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The Slashdot Effect

Law: Create a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Run out of mousetraps and the world will buy cats.

Q: Is there a possibility of a large number of users?

A large number of users can cripple a computer system. If the application is client/server based or depends on the Internet for delivery or support, the odds are that the number of users is unlimited. Knowledge of the possible number of users and possible growth rates is important.

This is called the "Slashdot effect" because of the tech-oriented news site Slashdot. If a company's web site is mentioned on Slashdot, the web site in question is usually flooded by thousands of interested readers. Many sites have not tested their applications and web site to meet such high loads. The sites often fail within minutes of an article being posted on Slashdot. The result is equivalent to a denial-of-service attack, but caused by curiosity rather than malice.

Reducing the risk is not simple. The problem is like designing a compact car to withstand the impact of a runaway freight train.

Low Risk

  • The users are known and will not increase.

  • Growth is controllable and we have enough time to increase capacities as needed.

  • We have handled the same number of users and growth rates.

  • We isolate public and user parts of the web site.

High Risk

  • Customer count and growth rates are unknown.

  • Capacity planning is not part of the plan.

  • Customers are on the Internet, so growth is unpredictable.

  • The application or user interface is on or easily accessible from the main web page.

Risk Management

  • Plan for 24-hour turnaround to increase capacity. Include hardware, software, and even the telephone company that supplies your Internet connection.

  • Control the growth rate if possible.

  • Avoid telling the world about your product until you can grow to support the world.

  • Layer access to your web pages so that the curious don't affect other areas specifically used by your customers.

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