CUSTOMER PROFILE:

Performance Gap Between Mobile and Desktop Brought Down to Nearly Zero

When the edge becomes software-defined, we can write code around it and take completely new approaches to site delivery, optimization and personalization. Instart Logic changed the way we think about building the delivery of our application.

Greg Franczyk
Director of Software Engineering,
The Washington Post

Benefits Summary

  • 40-70% reduction in page load times on image-rich pages
  • Nearly zero performance gap between mobile and desktop
  • Instart Logic’s APIs allow proactively clearing cache to enable delivery of real-time news updates
  • Capabilities for automated on-the-fly optimizations saves man-hours and boosts performance 

The Challenge

Shailesh Prakash, CIO and VP Digital Product Development, arrived at The Washington Post in 2012 with a mandate to modernize the news organization’s technology stack. One of the first matters he tackled was site performance. “The site was very slow, particularly on mobile. Not only did we want to get the CDN portion sorted out, we also wanted to partner with a company who fundamentally believed in speed as a first class citizen for our digital properties,” says Prakash.

As he dug in deeper, Prakash found that the CDN had become a major bottleneck for innovation at The Post. “Deployment would take 4 hours in some cases. A more sophisticated configuration change would take two to three weeks of process. And we would get billed for it,” says Prakash. Furthermore, creating truly dynamic content configurations was impossible. “If you wanted to make a cache change in two hours that lasted for only two hours, that would be off the table completely,” says Prakash.

Over time, the CDN configuration had grown complex and rigid. “We needed a partner and a technology that was quick and nimble,” says Prakash. Further, The Post aspired to become a software-driven media organization where applications and changes to the content platform could be easily tested and quickly pushed out. “It was hard for us to get our developers to break through our CDN and start playing with their own configurations to optimize new applications. It really stifled our ability to innovate and move quickly,” says Greg Franczyk, Director of Software Engineering at The Post.

This was particularly problematic for the mobile readership. “We are getting close to 50% of total uniques coming in on mobile,” says Franczyk. To speed up mobile, The Post built an adaptively designed “m.dot” site that was fast, but the CDN could not deliver or update newer forms of dynamic content. The m.dot site became a key part of The Post’s audience engagement efforts. “It was great for what it was but we instantly hit a huge limitation. When we built something for web, we could never put it on mobile,” explains Franczyk.

The Post team decided to move towards true Responsive Web Design (RWD) sites which could render quickly and beautifully across all platforms. In exploring this path they quickly realized that CDNs were not necessarily designed to handle the near-infinite variability of image and HTML asset delivery required. “At the end of the day, when you come to washingtonpost.com you come to the content delivery provider, not to us. We wanted more than what a CDN could offer,” says Prakash. All told, The Washington Post wanted to:

  • Leverage software to create novel delivery and edge-of-network real-time content management capabilities
  • Improve speed and performance of The Washington Post on web and mobile platforms
  • Set up a more transparent and highly flexible web performance solution
  • Collaborate with a web performance vendor that was a pioneering and nimble part

The Solution

Franczyk and Prakash had read about Instart Logic and were intrigued by the prospect of web application streaming and an end-to-end software-defined solution. They talked to CDN providers but “...everyone else was trying to improve performance by doing the things we were already doing. And they were all really network services providers. Instart Logic focused on software and an end-to-end solution down to the device client,” says Prakash. “For an innovative company like we are at The Post, it is advantageous for us to look at fast-moving partners that are willing to engage deeply with us rather than selling us a pre-bundled product.”

“We see a very tight performance correlation between desktop and mobile, which is great for us. We want the user to have the same experience on any platform,” says Franczyk. Washington Post hosted its applications on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and used Instart Logic for application delivery. The Instart Logic service seamlessly layered on top of the origin (AWS). By leveraging Instart Logic’s capabilities for automated on-the-fly image resizing, compression and optimization of the size of images initially loaded on web pages, The Post has trimmed significant time off their web delivery.

The Result

After a successful test and moving production traffic to Instart Logic’s SDAD service, The Post team saw immediate reduction in page load times of 40% to 70% on image-rich pages. The performance gap between mobile and desktop versions of the site went from obvious to nearly zero.

Instart Logic also automated performance initiatives that The Post had previously tried to build in house. “We built an internal process to measure network connection speeds and serve lower-res images when network speeds were slow.” says Francyzk. “Now we have Instart Logic do that for us, but even better; they understand the network topography very well and have sophisticated image handling on the edge. It saves us man-hours and boosts our performance.”

With Instart Logic, Washington Post developers can quickly implement test programs and new software components to their website and have them tested and running in a matter of hours. Additionally, the automated image resizing capabilities of Instart Logic combined with the HTML streaming made it very easy for The Post to build and test RWD templates.

The Post has now also been able to get new, updated content out to its readers much more quickly by using Instart’s API’s to proactively clear the cache. This is critical for real-time news delivery when breaking events are happening and readers want to know what’s new now. “We are looking at time-to-live for content of one minute and we are not far from that now,” says Franczyk.

The Post team has moved all of its traffic over to Instart Logic. Franczyk and Prakash are looking to further leverage the software capabilities of Instart Logic to redefine content management and web and mobile application delivery for media organizations. “When we consulted with Instart, they actually added some of our requests for changes into their roadmap and had suggestions for us on how we could improve things. It is a true partner relationship,” notes Franczyk. “In addition, because Instart is a software-focused solution, we can use code anywhere and can try approaches that weren’t possible before.”

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