Hut, Hut, Spike!

Every Sunday during the fall—game days in the National Football League—Dan Smith gets ready to take some big hits. Not on the field, but at CBS, where traffic spikes from about 1,000 hits per second to 50,000 hits per second during the hour before the 1:00 p.m. kickoff.

As SportsLine’s vice president of technology, Smith’s job is to keep the site running smoothly through the massive spikes in traffic. “The consumers don’t know they are hitting a peak, so that’s not a factor in their satisfaction level,” he says. “Capacity and reliability are what we focus on—cost management is second to user experience.”

Much of the traffic comes from competitive fantasy-league players—those superfans who conduct mock drafts, create their own teams and track the performance of their players throughout the season. SportsLine is the leading pay-to-play site on the Web, with 1.3 million members last season, including the fantasy business it outsources for the official Web site. Players pony up $15 to $500 to buy teams, which they track online.

“The fantasy consumers are the most rabid users of the site,” says Smith. “They have incredible hang time—they often stay for more than an hour. Our traffic goes up and stays up.”

Smith sounds like a football coach when explaining his team’s performance: “It comes down to the basics, good planning, having the right tools in place,” he says. Starting in May, he contacts his hosting and bandwidth providers, along with other key partners, to model every layer of the network and identify possible points of failure. SportsLine has built its own suite of tools—based on Oracle databases running on Solaris—to monitor capacity, bandwidth and quality of service. Smith builds in “relief valves” throughout the system, so he can offload certain layers of traffic, such as flash animations, to a partner if the network gets overloaded.

A veteran who joined the company at its 1994 inception, Smith says he is not the biggest fan in the building. “I get so involved in looking at the bits that only at the end of the day do I look up and say, Oh yeah, sports happened today.”

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