How a legal blog survived traffic tidal wave after court's healthcare ruling


In the weeks leading up to the decision, Mallory worked with a hired team of developers to optimize the website's Java code, install the latest plugins and generally tune up the site. Mallory realized that wouldn't be enough, though.

No one knew for sure when the high court would release the most anticipated Supreme Court case in years, but each day it didn't happen there was a greater chance it would come down the next day. Traffic steadily climbed leading up to the big day: The week before the ruling the site saw 70,000 visitors. Days before the decision, the site got 100,000. "It became clear we weren't going to be able to handle the traffic we were expecting to see when the decision was issued," Mallory says.

A week before the decision, Mallory reached out to Sound Strategies, a website optimization company that works specifically with WordPress. The Sound Strategies team worked throughout the weekend recoding the SCOTUSblog site again, installing high-end caching plugins, checking for script conflicts and cleaning out old databases from previous plugins that had been removed. The team also installed Nginx, the open source Web server, to run on the Media Temple hardware.

All of the improvements helped, but when the decision did not come on Tuesday, July 26, it became clear that Thursday, July 28, the last day of the court's term, would be decision day. Mallory was getting worried: Earlier in the week SCOTUSblog suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack targeting the website. That couldn't happen on Thursday, when the court would issue the ruling. "This was our time, it just had to work," Mallory says.

The night before decision day, Mallory and Sound Strategies took drastic measures. Mallory estimated the site could see between 200,000 and 500,000 hits the next day, so the group decided to purchase four additional servers from Media Temple, which Sound Strategies configured overnight. SCOTUSblog ended up with a solution Thursday morning that had a main server acting as a centralized host of SCOTUSblog, with four satellite servers hosting cached images of the website that were updated every six minutes. A live blog providing real-time updates -- which was the first to correctly report the news -- was hosted by CoveritLive, a live blogging service.

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