How The White House's New Website Withstood Traffic Spike of 250,000 Visitors
GlobalChange.gov is a government-backed initiative aimed at educating the public about climate change and its impact on the United States and its economy. The Obama administration re-launched this website on the 7th of May 2014 to showcase its Third National Climate Assessment.
About Forum One
The White House enlisted the help of Forum One, a professional web strategy, design and development agency, to manage all aspects of the website’s redesign and launch.
Forum One is no stranger to high profile clientele. Since it was founded in 1996, the agency has run more than 2,000 successful projects - almost half of these were for influential clients.
Forum One had already impressed the administration with its stunning new design for the site. But now the agency faced an enormous challenge. Hype was rapidly growing over the climate change assessment and, within a matter of weeks, the website needed to be up and running.
Forum One’s Project Manager Michael Rader realised the challenge was bigger than any of them had anticipated when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) released an international version of the climate change report - and more than 100,000 visitors flooded its website in the first 24 hours alone.
“Suddenly it was clear that there was a lot of attention on the climate issue, and a hunger for new scientific research,” said Michael Rader. “We knew we had a big job, but we didn’t know we’d have such a big audience.”
To make matters worse, the government was still reeling from the launch of its healthcare website, HealthCare.gov. For up to three weeks, millions of visitors were unable to enroll due to technical problems, primarily caused by extremely high traffic loads. The White House was anxious to ensure that this would not happen again - and that Forum One’s hosting solution for GlobalChange.gov would be able to withstand hefty traffic.
William Hurley, Forum One’s Technical Development Manager, was given the task of finding the right load testing solution. The team needed a platform that would let them take scripts generated locally and execute them in the cloud. As they were already familiar with JMeter, it seemed the obvious choice for generating the scripts. But they needed a service that would allow them to upload the scripts and run them from an environment that could generate a significant amount of load. And this is when they came to BlazeMeter.
Preparing and Running the Tests
Forum One predicted that most of the traffic would be anonymous, so they needed to simulate random traffic across the site. They used Apache Nutch to spider the site to find various permutations of content objects, randomized them and ran progressively larger amounts of traffic against them. There were also some processes that would probably not be able to be cached, so the team tested them separately with random inputs.
The first large-scale test revealed that the memory limit for Varnish was insufficient to store all the content at once. As objects were added, others were ejected - causing unnecessary work for the web server.
After identifying the problems they were able to overcome all of them in advance.
“We overcame these issues by increasing the memory limit for Varnish and altering the test scripts,” said William Hurley. “Running from Blazemeter allowed us to generate enough traffic to find the true cost of the memory limit in Varnish.”
The team was also able to draw valuable conclusions from their load tests, such as the fact that they were able to serve an arbitrarily high number of cached pages and that they could serve bursts of up to - 250 concurrent users accessing uncached content at - 80 hits per second.
Running these performance tests with BlazeMeter provided Forum One with two key benefits:
1. Instilling Confidence Ahead of Time
Project Manager Michael Rader was able to reassure the White House that the company’s hosting solution would be able to stand up to a huge wave of traffic on the day itself. He was able to show them that issues and bottlenecks had already been identified and resolved - and that tests had been run to ensure there would be no further problems.
Michael said: “BlazeMeter allowed us to confirm and demonstrate to all the stakeholders that the approach we had taken was correct. The reduction of risk and putting specific numbers and thresholds about performance and scalability was a big help.”
2. Achieving a Problem-Free Launch
At 8am on the 7th of May, the White House flipped the switch on GlobalChange.gov - and released the Third National Climate Assessment to the public for the first time. The report’s launch was a huge White House event and made front page headlines in newspapers across the United States.
In the first 48 hours alone, the site had 250,000 unique views. Following the initial traffic spike triggered by the launch, the website continues to attract 1,000+ visitors a day. Not only did the site stand up to the severe traffic demands but it also received praise from presidential advisor John Podesta and across the social media networks.
“If there are specific requirements and expectations around performance and scalability, it is important to meet those with equally specific data. Anecdotes that your site should be able to handle XXXX level of traffic aren't sufficient,” said William Hurley. “Having been on high visibility projects with and without performing load testing, having the results and validating our assumptions makes for a much less stressful launch.”
The Obama administration is now working on the next major release of its global change report. Following the huge success of GlobalChange.gov, Forum One will once again be using BlazeMeter to ensure a smooth and stress-free launch.