Last night, at 11:04 pm Eastern, well after I turned in for the night, I got an email alert saying that one of my clients’ sites went down. I received another a mere nine minutes later indicating that their site was back up, followed by a note from our head of hosting, Zach Peer, that their site had received a huge spike in web traffic that had initially disabled the site. He was investigating the source of the traffic and would block any malicious crawlers, as we often see in distributed denial of service attacks (often referred to as DDOS).
The site automatically failed over to a disaster recovery environment. Zach and his team quickly determined that the traffic was not malicious, and that it was all directed at one particular biography. Instead of blocking traffic, he resized their server to allow for a higher volume of traffic coming to the site.
A snapshot of the firm’s website traffic from 8PM to 11PM
My client never reached out. They may or may not have been aware that the site was down for a few short minutes. What matters is that behind the scenes, our hosting team was doing their job.
So, what happened?
Last night, Doug Jones won the Alabama Senate Race election in a heated race that caught the attention of the entire country. At 10:00 pm Central, he thanked a number of people in his victory speech that were influential in his campaign. Among the short list, he called out Giles Perkins, who he dubbed the “Yoda of the campaign.”
A quick Google search will tell you that Giles Perkins is a partner in Adams and Reese’s Government Relations practice in their Birmingham office, as well as the former Executive Director of the Alabama Democratic Party. His biography on the firm’s site is the first result you see when you do a Google search on his name. Apparently, much of politically tuned-in America Googled his name at the same time and clicked on that very same link.
Fortunately, One North hosts the Adams and Reese site and our hosting team went into action. We quickly determined that we were not dealing with a denial of service attack, but rather, widespread interest in one particular page on one of our hosted sites.
We’ve seen this happen in the past with high-profile law firm partners who have become embroiled in scandals, or who represent high-profile clients who show up in the news day after day. I remember one of our sites having a similar issue many years ago after Above the Law published their sexiest law firm award. Zach had to remind our own employees not to click on their site!
Being mentioned on live TV leads to much more intense traffic surges than being mentioned in a news article. One of our hosting capabilities, besides having a disaster recovery plan in place, is dynamically-sizing web servers to meet peak load. If we know about an anticipated spike in traffic, we can be proactive and resize servers ahead of time.
In this case, I doubt that Giles Perkins knew that Doug Jones would be giving an acceptance speech, or that he’d be called out by name. Nor do I think that he is aware that One North’s hosting team was actively working to ensure that the world would continue to be able to access his biography late into the night yesterday.
When done right, managed hosting services should go unnoticed. Quickly and quietly, our hosting team ensures that website access remains unfettered. It should be one thing that a professional services marketing team is able to outsource and trust fully, so that everyone can get a good night’s sleep … except maybe our hosting team.