Section, the next-gen edge PaaS, has built business from the start by targeting engineers who want to program at the edge. Similarly to a traditional CDN, Section’s platform sits between its client’s infrastructure and the end user to intercept traffic. Unlike most CDNs, however, Section offers a modular technology stack, allowing developers to select the right combination for their specific workloads.
Features that Section offers include a variety of security modules (for instance, both rules-based and the latest in AI-driven WAFs) and web performance and application delivery tools (including Varnish Cache, testing tools, metrics and flexible load balancing). Section supports both public cloud environments and on-premises, and offers a license model for customers to deploy a private CDN network using Section’s modular technology stack.
This combination of transparency, control and developer-first capabilities helped the forward-facing platform recently net a large new client, Hotjar.
Hotjar and its CDN Needs
Hotjar offers web analytics tools to help enterprises visualize how users are engaging with their websites. Its popular customer experience software is delivered to over 300,000 websites (enterprises of all sizes, from startups to those in the Fortune 500) in over 180 countries.
Hotjar’s UX testing tools are geared towards helping its users better understand the behavior of its visitors in order to optimize user experience and improve conversion rates. Its web analytics tools include visitor recordings, interactive heatmaps, conversion funnel reports, feedback polls, surveys and form analysis. The goal being “to help you build a strong, data-backed understanding of what exactly people are using your site for, and how they’re using it”.
Hotjar’s offerings are made available via its central dashboard from which the various reports running on user activity can be accessed, including heatmaps and visitor recordings. Heatmaps use visualization to show which areas of a website are getting most attention, and which are getting less. Through tracking where users are clicking, scrolling, tapping and hovering, user behaviour can be analyzed in-depth. Similarly, visitor recordings offer a look at users’ “true experience” of the client’s website. By watching recordings of actual visitors and seeing how they utilize a website, both its optimum features and those areas which need development can be identified.
On a monthly basis, Hotjar sees approximately 1.5 petabytes of traffic and 80 billion requests move through its service. The majority of its workload is static file delivery. Each visitor click on its customers’ sites is sent back to Hotjar’s central infrastructure, which is a combination of AWS, Python and NGINX/Lua (self-built by Hotjar’s engineers). The company’s high traffic volume requires extremely low latency from its CDN provider so that it can offer its customers optimal load times.
Why Hotjar Sought Out a New CDN
Hotjar was experiencing problems with its previous CDN provider, primarily related to long tail latency. When its DevOps team approached Section, some of its customers were occasionally experiencing 30 second load times, which in the words of Hotjar’s DevOps Engineer Paul Kirby. was “completely unacceptable”. Kirby adds, “That was what we were primarily looking to get rid of. Our previous CDN ultimately didn’t have the level of insight or the control that we needed.”
Kirby and his team started to look around for alternative CDNs and began a discussion with Section as part of that process, having been attracted to its flexibility, innovation and promise of optimal speeds.
Its previous CDN fought back when it found out that Hotjar was flirting with alternative providers, and promised a network upgrade. The upgrade led to no tangible improvements, however, and Hotjar reached back out to Section, along with several other CDNs (including the incumbent provider). Hotjar invited the five CDNs to take part in a bake-off to see who could offer the best speeds. Hotjar also wanted help with an overhaul of its infrastructure to allow it to scale more efficiently and reduce hosting-related costs.
Section Wins the Hotjar Bake-Off
Hotjar used New Relic to run benchmarking against several CDNs, including Section and four others (the others were all legacy household-names). Section immediately helped itself stand out from the competition by suggesting moving some of Hotjar’s application logic away from Amazon into the Section platform. Most significantly, it outperformed the other CDNs, including the incumbent, by a significant amount. Load times declined by approximately 50% as soon as Hotjar moved its traffic over to Section, and the performance delivered was far more consistent.
In Section CTO David Bartholomew’s words, “Not only did we outperform all those big names, but the performance that we delivered was much more consistent,” he says. “Consistency in the performance is really important to a company like Hotjar because predictability means that operations and things like capacity planning are much easier to perform.”
Hotjar was also attracted to the potential for containerization with the edge PaaS and was equally impressed by Section’s developer-first approach, and the level of contact and support it experienced from the Section team across the search and engagement process.
Most other companies who I’ve worked with on a vendor relationship side of things have not been very hands-on – you have to get through the Tier 1 support to get to anyone who knows what they’re doing… The Section team, by contrast, has been a great help and extremely responsive. It’s felt much more like working with another team in our company, as opposed to working with another company altogether.”
How Section Offers Optimal Speeds
To deliver such outstanding performance to Hotjar, Section ran on Packet’s equipment. Packet offers various automated infrastructure deployment models, from a bare metal cloud to an on-premises software solution to customized offerings somewhere in between the two. Hotjar now accounts for 2.56 billion requests and 43.TB of traffic every 24 hours on Packet. Previously, Section had not been entirely committed to working with Packet.
Following the benchmark test, however, Bartholomew says, “Section was really going all in on Packet” from that point on. Now everything the edge PaaS provides fits into Packet’s default models. “As Packet expands, their capacity becomes available to us, and we don’t need to do any kind of custom orders or specialized offerings,” says Bartholomew.
A Wider Campaign
The win is part of a wider campaign by Section to broaden its client base. As we discussed earlier this year, the innovative content delivery platform completed an impressive Series A funding round of $5.5 million, which it is now using in part to add more sales and marketing energy to its compact team of engineers headquartered in Colorado (with a further base in Australia).
Nonetheless, even in its approach to hiring, Section wants to continue its focus on a developer-friendly approach. CEO Stewart McGrath told us he was actively seeking new engineers to onboard who can code, ship and run software, yet also happily engage with potential customers during the sales and implementation process. In McGrath’s words, “we want engineers to talk to the customers instead of putting a sales person in between them – since we want to help our customers to fully understand our products and help use them to their full capacity”. An approach that is clearly paying off, and worth continuing to follow.