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Boston Herald

Boston Herald Website Performs Under Pressure

News Site Sustains Significant Traffic Surge, Serves Readers in Aftermath of Boston Marathon Bombing

Readers were able to rely on the Boston Herald news site for alerts and updates in the minutes, hours, and days following a violent attack on the city. When two bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013, millions turned to local news sources for updates on the attack. While other news sites failed under the immediate surge in traffic, bostonherald.com consistently delivered news and kept readers informed of important and late-breaking updates.

The Problem

A news organization builds its reputation in part on the immediacy and timeliness of its reporting, particularly during emergencies and times of crisis. Such events can overwhelm a site’s capacity with a massive influx of traffic. Often the timing of such traffic spikes can’t be predicted, so news organizations have to remain ready to scale at short notice.

The impetus to move to the cloud came after another news event overwhelmed the capacity for the Boston Herald. When a notorious organized crime figure from Boston was arrested in 2011, people from around the globe went to bostonherald.com to learn more. At that time, the Boston Herald was hosting its site on premises, but its servers were overwhelmed, and the Boston Herald wasn’t able to add capacity quickly.

“We were inundated with traffic. Our site went down and was on and off for about a week,” said Jennifer Morse, vice president of digital operations at the Boston Herald. “We knew we needed to make a change.”

How they did it

After reviewing several solutions, the Boston Herald chose Drupal. The modular open source platform provided the agility for web editors to change and update content quickly and easily, without the intervention of IT staff.

Speed to market for the new site was another factor, as Drupal’s modular platform empowers rapid development and deployment. The Boston Herald launched its Drupal-powered news site in three short months; the team estimated the proprietary content management systems it was considering would have required more than a year’s development time before launch. “We run a lean ship, and Drupal was the quickest way for us to move forward with a new, agile platform,” Morse said. At the same time, the Boston Herald also moved its site to Acquia Cloud, a decision that ensured increased resiliency for the site.

The results

The Boston Herald and Acquia responded together proactively when the bombing occurred, anticipating high demand for its breaking news content. Within minutes, Acquia provisioned 10 additional virtual machines to the site’s cloud infrastructure. Acquia’s operations team monitored the site’s performance and worked with Morse to ensure the site would scale.

The strategy worked. Although page requests increased 10x in the hours and days following the attack, bostonherald.com never faltered. “Our biggest competitor went down, and for a while they posted a single, static webpage to serve requests,” Morse said. “Meanwhile, we were able to deliver news as readers expect.”

And with Drupal, the Boston Herald was able to quickly incorporate breaking news updates to its pages as events unfolded. Editors added video content along with select live Twitter feeds, so readers could stay current with what was happening.

“We have a team of seven web editors who manage the site 24/7. Drupal gives our editors more flexibility. They are now able to move different elements around on the page, whereas before, a developer had to go in and do that,” Morse said. “Drupal gave us the ability to make changes to pages on-the-fly, and our editors don’t have to do any coding.”

And when breaking news happens, the Boston Herald can have confidence that its web technology and infrastructure will sustain traffic surges and be available continuously.

“We had Acquia, so we didn’t experience any downtime,” Morse said. “People can say, ‘I can go to the Boston Herald, and they had the content I needed. They were there.’”

We saw an extreme increase in traffic over those two weeks. And due to the quickness of Acquia being able to implement those virtual servers for us, we didn’t experience any downtime.
Jennifer Morse
VP of Digital Operations, Boston Herald

Company Information

Boston Herald
Drupal user since 2012
Acquia client since 2012
The Numbers
  • Site design and launch within three months
  • ŽServing more than 1 million visitors a day on average
  • Surpassed 99.95 percent uptime as traffic increased 10X