Launched in 1997, Seattle, Washington-based Allrecipes.com is the world’s largest digital food brand with sites and apps serving more than 34 million home cooks in 22 countries globally each month. The company’s flagship site, Allrecipes.com, receives 700 million visits each year, and must guarantee high availability and fast performance.
Allrecipes.com relies on the intelligent traffic management and performance features in F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) and BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager (GTM) to provide high availability and fast-loading web pages. Along with helping Allrecipes.com provide a streamlined user experience across all of its platforms and remain competitive, the F5 devices offer an easily managed environment.
Allrecipes.com, the number one digital food brand in the world, is a global community and social network where millions of home cooks around the globe search and share recipes, photos, entertainment ideas, and food advice. The site contains user-created and shared recipes, plus other content. It receives more than 750 million annual visits and averages 20 million unique visitors each month, with a membership base of more than 7 million people. Allrecipes features hundreds of thousands of recipes, as categorized by season, type of course, and ingredients. The organization maintains websites in 17 countries and also publishes leading food applications for mobile devices, a fast-growing market due to the significant increase in tablet computers and other devices.
To stay ahead of its competitors and continue attracting new users, Allrecipes must ensure high availability and fast page load times around the clock worldwide for its sites. “We provide easy access to content to people reliably, at all hours of the day on all types of devices, so they’ll keep coming back to the site,” says Esmee Williams, Vice President of Brand Marketing for Allrecipes.com.
High availability is especially critical during the site’s busiest time—the days leading up to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday in late November. At that time, Allrecipes experiences an incredible spike in network traffic. “We see an amazing amount of traffic immediately before and on Thanksgiving Day,” says Williams. “On a typical day, we peak at around 1 million page views per hour, but on Thanksgiving Eve it jumps to more than 2.2 million page views per hour.”
Similarly, the entire month of December is a high traffic time for the site, with cooks sharing and seeking recipes and party ideas for Christmas and other holidays. Other popular times are New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Super Bowl Sunday. While not as busy as Thanksgiving, network traffic picks up tremendously during these events. The company also sees traffic increase on its international sites when those countries’ holidays approach. “We need to have the right technology infrastructure to handle all of our seasonal traffic spikes,” says Scotty Carreiro, IT Project Director for Allrecipes.com.
Solid performance is also key to the success of Allrecipes.com. Both site members and visitors depend on fast-loading pages when they search the site. “If we want people to keep visiting the site, we need to make the experience as fast and seamless for them as possible,” Williams says. “Our audience members lead extremely busy lives. We want to make the time they spend with Allrecipes sites and mobile apps the least stressful part of their day.”
Prior to 2006, Allrecipes.com maintained availability and performance by providing network load balancing functionality through ArrowPoint devices. But when ArrowPoint was bought by Cisco, Allrecipes decided it was time to explore new technology solutions. “We knew that F5 Networks was the market leader and could give us what we needed in terms of performance and availability,” says Carreiro. “We did evaluate some other technologies, but F5 is the industry standard, which made our decision easier.”
In late 2006, Allrecipes implemented two or more F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) devices in each of its four data centers. The organization then implemented two F5 BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager (GTM) devices in two data centers.
BIG-IP LTM gives Allrecipes intelligent traffic management and high availability for the multiple servers housed in its four data centers. The devices perform health checks for the organization’s web servers and route web traffic based on network and server conditions. Together, BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM balance incoming Internet traffic across multiple servers at four sites, ensuring high availability and fast user response times. “F5 technology is involved in every part of Allrecipes.com,” says Carreiro. “There’s nothing that doesn’t go through an F5 device.”
Over the past six years, Allrecipes has begun to use some of the advanced features of BIG-IP LTM, such as F5 iRules. This customizable scripting language gives Carreiro granular control over application traffic, giving him the flexibility to create custom redirects for managing IP traffic to web servers. The organization also plans to take advantage of advanced BIG-IP GTM features in the future.
Allrecipes.com can offer a highly available website to its customers throughout the world, thanks to the organization’s BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM solution. The organization can also give its users fast- loading web pages containing the recipes and other food information they need, when they need it. With this solid availability and fast performance, Allrecipes.com can compete better in the marketplace. Also, IT administrators have easily managed technology.
Using BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM, Allrecipes can offload content to optimize server performance, which helps provide a high level of availability for users throughout the world. “It would be impossible to serve our customers without BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM,” says Carreiro. “These devices enable us to deliver our website without problems 24 hours a day. There are many variables with an environment like ours, and there are a lot of things outside the network that could present issues for us. The F5 technology gives us something right at the edge of the network to control that.”
As a result, Allrecipes.com can guarantee the highest possible availability during its peak seasonal spikes in traffic, as well as throughout the year. “The day before Thanksgiving is our busiest and most stressful day of the year in terms of traffic load, but for the last few years it’s been a relative non-event,” says Williams. “Our sites and apps have performed beautifully as a result of a highly skilled development team supported by F5 technology. They spend 10 months of the year preparing for these two critical days when Allrecipes experiences the highest traffic surges.”
Allrecipes.com offers users the highest possible performance, in part because BIG-IP LTM eliminates single points of failure and contains rich traffic management functionality. Allrecipes.com can offload tasks from its servers to the F5 devices, reducing the processing load on the servers. Carreiro can also use iRules to redirect IP traffic and further speed up response times.
With these features, Allrecipes.com pages take less than a second to load. “We are expected to offer a website and food applications that always work. Whether home cooks are accessing Allrecipes on a laptop in Seattle or on a smartphone in Asia, they are getting the same fast, reliable experience because of F5 technology,” says Carreiro.
Williams adds, “Many of our members have favorite recipes they rely on for everyday and holiday entertaining. Over our 15-year history, these cooks have grown accustomed to knowing that these recipes are available whenever needed at Allrecipes with the click of a mouse. Our community never has to worry about our sites being slow, or not available, thanks to the way our infrastructure is set up with BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM.”
By delivering sites and applications that are highly available and load content quickly, Allrecipes.com can maintain its competitive edge. “We have to give our members and visitors a reason to stay with us in addition to the content we offer,” says Williams. “Our site is media-rich and community-based, and is accessed on every possible type of device in more than 160 countries around the world,” Williams says. “Giving users the same seamless experience, regardless of location or device, is critical to our success.”
Being available and fast also helps Allrecipes maintain strong relationships with its advertisers. “Our advertisers expect the same solid experience as our customers, and they need to see that we’re delivering the best of breed site experience and ad impressions we’ve promised,” says Williams. “BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM give us the ability to do that.”
BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM also contain a web-based graphical user interface (GUI) designed to simplify configuration and ease management of the products. “Both BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM are very easy for me to manage,” confirms Carreiro. “The GUI gives me excellent visibility into traffic consumption, and I can also easily distribute configuration information to the web server teams. It makes my job simpler.”
Additionally, Carreiro benefits from F5 support. “F5 is a leader in the field not only in terms of the technology but also the great 24 x 7 support,” he says. “That combination gives us the confidence we need.”