Planning could've prevented ticket "pileup"
The Denver Post
October 23, 2007 by Kimberly S. Johnson and Karen Augé
A malicious attack? Or just massive numbers of fans wanting tickets?
Either way, experts say, a little additional planning by the company handling the Rockies' ticket sales could have helped avoid Monday's system meltdown.
"I think of it as a pileup on a two- lane highway: No request could come in or out - everyone else was stuck in the traffic jam behind the car accident," said Matt Fanning of software company Microsoft in Denver. "Those few people that got tickets were able to get around the accident."
The problem was the Rockies' servers, which were "significantly underprovisioned," said Chris GauthierDickey, a professor in the University of Denver's department of computer science.
In other words, it appears no one tested them sufficiently.
And the Rockies were not ready for a serious effort to skirt the rules they had set to keep anyone from buying massive numbers of tickets.
"This is not a technological failure, but a planning failure," GauthierDickey said.
The Rockies' ticket-purchasing site, run by Irvine, Calif.- based Paciolan, was overwhelmed with customers long before 10 a.m., leading to an all-out system failure soon after the site was officially open to fans and ticket brokers across the nation.
8.5 million "hits"
The 8.5 million "hits," or network requests, that the site received in the first 90 minutes of availability was a major contributor to its crash. Fewer than 500 tickets had been sold when the team cut off sales shortly after noon.
Fanning and others said the "pileup" could have been avoided, even though 8.5 million hits is considered an extraordinary amount of traffic.
In addition to the system crash, the Rockies appeared to have blocked some users from accessing the site, due to suspicious activity. The team probably determined that sort of behavior by tracking the number of attempts purchasers made from a single Internet address.
Representatives from the Rockies, Paciolan and Major League Baseball wouldn't comment on the how many times a single computer user or group of computers on a home or business network would have to hit the ticket site to be blocked.
Other teams successful
World Series tickets have been sold successfully by other teams using online-only methods.
The Detroit Tigers, for example, last year made their first World Series appearance since the technologically prehistoric year of 1984.
Like the Rockies, the Tigers clinched their pennant in short order and had ample time to gear up for World Series sales.
While they waited for the Cardinals to finish off the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, the Tigers' front office set up an online ticket-buying lottery.
For about six days, fans could go online and register for a ticket lottery.
"Create the window"
"We gave them a start date, an end date and then within a day or so of the registration deadline, we held a drawing," said Rob Matwick, the team's vice president for communications. "The beauty of it is you create the window as soon as you know you're in the playoffs."
Lottery winners "were notified via mail that they had opportunity to purchase tickets," Matwick said.
Randy Cohen, an executive at Ticketcity.com, has experience with surging online demand for hot tickets.
Cohen said he was surprised that the Rockies waited so long to begin selling tickets and that they didn't attempt to limit access in some way.
"Computers can't handle all that demand. It's physically impossible," he said.
What was bad for Rockies fans Monday was good for Ticketcity.com and other online brokers. "Because of the site being down, our phones have really lit up," Cohen said.
Deprived fans hungry
Coors Field seats on Cohen's website start at $550, and deprived fans have been grabbing them. "It's been better than we could have imagined because of what happened."
GauthierDickey said the big concern for the Rockies is whether their ticket site can be fixed in time for the team's first home game Saturday.
"That probably depends on if the company is willing to bring more servers online, ensure their (domain name) servers can handle the load and make sure they have enough bandwidth over the next few days," he said.
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