GovCMS withstands massive COVID traffic spikes

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GovCMS withstands massive COVID traffic spikes

Health Department stands up to a 760 percent increase.

Government websites using the hosting and content management system GovCMS withstood record traffic during the height of COVID-19, as Australians scrambled to find reliable sources of information.

At the peak of the public health response, the open source Drupal-based platform, which government agencies are increasingly using for their web channels, handled as many as 100,000 pageviews each minute and up to 187,000 concurrent users at a time.

The most visited page was understandably the health.gov.au website, which experienced a 760 percent increase in traffic, and on one day - likely when the government ramped up its public health response in March - recorded six million visits.

Despite the huge spike in traffic, which heath.gov.au technical product owner Danni Marlow said was “typically … up to 20,000 concurrent users”, the GovCMS site managed to keep page load time under 2.7 seconds.

“GovCMS’ robust tooling allowed us to seamlessly deploy developments at any time of the day, including during peak times. This allowed us to remain responsive to changing needs,” she said.

“We usually deploy IT updates during periods of low traffic which we couldn’t do during the pandemic. We ended up deploying updates whenever we needed to and it was seamless meaning customers could always access the most up-to-date information.”

Services Australia’s website also held up under a 650 percent traffic spike, which is more than can be said for myGov which crashed in the wake of a coronavirus induced economic slowdown before it was bolstered.

Services Australia communications general manager Susie Smith said the agency was able to achieve this for serviceaustralia.gov.au by working closely with the GovCMS team to increase database capacity.

“In a very tight timeframe, and under significant pressure, they seamlessly executed a database upscale with no downtime,” she said.

“This greatly improved the performance of the website. This supported real people and their ability to care for themselves and their families.”

Other major GovCMS websites to experience huge traffic increases include Smart Traveller, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, Safe Work Australia, and SA’s Department of Education.

Although the platform is designed to automatically scale up during spikes in traffic, the unprecedented volumes saw the need for the GovCMS team to double down with extra resources.

“We had website engineers standing by to ensure the platform remained stable,” GovCMS founder and the Department of Finance’s online services assistant secretary Sharyn Clarkson said.

The GovCMS team also supported agencies by forming “surge teams” to assist agencies to publish information relating to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in anticipation of major announcements.

“These are unprecedented times, the volumes certainly tested us, but ultimately proved the strength and capability of GovCMS,” Clarkson said.

“I’m delighted with the reliability and support we’ve been able to provide agencies, it ensured Australians were able to access information to keep themselves safe.”

GovCMS became a CMS option for agencies to reduce expenses and pain points for agencies delivering web channels in 2015, though websites were largely smaller, less complex websites.

Since then the platform has expanded to cover a wider range of services and hosting options, including both SaaS and PaaS hosting on Amazon Web Services through its provider Salsa Digital.

GovCMS currently hosts more than 327 websites for 96 agencies across the federal, state and local government levels, while a further 46 sites are in development.

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