfy customers and advertisers.”

The server architecture will comprise two Sun Netra T105 machines for serving Web pages, three Sun E420s in the middle for application serving and two Sun E420s at the back as data base servers.

Asked whether they considered Windows NT for the Web server part of the equation, Taylor says, “In an industry that requires 24X7 up-time, Wintel [architecture] was not suitable.”

Says Van Rinsvelt: “You can’t pack enough power into an Intel box.”

And as far as Linux goes, he isn’t convinced that it is sound enough. “It’s not quite an industrial-grade OS.”

The division will stay with Allaire publishing products. It has been using Allaire'sCold Fusion as its Web application since February 1999.

W&HI sites include Stockwatch, Mytown, Netclassifieds, Rugbyheaven, Wises, UBD and Myproperty. It is also developing Web sites for around 40 Wilson & Horton-owned newspapers and publications including Womans Weekly and Listener.

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