Founded in 1999, Tokyo-based OKWave Inc. takes its name from the first letters of the Japanese words for “tell me” (oshiete) and “answer” (kotaeru). Together, these words describe the core of the company’s business: its community-based OKWave Q&A website. On the site, members pose questions and provide answers on a variety of topics—allowing knowledge to spread like a wave across the environment. Today, that website serves a global community of users, automatically translating queries and answers into 20 languages for visitors from 150 countries. In the process, it has made good on OKWave founder and president Kaneto Kanemoto’s goal of “connecting the world with thanks and filling it with happiness” by promoting knowledge-sharing on a global scale.
Over the years, both OKWave’s community and its service offerings have grown exponentially. As a result, the company has struggled to provide a network infrastructure that can keep pace with its growth. Indeed, in the years since its last major network update, OKWave has added a significant number of social media and social commerce services, and watched its user numbers and site visits soar. With more than 50 million people now using the OKWave site each month and page views in excess of 150 million, the company was employing its CRM solution to facilitate all of its marketing and customer support activities. It was also using the database to provide a range of services to more than 70 companies. Not surprisingly, OKWave’s network infrastructure was straining to accommodate the increased workload.
It was time to introduce a new load balancer. “OKWave is our core service,” says Akihiko Tanabe, manager of the system operations division in OKWave’s technical department. “If it stops, our business will be greatly affected. Thus, we knew we had to select a product that fulfilled our services’ performance requirements. We also knew that traffic would continue to increase, so we had to consider SSL processing performance with 2048-bit long keys, compression functions, and so on—meaning scalability was critical.”
Although OKWave evaluated solutions from a range of vendors, Citrix NetScaler MPX with Citrix TriScale technology rose to the top. This hardware-based web application delivery and load-balancing solution offered the features and performance OKWave required, it also provided an easy migration from the previous-generation NetScaler that had served the company so well. “We based our selection of NetScaler MPX on two key factors: the ease of use offered by the new model and our experience with the previous model,” says Tanabe. “Not only does NetScaler MPX deliver improved performance and enhanced features, it also allowed the settings from our previous-generation NetScaler to be almost completely carried over. That alone was reason enough to adopt it.”
“All this made it simply too good a value to pass up,” says engineer Koichiro Tsujita, who works in the company’s Media System Operation Group, “Because the NetScaler series maintains software compatibility with earlier models, we knew we could switch between the old and new NetScaler units easily and efficiently. This was essential since we could not afford to disrupt the OKWave service. It would have been extremely difficult to pull off this kind of seamless switch if we had selected products from any other company.” As it was, Tsujita and colleagues felt absolutely secure going into the migration because they had been able to confirm during a month of testing that there would be no problems in switching.
When OKWave was using HTTPS to encrypt communications and securely identify network web servers for scores of sites, certificate renewal was a cumbersome process that greatly increased the operation administration load on OKWave’s web servers. Not so today. With NetScaler, the certificates can be registered and managed in a single location—a huge improvement over the past practice of loading certificates into each web server and updating them separately.
By offloading processes that previously consumed web server resources to the new NetScaler MPX appliance, OKWave has watched its web server CPU utilization rates fall. Says Tanabe, “In the past, at peak times, we could watch the CPU utilization rate go from yellow to the red warning level on the management screen. Now, the utilization rate stays at the safe green level even during peak times, which is reassuring.” Adds Tsujita, “Because the web server CPU utilization rate has been reduced, we can remain confident even if the traffic increases a bit. Before, the CPU utilization rate was high, so we could only set the rules up to the L4 level. Hereafter, we plan to realize load balancing for the L7 level application layer.”
“In the past,” says Tanabe, “the administration tools’ response slowed when several hundred servers were being administered. This concerned me. Today, in contrast, our NetScaler MPX has a graphical user interface that offers good response times and excellent ease of use. I couldn’t be more satisfied.”
Both Tanabe and Tsujita anticipate that OKWave will be enjoying the benefits of NetScaler 9 with TriScale technology well into the future as the company adds more and more services—a task made much easier by the scale-up elasticity and scale-out clustering of the TriScale technology. “Because there are a lot of accesses for the services provided by OKWave, just sending the image files for one site can create a lot of traffic,” says Tsujita. “However, by using the NetScaler cache function to send reference data from the cache, we can do so without substantially increasing traffic. This means we can reduce lead times and introduce new services much more quickly.”
For his part, Tanabe is already looking forward to a more virtualized environment. “Providing stable operation for the largest sites in Japan is critical,” he says. “In the future, I expect we’ll be able to scale more flexibly when traffic increases. For example, if the traffic doubles, then instead of simply doubling the number of web servers, I would like to use just one-and-a-half times the number of servers—creating an organization that uses resources more effectively by taking advantage of the virtual appliance Citrix NetScaler VPX.”
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