Smart switch enables travel site to cope with fluctuating demand

Gullivers Travels Associates, which supplies tourism products to the travel industry, has improved the performance of its map...

Gullivers Travels Associates, which supplies tourism products to the travel industry, has improved the performance of its map servers by deploying a dedicated appliance from network equipment manufacturer Redline.

The appliance is used to manage end-user access to web servers that supply interactive city maps on its Octopus travel websites.

Chris Anders, IT operations manager at Gullivers Travels, said the web servers were handling an average of one map every second, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The servers used four four-way Xeon-powered Hewlett-Packard servers, each with 2Gbytes of memory.

The website experienced peaks in demand during lunchtime and in the evenings, which the servers were struggling to cope with. Anders used an I/O processor called the Redline TX, which acted as a smart switch to connect end-users to the web servers. The processor managed all the TCP/IP communications with end-users and freed up the servers to handle the mapping functions.

A study conducted on behalf of Gullivers Travels at the end of 2002 by IT consultancy ActualIT found that the Redline TX box improved the performance of the test website by 31%.

Anders has now been using Redline TX on the main Octopus websites, which operate an affiliate programme allowing travel operators to book services for hotels, site-seeing tours and theatre tickets fulfilled through Gullivers Travels.

Anders said the Gullivers Travels sales team in Japan had complained that the website was extremely slow, compared to what users in Japan were used to (typically 100mbps broadband). He now plans to use Redline TX to improve the speed of access from Japan to the company's IBM iSeries web servers hosted in the UK.

Craig Stouffler, vice-president for marketing at Redline, said the Redline TX works on the rationale that every web browser that connects to a website requires four to eight TCP/IP connections. The web server needs to monitor each of these constantly. As more users connect to the server, the processor spends more and more of its CPU resources monitoring the TCP/IP connections.

Stouffler said, "When you have thousands of users, you end up with hundreds of thousands of IP connections and the server becomes overloaded."

Traditionally, more web servers would be bought to compensate but Stouffler said the Redline TX box, which costs between £8,000 and £40,0000, can handle this workload.

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