How can government organisations keep websites live in heavy traffic?

websites live
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Varnish Software explores how government organisations can utilise technology to keep websites live during periods of heavy traffic and why this will be so important both during and post-pandemic

Earlier this year, the UK government launched a new ‘fix your bike’ scheme, offering £50 bike repair vouchers to the public, accessed through a dedicated scheme website. However, for the first four hours that the site was live, users encountered messages stating the site was “temporarily paused due to extreme volumes of traffic“.

This isn’t the first time the UK government has launched a website during the pandemic that has almost immediately faced critical issues. In May, the government issued a plea to furloughed workers to help with harvesting crops – but its new recruitment website ‘Pick for Britain’ immediately ran into technical difficulties.

A similar story emerged last month when online applications for driving tests re-opened in the UK. Over 145,000 people joined a queue to register for just 35,675 appointments, with some users waiting as many as 12 hours, only for the website to crash due to ‘unprecedented demand’. However, the government has yet to recognise that, in cases such as these, demand is almost never unprecedented. Whether making a national appeal for citizens to access a newly launched website, or re-launching a much-coveted service online, high levels of website traffic are all but guaranteed.

As governments continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, they simply can’t afford to have poorly built websites prevent citizens from accessing vital government resources – whether it’s to fix a bike to commute and avoid public transport, fill roles vital for food production, or otherwise.

Luckily, there are some simple fixes that public sector organisations can make to prevent a repeat of the website issues which have become all too common throughout the pandemic.

Caching technology

From decreasing page load times to keeping pages live when web traffic peaks, caching technology (often deployed through content delivery networks) can be used to help organisations realise significant web performance gains. This can prevent users from abandoning their search for the information and services vital to UK citizens and residents during the pandemic.

At times of high web traffic volume, like those seen at the launch of a new government support scheme, a vast number of browsers have to request, fetch and produce the same content for a large number of users in a short period of time. If these origin servers see too many requests, the bottleneck can see websites fail and deliver the kind of error messages that have become all too familiar of late. Caching technology helps to alleviate that bottleneck, storing copies of that information on servers closer to the users, which can serve a much greater number of requests, without slowing things down for everyone else.

By using content delivery networks for caching, organisations can gain full control over the content stored in their caching software. With a correctly configured CDN, government organisations could much better prepare for online events such as website launches and the re-opening of online applications for popular services. Peak traffic volume can be easily predicted based on when announcements are made and services launched, enabling administrators to ensure the necessary assets are loaded on local content delivery networks, ready to be distributed when needed.

As we face the prospect of further localised lockdowns and restrictions of movement, there will no doubt be many more initiatives launched in the months to come. In order for these services to deliver the intended value for the constituents who need them most, governments must do more to ensure websites operate as intended at all times, to ensure every constituent can access vital information and support, whenever and wherever they need it.

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