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NASA ECLIPSES EXPECTATIONS

Over 40 million people visited the NASA’s website for the six-hour coverage of the spectacular astrological phenomena. There were peaks of over 2 million concurrent viewers of the live video stream, with a total of over 12.1 million unique viewers. This is 3-4 times more online viewership than the Super bowl in 2016. The average amount of time spent on the site was between 3-4 minutes – which, for those of you unfamiliar with digital media analytics, is pretty high.

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what did we do?

We developed a high-performing live stream solution that supported 18 live feeds from telescopes, high-altitude weather balloons, and ground-based views of the eclipse from across the country. Additionally, we developed a dynamic eclipse-tracker tool that allowed the public to view the eclipse shadow’s progress across the continental U.S. in real-time, as well as fast-forward the eclipse to calculate the optimal viewing time based on their location. Lastly, we optimized NASA.gov's cloud-based architecture to seamlessly scale to accommodate millions of simultaneous viewers on both mobile and desktop devices.

Nasa
Nasa

how did we do it

The Eclipse Live video streaming solution was architected in such a way that minimized load impacts to both the website’s infrastructure and the public viewers. To accomplish this, our team developed a dynamic video player solution that provided seamless transition between video feeds, even though the feeds originated from different service providers. We did so by having an HTML5 embed player dynamically ‘destroy and recreate’ itself to load selected video streams. To keep the page load at a minimum, we stored the various page assets within Amazon S3 to limit the number of requests being made to the back-end services.

webview webview

For the Eclipse Live shadow-tracker, our team built a custom map overlay that showed not only the shadow of the eclipse, but the different degrees of visibility along the path of totality. We then programmed a time loop synchronized with the exact time of eclipse. Additionally, we added options for fast-forwarding the shadow’s progress, which simply accelerated the timer component, to allow people to see what time would be best for them to step outside and check out the eclipse in their area.

Arguably the most difficult task was optimizing NASA.gov’s architecture to handle the high volumes of web traffic during the event, the challenge being that we didn’t know how much traffic to expect. We worked with NASA to develop our testing benchmarks and then contracted with Web Performance Inc. to perform enhanced load tests that simulated over 1.5 million simultaneous users visiting the website and more specifically our Eclipse Live page. We used the results of the tests to make modifications to our content delivery network (CDN) service as well as some changes to our AWS instance configurations. All-in-all, we exceeded our own expectations as the application performance remained high throughout the event, even when we peaked at over 2 million simultaneous users, the highest in history for a federal government website.

Nasa

Users

Nasa
Nasa

What makes
this page unique?

NASA is the only known federal agency to use the Cloud for such a large viewing event. The Cloud was optimal in this case because of its elastic scalability and due to the amount of unknown users - we didn't have to change the infrastructure because it is elastic and can scale automatically. Another advantage of the Cloud in this case was the fact that we didn't have hardware to coordinate and manage - which ultimately results in cost savings. Commercial has been doing this before but in the federal space - it has been done but it hasn't been available to the federal government because of privacy, requirements. Pre- cloud an agency would have to purchase these things.

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overall impact

We were able to utilize multi channels - web, video, social, tv and multiple video feeds. Reality is this will be more of a mechanism and takes more bandwidth because you are incorporating different channels. Difference from an event like the Super Bowl is that the event is hosted by one broadcasting channel like ABC or ESPN. From there those channels are distributing the information starting from TV and then going out to web and social.

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NASA Eclipse

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