Consumers Digest

The Consumers Digest web site was originally designed by graphic artists in 1998. The original graphic design was implemented as a launch point into an Objective-C WebObjects 3.5 application where each link was a “Direct Action” into a specific category. Users could search through tens of thousands of products store in a huge Oracle database. Products of similar types could be dynamically compared.

The site was hosted by Tensor Information systems. When the site went live an invitation was mailed out to 2 million magazine subscribers so they could log in by just entering the subscription number on the magazine mailing label.

The site was able to handle 1000 SQL transactions per second. In the category of automobiles the comparison SQL became so complicated that a cache file of pointers was loaded up into shared memory to make the site run much faster. The entire application was optimized for the best possible performance.

Less than 18 months later the site was given an updated facelift and the engine was ported to Java and WebObjects 4.0. The website featured 4 databases. The first database stored customer information. Every customer action, search and comparison was logged. The second database contained a real-only customer database that was refreshed from the subscription list. The last two databases contained all the product data. One database was live and one was used for data entry.

The data entry and QA process was so intricate that a weekly migration process was used to move the content onto the live web site. The Website was capable of dynamically switching between the two databases without any downtime. Once the web site had switched over to the new content, the DBAs would refresh the old database and then the content editors to get back to work with their data entry. The result was a near zero downtime site.

The web site ran multiple instances of the application. When a new version of the application became available, a rolling restart of the apps would occur. The apps would get a message to kill themselves. They would change all their current sessions to a shorter timeout window and refuse new sessions in preparation. Once they had completed all their sessions they would shutdown and a new instance would come up using the new version of the software. The whole process was invisible to the end user. The site was shutdown as a result of some very bad reactions to other bursting bubbles and the magazine has not had a presence online since.

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