Case Study

Linode enables Dark Sky founders to spend more time on business functions and less on system administration, as the popular weather-predicting iOS app hits 8 million API calls every day.

Dark Sky’s iOS App provides its users with the weather information they want and need by breaking weather forecasts down to the minute, allowing users to plan their day or week accordingly. The app is powered by the Forecast.io API, a global weather forecast system created by Dark Sky’s founders. Dark Sky provides accurate short-term and long-term global weather predictions, including current conditions, minute-by-minute forecasts, hourly forecasts, and daily forecasts up to seven days. The app sends push notifications on important weather updates and through seamless map simulations; the app enables users to watch weather patterns evolve from a user’s exact location or even span across the globe.

Founded by Jason (Jay) LaPorte and Adam Grossman, Dark Sky sparked from an idea Grossman first came up with while driving across state to visit family. Caught in a sudden thunderstorm at a rest area, Grossman knew he wouldn’t be getting back on the road in the treacherous conditions and asked himself, as most people would in this situation, “how long will I have to wait for the rain to stop?” After an unsuccessful search online for a weather forecast that could provide him with down to the minute weather predictions, he and LaPorte took it into their own hands and started a Kickstarter campaign to create their own solution.

Challenge

Managing large sudden spikes in traffic and troublshooting issues.

Solution

Linode NodeBalancer and Longview allow Dark Sky to keep their systems chugging and fix issues quickly under maximum traffic.

Results

Thanks to collaboration with Linode customer support and a clear roadmap, Dark Sky continues to grow and run smoothly.

Dark Sky
Dark Sky
Dark Sky
"Rackspace is notorious for causing headaches during initial set up. With Linode, we were able to hit the ground running and grow our user traffic in a very short period of time,” said LaPorte.

Challenge:

Managing large sudden spikes in traffic and troubleshooting issues.

As web consultants, Grossman and LaPorte had used Linode for previous development projects and were already familiar with the company’s hosting services. When it came time to choose a hosting provider for their Dark Sky app, they immediately selected Linode as their cloud infrastructure provider and set up one server to build and release the app.

By the end of its first year, Dark Sky had reached 150,000 downloads, and since then, the company has expanded rapidly. Starbucks spearheaded the company’s rapid rise in popularity when Dark Sky was featured as Starbuck’s free ‘app of the week’, resulting in an immediate burst in traffic. Within a week, their service doubled and today, the app has been downloaded a total of 530,000 times, and continues to grow. Additionally, the company now employs more than 60 virtual machines to meet growing demand. Each day, the company’s website Forecast.io receives 200,000 page views, and their weather API serves approximately 8 million weather forecasts.

The sudden spike in interest presented a scaling issue in the early stages of the startup, as it placed heavy pressure on its infrastructure. At peak times, their system needed to answer up to 8 million API requests, but their in-house server was not big enough to handle the rapid influx of traffic. During the early growth phase, sudden spikes in traffic caused Dark Sky’s systems to slow down, and they could not afford to spend critical hours troubleshooting with the other tasks they had at hand.

For Dark Sky’s team, saving time and increasing efficiency on the backend was the critical component to the development of the company and with Linode, getting a single server up and running was a quick and simple process. As the company incrementally built out, they could clone their preexisting Linode servers and end up with a cloud of VMs with Linode scaling to the apps needs.

Solution:

Linode NodeBalancer and Longview allow Dark Sky to keep their systems chugging and fix issues quickly under maximum traffic.

As web consultants, Dark Sky’s co-founders were familiar with their hosting options, but turned to Linode for its simplicity, new developer tools and famed customer support. As LaPorte had various projects at the time, he needed a solution that would enable him to spend less time managing Dark Sky’s backend, and more time on his business responsibilities. He knew that should they encounter any issues, he could work with Linode’s readily available support team to navigate his way through any challenge.

Dark Sky realized that installing Linode NodeBalancer, a highly available, managed and cloud-based, ‘load balancer as a service’ in front of the server would seamlessly resolve the scalability problem Dark Sky faced. Using NodeBalancer enabled them to distribute workloads across backend Linodes, encrypt data and provide SSL termination, while providing more flexibility.

“We set up a few Linodes as webservers for app and API customers who connected to them directly,” said LaPorte. “As we scaled initially, we became overloaded and were dropping a lot of requests. We had seen NodeBalancer before, but didn’t think we needed it at first. However, our situation quickly changed as we grew in popularity and, we found that NodeBalancer made huge jumps in traffic much more manageable."

In December 2013, Dark Sky servers began to slow down, however LaPorte and Grossman were not sure what the issue was while manually troubleshooting the issue would take up almost a day of valuable time. LaPorte turned to the free version of ‘Longview’, Linode’s new server monitoring solution, to troubleshoot their system.

“Server monitoring is always an issue for startups and other solutions are very difficult to set up and maintain,” said LaPorte. “When our systems started to bog down again, we needed to quickly find and fix the bug, and once more, Linode solved the problem with its Longview solution by allowing us to quickly identify the problem in five minutes and remedy the issue. Our app is one in which many of the users tend to use simultaneously (during bad weather periods) so handling large loads of concurrent users was crucial to our early success.”

Results:

Thanks to collaboration with Linode customer support and a clear roadmap, Dark Sky continues to grow and run smoothly.

According to LaPorte, working with Linode has been invaluable to Dark Sky. Linode’s pricing, variety of developer solutions, simplicity, world-class customer support, and scalability are instrumental to the success of a small company such as Dark Sky. Using Linode compared to a hosting company like RackSpace, LaPorte has been able to save immeasurable hours on maintenance and configuration.

“Rackspace is notorious for causing headaches during initial set up. With Linode, we were able to hit the ground running and grow our user traffic in a very short period of time,” said LaPorte. “Everything we needed was right there, and unlike many other hosting companies, Linode keeps it simple and cost-effective. There are no hidden surprises or upfront complexities that require extra unexpected time to figure out.”

NodeBalancer allows Dark Sky to automatically scale as needed in order to meet growing demand, while also monitoring the health of existing Linodes. If the Dark Sky team encountered an issue with their servers, they were able to rely on Longview’s free version to quickly troubleshoot the cause, and fix it within minutes.

“For us, NodeBalancer was a Godsend. Once we installed it, we went from being completely overloaded to being able to easily fulfill requests,” said LaPorte. “Dark Sky was able to function as we had intended and our servers took barely any time to maintain. For a company of our size, saving time is essential, and with NodeBalancer, installation took less than 30 minutes, where as other solutions can take days to install and even longer to maintain on an ongoing basis. Linode just keeps on chugging by itself and it gives us peace of mind knowing that it can handle whatever our users throw at it.”

Linode’s customer support has also been crucial to Dark Sky. Most vital is their willingness to collaborate with LaPorte and Grossman to work through issues they encounter, even helping to come up with alternative solutions for their startup. “They are responsive to our questions, we collaborate on fixing issues and we can request features that we need,” said LaPorte. “Most importantly, with Linode, we have a roadmap and know what to expect in the future.”

LaPorte concludes, “The support has been the most important feature for us, with simplicity coming in second. For someone like me who wears a lot of hats, the less time I spend on the backend, the better. Linode’s products, particularly NodeBalancer and Longview, have saved us valuable time and resources, which for a young startup like us, it’s crucial. Linode’s extraordinary support has enabled our company to plan accordingly for any issues we come across while growing our company and expanding our server. Without question, Linode is the premiere hosting solution for fast growing companies looking to spend more time on their business and less managing the backend.”