Major International Conference Website Goes Down—How it Could Have Been Avoided

At peak times during the conference, the United Nations COP24 website was unavailable for hours at a time, as reported 4 December in Polish media. An outage of a mission-critical website of this nature is the last thing anyone wants.

[Updated 14 December 2018 to clarify the timeline of events and better explain the cause of the outages.]

Full-Length Article at

Düsseldorf, Germany, 13 December 2018

A reliable digital presence is an essential part of modern communications. Websites rely on complex technologies. It is fair to say the COP24 website was not set up to handle the large number of visitors generated by a major international event. What happened here? How can this kind of problem be avoided? How can you ensure that your web presence can handle high traffic and peak demand?

What Happened With COP24’s Website?

The climate change issues addressed at COP24 are controversial in some countries. When the conference kicked off, the infrastructure behind TYPO3 CMS was unable to serve  the large numbers of simultaneous visitors to the site resulting from global public attention.

  • Through 2 Dec—COP24 preparation and kickoff
    • online and functional
  • 3 Dec—COP24 official start
    • strong global media attention and reporting
    • massive increase in public interest and site traffic
  • 3 Dec—Repeated service interruptions on COP24 website
    • The site’s servers and infrastructure, though enough for normal and non-peak traffic, were not up to dealing with the flood of visitors.
    • Server overload due to insufficient infrastructure caused the outages. The TYPO3 CMS instance was running and able to display its error messages, but it wasn’t receiving data from the underlying infrastructure.
    • Even with an Nginx “reverse proxy” in front of  the website (Nginx is a web server technology designed to deal with high traffic), at some point there were too many requests and it wasn’t even able to deliver static assets to the website.

Conclusion: The COP24 website project tender criteria were 95% based on (the lowest) price. This lead to inadequate hosting and infrastructure choices that let the rest of the project down.  To avoid these issues, important projects should be planned by qualified service providers according to realistic needs, not sent out to the lowest bidder.

How Can Your Website Handle High Traffic and Peak Demand?

When building for high traffic, you have to take a number of factors into account. Any of these could have contributed to the problems the COP24 website encountered:

  • Modern cloud hosting versus old-style “dedicated hosting.”
  • Caching to relieve the strain on database servers. Large mission-critical websites typically rely heavily on caching. TYPO3’s core includes caching by default.
  • Optimization. All files delivered to the user should be minimized and optimized for fast download and reduced bandwidth.
  • CDN: Content Delivery Networks. Instead of serving files directly from one source, CDNs distribute media and dynamic content across the globe.

What is TYPO3?

The COP24 conference website was built on TYPO3 CMS, which is an ideal choice for this type of website—if set up correctly. TYPO3 CMS is an enterprise, open source content management system that powers hundreds of thousands of websites in Europe and around the world, with a proven track record of serving secure, high-traffic, mission-critical websites in government, industry, and education.

In an independent study, Google researchers reviewed the performance of all major content management systems. It showed TYPO3 CMS delivering the fastest websites. However, the modern internet requires a number of technologies to deliver websites; these other systems were not up to the task and let the CMS down in this case.

What is Open Source Software?

Open source software is free to use, free to understand, free to modify, and free to share with others. Major open source projects, like TYPO3 CMS, attract thousands of developers and businesses who collaborate on improving and maintaining it.

During the last decade, technical executives—CIOs and CTOs—have concluded that open source is a safe bet: secure and of high quality. Microsoft moved into open source long ago, and recently purchased GitHub, a popular collaboration platform for open source projects. More and more governments have moved to an “open source first” policy because of benefits including improved ROI, reusable functionality, access to local service providers, and more.

What About Warranties?

Almost all software comes without warranties, even software you pay to use. Open source software is freely available for anyone to use, but you are ultimately responsible for what you do with it. TYPO3 GmbH offers service level agreements with guaranteed response times, 24/7 support, projects reviews, and more for TYPO3 CMS to ensure the initial and ongoing success of important TYPO3 projects.

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