IPM Group is a Belgian media company with two flagship newspapers: La Libre Belgique and La Dernière Heure/Les Sports—both of which have high-traffic websites. We also publish several magazines and have a radio station that covers all of French-speaking Belgium.
People visit our websites to get insight on breaking news as it happens. They expect our content to be continuously up-to-date and enriched with photos, illustrations, and even videos. Believe me, this poses a lot of challenges for a CIO. Not only do our websites have to be visually appealing and easy to navigate, but our underlying IT architecture also has to be fast and reliable. We have to make sure that navigation is seamless across the website and that pages are perceived to load instantly.
Our videos have to play without a hitch; they can’t be choppy because they take too long to load. And on top of all that, we are often faced with unexpected traffic spikes—such as after the recent train crash in Belgium when people turned to our websites for the latest developments. Sometimes we get an influx of traffic from foreign users, which can increase our visitor numbers by a factor of ten. For example, during the last French presidential election we posted preliminary results at 5:00 pm, whereas the French media are not allowed to publish results until 8:00 pm. A lot of French people came to our websites to get a first glimpse of the outcome.
In early 2011 we realized we urgently needed to upgrade our IT infrastructure, which had been designed to display static, text-based content. That meant pages took a long time to load when the website was simply unavailable. We wanted to ramp up to a reliable, high-performance system that could give visitors the kind of smooth navigation experience they had come to expect.
We considered several options. Some involved increasing the bandwidth and power of our hosted servers. But the costs quickly became prohibitive—especially since we needed a solution that could not only improve page load times but also manage the traffic spikes I mentioned earlier. And building our own infrastructure sized for those spikes would have left us with way too much capacity for our day-to-day needs.
That’s when CDNetworks came to us with their content delivery network solution designed specifically to accelerate the display of website content. With their technology, the biggest components of a website’s content are stored in cache on CDNetworks servers. The content is then delivered to the website on demand through the most efficient path, using a smart selection process from the server. The result is an extremely rapid response time.
We quickly saw that CDNetworks’ solution was a perfect fit for our needs. We started running tests to see if it was as good in practice as it was on paper (which in IT is not always the case). And the tests confirmed that it was. We worked with CDNetworks to determine which content should be cached (HD photos, videos, java script, etc.) based on rules tailored specifically to our type of websites and users. Within a month we had finished testing and adapting the rules so as to deliver an optimal rendering. The switch over to the new system was really easy—our content was redirected in just a few clicks. And the process was entirely transparent for our users both inside and outside the company!
Actually, I think I was a little hasty earlier in saying that the process was totally transparent for our users. In fact, they saw an improvement right away: web pages began loading almost instantly and we have had almost no more problems with slow navigation. CDNetworks provided valuable support every step of the way to adapt the caching method to our actual system usage. Our website performance has improved steadily since the switchover—which is the opposite of what usually happens when you set up a new IT network. In addition to improving the user experience, the content delivery network also generated major cost savings. We were able to streamline our IT infrastructure without having to increase our bandwidth or install new servers. Not to mention the fact that CDNetworks’ solution costs a fraction of what additional bandwidth or servers would cost. Our agreement with CDNetworks is extremely flexible and can be updated to match our changing needs. For instance, we added a third website (containing real estate ads) to the system in under a week! In short, CDNetworks’ solution made our websites run faster without the worry that IT infrastructure would prevent us from doing what we want. We now have modern, attractive websites that showcase our journalists’ skills with sophisticated photos, illustrations, and videos to enhance their text. And we have the tools to achieve one of our primary objectives: have systems flexible enough to increase and absorb website traffic.