Premier Support Helps Keep Santa Flying


norad

Each year, NORAD Tracks Santa across the globe in an event that captures the heart of children and adults worldwide. Families can take part using a range of applications and devices to watch Santa’s progress in real time. Premier ADMs, Chris Mason, Bernard Apolinario, and developer consultant Geoff Gray share a glimpse of what goes into keeping Santa flying during this magical event.


Overview

Since 2012, Premier Support for Developers (PSfD) has been helping with the yearly NORAD Tracks Santa event. This fun, community project involves a collaboration of our implementation partners: iLink Systems, Inc. and Analytical Graphics, Inc., Bing Maps, and different components of our organization including support and guidance from Application Development Managers (ADM), testing from our Premier Developer Consulting Team, and finally support from Azure Rapid Response during the peak usage of the site on Christmas Eve.

How Santa Flies

The tracking of Santa is accomplished through a multi-region deployment of the application to Azure in data centers around the world which are all load balanced. To handle the scale of the site which has 10s of millions of visitors on Christmas Eve alone, we rely on Azure’s scaling capabilities to expand the different parts of the application up and down accordingly. Planning for that scale involves the collaboration of iLink Systems, Inc., AGI, Bing Maps, and the PSfD ADM team. Together we work on identifying the appropriate cloud patterns and scaling solutions we should be using to handle the demand. But a very key component in making sure Santa’s flight is as smooth as possible, is we do rigorous load testing in advance.

Testing the Application

About two months before the main event, we engage our PSfD consulting team to leverage their expertise load testing the application. Our test consultants, who have been working on this project for years, built out a full cloud-based testing environment. We used a Visual Studio Web and Load Performance project to drive load against the site and perform some tuning and optimization. The test harness provided a throughput of more than 10 million requests per hour sustained with peaks up to 12,000 requests/second. For more information on the processes we use to design and execute load tests, please visit the Testing the Testing Strategy blog site.

Day of the Event

During the Christmas Eve event which starts at midnight Mountain Time and runs 26 hours, we have round-the-clock support with a volunteer staff of ADMs and our Azure Rapid Response (ARR) team. Our ADMs work in 2 hour shifts where they will join an on-going bridge, monitor the site through the various analytics available in the Azure portal, and work with ARR to resolve any issues that might arise.

If there is an issue, the support team will be in communication with NORAD to provide details on the case and help drive an action plan, developed with the ARR support staff and others including the Azure product group, to resolution.

Future Plans

While the current application architecture is simple, it does not mean that we are always going to keep it that way. Our ADMs are working with iLink Systems, Inc. and AGI to design and plan for the next generation architecture of the application. One area we are actively exploring is the use of a Microservices solution. This would allow the application to have more fine-grained control over scaling and maintenance as it continues to evolve over time. ADMs and our Premier Consulting team will bring the guidance and best practices approach to allow Santa to keep flying every year.

Closing

This is just an example of how we collaborate across teams and with partners to support one of our valued customers, but this is not unique to NORAD.  The capabilities and offerings that we leveraged to support this project can be used to support all our partners and customers.  To find out more, and see how PSfD can potentially help your organization, watch our Taste of Premier video on Channel 9.  You can also contact your ADM or TAM as well email us directly for additional information.

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