UCAS turns to HP to meet website demands

University clearing house looks to handle peak levels of cloud

University admissions service UCAS has enlisted the help of HP to increase its protection against website crashes.

The organisation experiences peak traffic levels that would make many CIOs blanch in fear once a year, and has signed a deal with HP to use its Performance Center on SaaS for stress testing its cloud services.

UCAS, which won the award for the best public sector cloud project at the inaugural UK Cloud Awards this year, has long been an advocate of cloud as the best way to deal with fluctuating levels of demand. The organisation already uses AWS, Microsoft and Rackspace.

According to James Munson, director of IT for UCAS, the organisation’s website has to be exceptionally robust. “We have extreme scalability requirements. On A-level results day, we handle 400,000 acceptances on our site at a peak load of 200 logins per second.”

To stress test the system, UCAS used Performance Center on SaaS for a three-month period. During this time, the system handled 16,000 virtual users. Following completion of the trial, it scaled down to 1,000 for the rest of the year to keep costs low.

Munson said the trials were more extensive than the system would be expected to handle. “We actually tested to up to four times the amount of traffic that we experienced. We also replicated real-life situations by using the product to simulate traffic from different places."

UCAS has to handle two peak loads in one day. “There’s a second load on the day when we open clearing,” says Munson. “Last summer, we had a million course searches on the day.” The HP tool will help the site cope with levels of traffic twice, he said.