Testing our traffic camera images in the cloud

The way people are using the Internet is shifting: Cellphones are getting smarter, tablets are more easily accessible and all of these devices are finding their way into more hands as Internet access becomes more affordable. We’re paying close attention to this and are seeing it reflected in our own Web statistics.

Wait, a transportation agency that focuses on state highways and ferries is worried about how people use the Internet? Why yes, we are!  

Here's what we’ve seen:

  • The number of people who are accessing our website on a daily basis has increased since the same time last year, from 78,000 unique visitors a day in 2011 to nearly 90,000 a day in 2012.
  • Mobile device usage is also surging. Compared to the same time last year (January-June), the number of mobile devices visiting our website has gone from 4.5 million visits to 8.7 million visits.
  • We now have more than 200,000 downloads of our iPhone and Android mobile app.
Example of one of the traffic camera images that
gets a lot of use during a winter storm.

So why pay attention to this? During the snowstorm on Jan. 17, 2012, we saw more than 800,000 people access our website. That's nearly 12 percent of Washington’s population. What happens if that grows? How can we best position ourselves to handle that amount of traffic, or higher, again?

Building the infrastructure that would be needed to handle these infrequent weather spikes just isn't a good use of taxpayer dollars. Over the years, we've made numerous improvements so that we can function during those types of bad weather days. However, to ensure the information that you need to make informed travel decisions is available whenever and wherever you need it, we need to think outside the box. 

Instead of buying a whole farm of computer servers to accommodate the amount of requests for information we might get during one crazy storm, we will be testing cloud technology.  Essentially, we’re renting the ability to handle that spike in requests so that you can make travel decisions in an emergency.

What is cloud technology? Think of it this way – if we use just one computer to provide information, it can only handle so many simultaneous requests. If instead, we put our camera images to a location that has access to a really big server we can ensure the images you want to see will be available when you need it.

So what does this mean to you? On Wednesday, Oct. 10, and Thursday, Oct. 11, we are shifting all of the traffic camera images from our servers to the cloud to test our ability to make this change.  Testing this now means we’ll be ready when that crazy weather or emergency situation causes people to immediately go to our website to see what is happening.  On a more technical note, for those of you who have linked to the images, you won’t notice a difference; the urls will remain the same.

You may have to be patient with us Wednesday and Thursday, but we're crossing our fingers that you won't notice a thing.  If, however, you do see something unusual, be sure to let us know.