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by Chris Hartigan
Being in the cloud business we often hear the phrase, “don’t let your best day be your worst day.” It’s certainly a risk that any school that hosts it’s own websites faces.
A couple of weeks ago an elite, very well known school in the Northeast had a “best day / worst day” situation of their own, proving that it can happen to anyone. At 5pm on “Decision Day”, the time and day when this school notified nearly 40,000 applicants as to whether or not they were accepted for admission, traffic to their internally managed servers surged. The school knew this event would lead to increased traffic (they had managed through decision days before), but they wholly underestimated the strength and duration of the surge that came that day. For over an hour the school experienced traffic that exceeded their load test of 27 page views/second, which led to PHP running out of memory and Apache’s maxUsers setting being hit. Twice.
As a result the site crashed and for a short – but important – period of time the school wasn’t able to provide sought-after details to students looking for information about their application status (positive or negative), to wait-listed students trying to register themselves for additional consideration from the admissions team, and of course to any other visitors to the site at that moment trying to learn about or engage with the institution.
An hour of down time due to a relatively benign “event” may not be something to lose much sleep over, but for the IT team at this school it was an admitted failure, and certainly for those prospective students who had been waiting for this day for months it was most likely very disappointing and frustrating. And of course this is especially risky in a competitive admissions environment where the “first touch” after notifications go out can be critical to capturing affinity and, by extension, enrollments. The team at this school had thought they were ready – they knew traffic was coming, they had provisioned VMs and they had a plan in place. But the level and duration of the surge left them unable to quickly scale and as a result their site crashed. The cause of the crash, ultimately, was good: an incredible amount of positive interest in the school is something to be proud of. The crash itself, however, was not.
This is just one example of how hosting your higher education website in the cloud can help make sure your best day is truly your best day. IT teams at most schools are outmatched when it comes to keeping up with the complexities of managing a finely tuned hosting infrastructure on a normal day, not to mention a “good” day such as the one experienced by the school outlined above. The level of personnel and investment required to ebb and flow with the changes in an efficient and economic manner is just too great, not to mention way too specialized.
This school had the following reflection after this event:
“The University's core mission is around teaching, learning, and research, and our talents are best spent elsewhere instead of learning how to manage and maintain a Drupal infrastructure. Cloud providers align well with this goal.“
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
The cloud is here to stay and is gaining more and more traction in higher education. And if you haven't used the cloud yet then this is your time to start working with a cloud-based platform provider to host your website.
Together, we can make sure your best day really is just that.