Preparing for the busy NYE period

Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a busy period for the entertainment sector. It seems that every promoter in the land comes out of hibernation to put on a huge party, and of course everyone wants to be out enjoying themselves at New Year.

So what does this mean for a website like Skiddle? Leading into, and throughout December, our traffic increases substancially and with many promoters relying on us to ensure their NYE ticket sales  go smoothly, here’s a quick overview of how we prepare.

Predicting traffic levels

In the week between Christmas and New Year (yep, everyone leaves their plans until the last minute!) traffic on Skiddle can be expected to multiple by up to 40x the usual levels. This is fantastic news, but creates a unique problem. How do you run a website that handles the peaks in traffic? Well, until last year we had an annual review process of looking at last year’s traffic, then estimating how much it would grow for the upcoming period. Taking factors such as our average growth over the last 12 months, our marketing plans for December, the direction of the wind and some clever voodoo, we put a figure on the expected traffic and then upgraded our infrastructure to suit.

The problem with this, is it’s guesswork! I spent many nervous days checking our stats, hoping that our estimates were correct. Most of the time we were, but often we didn’t know until around 5pm on NYE (the busiest time), and its far too late to do anything about it if we we’re wrong. Being even busier than expected is fantastic but not if the website falls over. And if the sums weren’t right, there wasnt much you could do, except hold on tight and hope for the best. It also meant that come January, were running a rediculously overpowered setup (everyone sleeps and detoxes in January!)

This is the same problem encountered by other ticket agents – you must have heard about See Ticket’s servers being unavailable when Glastonbury goes on sale? Many agents decide that the cost to handle these peak periods is often too high – and if the tickets sell out anyway, why not let the customer sit clicking the refresh button for a few more minutes/hours?

Ticket Sales in The Cloud

Over the past 12 months Skiddle have invested heavily into moving our infrastructure to the Rackspace Cloud. We didn’t make this change without lots of consideration, but ultimately wanted to ensure our service was reliable and robust for both customers and promoters.

We are still cautious of jumping on the ‘cloud’ bandwagon, which is why we went for a hybrid setup – allowing parts of our services to run on dedicated servers (things that remain fairly constant) but moving our web serving to cloud computing. We proud to be one of the first ticket agents to utilise the cloud.

This has been a long process – it’s much easier if you design for the cloud from the start, but the cloud wasn’t invented in 2001 when we launched. Nearly a year after starting this change, we’re now in a position where we can scale our website on demand to meet our traffic levels. It has also given us massive gains in reliability and disaster recovery.

So, no more sweaty palm moments when the latest marketing campaign works too well!  In a matter of a few hours the number of servers we run can increase tenfold, then decrease by the same amount and because we pay for the compute power we use, there’s no waste come January.

Beyond New Year

This setup also means we can confidently handle new events and festivals going on sale, which can cause massive peaks in traffic, lasting just a few hours as the tickets get snapped up. While on-sales can be stressful, they are also magical to watch, with visitors arriving in their droves from all kinds of marketing channels. Thanks to Skiddle’s social integrations, we can also watch as customers buy their tickets, then their friends discover the  event on social networks and in turn visit to snap up their ticket.

If you have an event which is popular and you’ve experienced downtime when your tickets go on sale, why not get in touch to see what Skiddle can offer?