NASA rethinks Web site approach

NASA home page

NASA, with the aid of content management and caching technology, has begun consolidating content from thousands of its Web sites into its main site.

The space agency has deployed software to make the site easier for NASA personnel to update and speedier for users to access.

The massive project, which began with planning last summer, started with a mandate from NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, said Brian Dunbar, NASA Internet services manager.

"This is really about the administrator's charge to everybody at the agency," Dunbar said. "One of the elements of our mission statement is to inspire the next generation of explorers. He's determined that the Web site is going to be part of that."

The agency has more than 3,000 Web sites hosting 4 million pages of information, Dunbar said. Using content management software from eTouch Systems Corp., agency personnel can submit pages from those separate sites to be published on the main site as well. Ultimately, many of the 3,000 sites will be absorbed totally into the main site, while others will just contribute some content, Dunbar said.

NASA has also implemented software from Speedera Networks Inc. that mirrors some of the main site's content to multiple servers spread across multiple locations. When users request information, it comes from the server closest to the user, speeding response times.

"The NASA home page before we started doing this was housed on one server in the basement of NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.," he said. "When we got into periods of high traffic it was hard to get to our site."

The first phase of the new approach went live on Jan. 31 and quickly got a real-world test — the shuttle Columbia disintegrated the next day.

"We went from [transmitting] two megabits per second to 175 megabits per second in about 20 minutes," he said. "If we had still been in our previous configuration, people would have been coming into us looking for information and most of them wouldn't have been able to get in."

Speedera, which plans to announce a series of new products in the next few weeks, builds content delivery networks using an "edge of the Internet" approach. By housing frequently requested content on multiple servers spread over a wide area, the company shortens the distance between Internet users and the data they seek.

"Agencies like NASA have realized this is needed for bringing order to the chaos of too many Web sites," said Gordon Smith, vice president of marketing for Speedera. "Clearly it's part of a larger trend."

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