Engineering

The technology that powers the biggest online shopping event of the year

Each year, Cyber Monday reaffirms its title as the top e-commerce event in North America, with advertisers launching special campaigns and paying top advertising dollars to attract customers.

Q4 pushes the limits of our Ad Serving platform, campaign registration pipeline and data processing systems, as IX typically experiences at least a 10% increase in daily traffic and triple the number of registered campaigns leading up to this digital advertising holiday. As you can imagine, the prep for this influx does not take place overnight.

How we prepare for Cyber Monday

Our main mandate in preparation for Cyber Monday is quite simple: we must keep the system stable. Higher traffic and an increased volume of registered campaigns leading up to Cyber Monday means that all system components experience much heavier load than normal, and the unpredictability of usage spikes means that the predictions that previously held strong during the year go out the window.

In the months leading up to Cyber Monday, our Engineering squads across multiple offices collaborate to ensure our system is able to scale effectively. We focus on infrastructure and performance, and ways to increase bid liquidity to maximise value for our customers. In mid-November, we institute a deployment freeze until the end of the calendar year, in which the team halts all code deployment and shifts its efforts to monitoring and planning.

Stabilising Ad Server performance

Operations and IT have been working year-round on data center expansions (now touting 10 data centers worldwide) to ensure we have enough metal in place to handle the expected traffic load. Our platform is built around an architecture that uses redundancy and graceful degradation to achieve a high level of fault tolerance. The platform was architected to scale horizontally and handle failovers gracefully.

R&D teams in Toronto and Montreal have addressed the vertical scalability of our Ad Servers leading up to Cyber Monday, ensuring we get the most out of every individual server, ultimately guaranteeing a stable system for the holiday season.

The codebase has been optimised to gain precious milliseconds, giving our DSPs even more time to bid during the auction while spending less resources on the Ad Server. Our event files have been audited and trimmed down to give relief to our storage solutions. A stress test that intentionally doubled the traffic to some ‘canary’ Ad Servers identified potentially troublesome network and memory usage patterns that were promptly addressed, such as tuning Linux’s nf_conntrack kernel parameters.

Implementing creative registration for speed and resilience

In addition to our Ad Server performance, we focus on the creative registration pipeline. Our Kitchener office improved the integration with our third-party creative scanner earlier this year, which verifies that our content is brand safe and free of malware. Leading up to Cyber Monday they parallelised this system to make it more resilient and even faster. Studies were also completed to improve the success of our auto-branding solution in the hope of saving our Ad Quality team some time manually branding our campaigns.

Behind-the-scenes technology powering Cyber Monday

But how do we know if these improvements are enough or if we need to expand our focus to additional areas? R&D, our Operations team, and our Network Operations Centre (NOC), tightly collaborate to make sure every service has a monitoring solution in place to provide insight into its performance. New architecture created in Montreal is even capable of sampling ad delivery metrics in real time. Meanwhile, the NOC team is monitoring the health and performance of our systems around the clock to ensure we don’t have any surprises.

While the effort preparing for Cyber Monday started months prior, the true success of Cyber Monday is seen in the calmness of our Engineering offices on November 26. In the months leading up to this extraordinary online event, the ultimate success will be Engineering having a quiet Cyber Monday, knowing that our infrastructure is ready to weather the storm and come out on top.

Tune in below for an inside peek at why our year-long commitment to Cyber Monday matters:

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