De Standaard: down by popular demand

De Standaard is one of the better (Flemish) newspapers in Belgium, and the pioneer of building an excellent web site around a “traditional” medium (even making money from it). That is why it is so surprising that after all these years, they still haven’t figured out how to handle traffic peaks. Nor how to customize web server error messages.

They must have posted something really interesting again this morning (“Nieuw theoretisch rijexamen verrast“? “Belgen bouwen in China“? I can see these thanks to krantenkoppen.be) because their site is unavailable:

“The request cannot be processed at this time. The amount of traffic exceeds the Web site’s configured capacity.”

Three remarks on that:

  • “the Web site’s configured capacity”? Either add more servers (‘scale out’) or make sure your server can handle more traffic (‘scale up’). What kind of lousy error message is that?
  • Did you read this part on the 500.13 error page: “Open IIS Help, (…), and search for topics titled Monitoring and Tuning Web Application Performance, Performance Monitoring and Scalability Tools, and About Custom Error Messages.” Yes, I know it’s embarrassing but do read that part on customising IIS error messages. Create a custom page for all 500 errors that is worthy of a high-profile professional web site.
  • The site of a newspaper is rather static. Let’s say there is a new element on the homepage every 15 min at maximum, and most ‘item’ pages never change once they are created (apart from ads and promotions in the sidebar). This is content ideally suited for caching with a reverse proxy. Even if your server can’t handle 10.000 visitors per minute, a battery of ‘dumb’ caches before your servers can do that easily. If you have no idea what I am talking about, call me.

The Standaard Blog on the other hand is hosted on Typepad, and they sure use caches (look for “X-Cache = HIT/MISS from www.sixapart.com“).

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