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F5 Big-IP application delivery controller powers Allrecipes.com

Allrecipes uses F5 Big-IP, the application delivery controller, to deliver video, social media and other applications across 17 sites.

Popular culinary website Allrecipes.com found itself struggling daily to deal with increasing network traffic, so the company purchased Big-IP, a chassis-based application delivery controller from F5 Networks last fall. Its first goal after implementing the appliance was lightning-fast delivery of recipes, menus, and how-to videos, according to Director of Network and Data Center Operation Eamon Gavin. To make that happen, F5 Big-IP's Local Traffic Manager (LTM) improved load balancing to the website and managed network traffic during the company's holiday rush times -- Thanksgiving and Christmas -- when data traffic peaks.

On its busiest day ever, last Thanksgiving, Allrecipes received 32.5 million page views and 5.5 million unique visitors, averaging nearly 1.4 million page views per hour, according to Stephanie Robinett, the company's director of communications.

To manage that amount of traffic, Allrecipes needed to replace its legacy Tier 4 application delivery controller, which always caused traffic bottlenecks, Gavin said. Although it was before his time at Allrecipes, Gavin had heard the tale of Thanksgiving 2009 when the IT team was overwhelmed by reports of slow response times, balky page loads, and audio and video buffering problems. Last Thanksgiving, after adding the F5 application delivery controller, there were no issues at all, he said.

Reliability and Quality of Service (QoS) are most essential to delivering applications, videos, and text by Big-IP to Allrecipes users, Gavin said. "Our customers interact in various ways with our site, whether they access a site from a smartphone in the supermarket or from a desktop in the office."

F5 application delivery controller supports customization

Once implemented, the F5 Big-IP appliance brought immediate results, according to Gavin. "Our customers push 100 GB of data per hour during peak traffic periods. Without the LTM, we could not guarantee a highly-performing, stable user experience."

Its ability to scale with traffic demand makes the module a staple of the Allrecipes infrastructure, he said, and it is used under all traffic conditions.

LTM is only one of various product modules that run on F5's Linux-based Traffic Management Operating System (TMOS). Allrecipes also uses Global Traffic Manager (GTM) to improve redundancy -- it routes traffic to the Allrecipes primary data center during maintenance and it would be used in the event of a disaster.

F5 Big-IP delivers applications with improved performance

Big-IP markedly improved service delivery and offered something the former device didn't -- customization through F5's Application Programming Interface (API), called iControl.

"The API ... allows our developers to build tools leveraging key components of the LTM without actually needing console level access," Gavin said. "We currently have a development team building API calls into a new automated deployment solution that will allow the deployment solution to pull servers offline and online dynamically, as needed, as code is updated." This customization allows the IT team to take servers out of production to apply security patches, for instance.

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The API, iControl, is an integral part of the solution, according to Gavin. "When we do a code push, we can use an API to pull code out of the pool." Gavin also said he appreciates the number of load-balancing algorithms the F5 product offers and he likes having a strong F5 development community the IT team can draw on when it needs iRules or iControl programming advice.

Allrecipes developers and engineers share F5 Big-IP access

Even though Big-IP had already been deployed by the time he arrived as Allrecipes' new network and data center director, Gavin gained an education right off about how powerful the appliance could be when it came to managing the network. First, he was able to see how developers could interact with the device safely before deploying new or revised code. Developers can leverage API calls built into the deployment solution which will allow them to securely interact with the appliance.  In addition, he finds it important to tightly control access to the device, with built-in access policies continuing to be the policies the IT team uses most. With both systems engineers and developers accessing the appliance, it's important to ensure each team member has access only to the data they need. "This is made possible by the excellent role-based policies built into the appliance," Gavin said.

F5 application delivery controller offers relief from bottlenecks, more time to plan

Eventually, Allrecipes will deploy more than one Big-IP appliance, but currently Gavin said, "We've got room to grow."

Each device is capped at the amount of throughput it can handle, according to Gavin, so the team constantly monitors throughput of all key hardware components. As customer use increases, so does the amount of data flowing through the F5 BIG-IP LTM appliances. Allrecipes' infrastructure currently has headroom between the devices it owns and the ones Gavin will add in the future. The company will "switch to a higher throughput device as traffic demands warrant. This is a good problem to have," he said.

In addition, Gavin explained, "traffic is always increasing, so we are constantly monitoring it." Plans for the near future include adding more failover to the system, where a second data center will be added to provide redundancy during maintenance, according to Gavin. "Without the LTM and GTM, we could not do that," he said.

Allrecipes plans to leverage VMware with the F5 Big-IP

The virtual appliance, Big-IP LTM Virtual Edition will be used by the development team for a couple of reasons, according to Gavin:

  • With virtualization, there is no physical footprint so they save space and power in their data center.
  • The development team can move the virtual appliance between multiple environments, as needed.

To monitor traffic, Allrecipes will use Big-IP LTM integration with VMware vCenter using the F5 iControl API. The ADC will be able to add or remove virtualized Web servers as traffic demand requires, according to Gavin. As this is currently a manual process for the IT team, Gavin is looking forward to deploying the technology in time for next Thanksgiving, "when customers are busy in the kitchen and rely heavily on our high-performing websites."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Lisa Sampson, Feature Writer

This was last published in March 2012

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