This year's Iditarod race is a bit different from past seasons. Oh sure, there are many of the same things going on, like dogs, sleds, snow, and mushing -- but this year there's also GPS enabled tracking.
If you go to the Iditarod website, you'll see a link on the right hand side to live GPS musher tracking. After a mildly annoying email login box (fake emails work, don't tell them I told you), you get to see a map of the race with live stats of the racers. Or at least 18 of the 90 odd racers. (Not all racers are participating in the trial run of the satellite tracking this year)
Once you arrive at the site, you'll immediately notice it's using Microsoft's Virtual Earth technology, and you'll likely think I'm a sellout. Rest assured, I'm not writing this to point your attention to the mapping technology, but rather a bit about what's running behind the scenes.
The company in charge of tracking all the mushers is IonEarth. Their lead programmer, Russ Ryba, (also a personal friend of mine) was concerned that a race as large as the Iditarod would generate more traffic than their normal servers could handle. He managed to take the raw text data from the GPS units, and using Python, create web pages automatically with simple cron jobs. Those html pages are then pushed to a large group of Linux servers running Apache. Keeping things as simple as possible, load balancing (well, more precisely, load distributing) is done with round robin DNS, and as the server load increases, more servers are brought online.
Could IonEarth have done the same thing with a group of Windows servers? Sure, I suppose so. The beauty is that they didn't need to use Windows to serve all the Iditarod traffic. When stability and simple scalability were the needs, Linux was the solution that made the most sense. For me, it's great to see a company that historically depended on Microsoft utilize Linux when the demand for inexpensive, reliable service was required.
Go Linux! Go Ion Earth! And most importantly, Go Mushers!!!