Media group Verdens Gang, publisher of Norway’s leading daily newspaper, selected F5 to help it ensure the availability of its online news channel, VG.no. It can now handle huge volumes of simultaneous users and unexpected peaks in traffic, to provide a high quality experience for readers – even in exceptional circumstances.
Verdens Gang’s web site, VG.no, is renowned for publishing up-to-the minute news about breaking stories. Such is the popularity of VG.no that it attracts 2.5 million unique visitors on an average day, half of the country’s population. The site typically delivers 9.7 million page impressions to desktop PCs, as well as 7.2 million to mobile devices daily. However, when big events or national crises occur, even more people click on VG.no to find out the latest information, leading to sudden, unforeseeable and enormous peaks in traffic.
1.22 million readers regularly access VG.no using mobile devices, and this creates additional challenges for the company, as Audun Ytterdal, head of operations at Verdens Gang explains. “Mobile traffic is slow traffic,” he says. “In the summer, and during holiday periods, when more of our readers are using mobile devices, our systems have to be able to handle lots of slow, simultaneous users, who are on our site for longer.”
Because of their high profile, media companies in Norway are frequently targeted by cybercriminals who launch uncompromising Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and attempt to extort money from their victims. Verdens Gang had already developed in-house solutions to help secure VG.no, but it sought additional protection to enable it to better withstand the barrage of attacks.
For many years, Verdens Gang had built and developed its core systems for VG.no using open source software. So, when its load balancing hardware started to fail, it initially sought an open source solution. “We considered lots of open source options, but struggled to find a viable solution that could manage our large traffic volumes,” Ytterdal recalls.
He adds, “We were initially reluctant to adopt a commercial solution, but F5 gave us the best experience with high peaks in traffic. We also appreciated the fact that F5 has knowledgeable, technical professionals based in Norway, who could support us.”
Verdens Gang has now been using F5 products for VG.no for over six years and currently has an F5 BIG-IP® 5250v platform at each of its two data centres. This high performance Application Delivery Controller includes F5’s BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager™ and BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager™ solutions to balance and optimise the delivery of web site traffic, particularly during peak periods.
Given that Verdens Gang is fiercely proud of its open source environment, the fact that it has remained a loyal F5 customer over so many years is a strong testimony to the capabilities of the BIG-IP platform. Ytterdal says: “We regularly check the open source community for load balancing solutions that might meet our needs. Nothing else can match the performance of F5.”
With their fail-over configuration across two data centres, the two F5 platforms work together to ensure that VG.no is constantly available to readers, no matter what the circumstances. Even when VG.no has experienced exceptional traffic volumes, with peaks of up to 30 GB per second, the web site has remained up and running.
For instance, in 2011, the headquarters of Verdens Gang were bombed in a terrorist attack aimed at the nearby government offices. Despite extensive damage to the building, VG.no remained available, keeping Norway’s shocked citizens informed of the devastating events of the day as they unfolded. Ytterdal recalls that, “Other media sites in Norway crashed due to the volume of traffic, but VG.no stayed online.”
“Every Norwegian who has access to the Internet goes to VG.no. for news, so we have to be able to provide a good experience,” Ytterdal says. “We are proud to be able to offer much faster page loads than other commercial news web sites in Norway.”
F5’s BIG-IP provides a vital part of Verdens Gang’s defensive arsenal, detecting DDoS attacks at the TCP level, in particular. “F5 handles DDoS attacks very gracefully,” Ytterdal says. “There is no impact on the experience for our readers.”
Recently, there was a spate of particularly aggressive DDoS attacks, which caused serious availability problems for several of Verdens Gang’s competitors in Norway. VG.no was subjected to the same attacks but remained operational. “To support the media industry in Norway, we allowed several organisations to route their traffic via our F5 BIG-IP platform on a temporary basis,” says Ytterdal. “This gave them the time to investigate the DDoS attacks fully and strengthen their own systems. It was very rewarding to be able to help other businesses.”
If Verdens Gang didn’t have F5’s BIG-IP platform, it anticipates that it would probably need to devote one member of staff, full time, towards managing an open source load balancing solution. Ytterdal says, “BIG-IP saves us a lot of time and trouble, enabling us to focus instead on improving the performance of VG.no and developing our business.”
The organisation likes to operate, as Ytterdal puts it, “at the bleeding edge of technology” and appreciates F5 features like the BIG-IP application programming interface (API) that allow it to customise its traffic management. “F5 allows us to experiment with new technologies and ideas before we implement them,” Ytterdal adds. Certainly, with all of the flexibility and features offered by F5 – and more time in the IT department – Verdens Gang can continually enhance VG.no to offer added value for readers.