UK government uses ASP.NET for emergency flu pandemic web site
The new online service is under "unprecedented demand", and is subject to unprecedented scrutiny by the media and other critics of the government in a period of international crisis. The government had to get this right, and above all had to make the right choice in terms of technology.
After careful evaluation, the technology selected to deliver this high-profile, high-throughput web site was ASP.NET. The decision is understandable; ASP.NET is arguably the best platform available for delivering a web site today -- and it's versatile and resilient. Moreover, building and deploying an ASP.NET web site is easy, quick, and economical. An added bonus which always looks good on the risk assessment sheet is that experienced .NET developers are plentiful and inexpensive to hire.
On the day it was launched, the new web site had to deal with 9.3 million hits per hour -- and that was just the soft-launch, before the web site had even been publicised through a major national advertising campaign on TV, web, newspapers and radio. Within the first eight minutes the company contracted to manage the service, BT, needed to quadruple the capacity of the system to ensure that all users were able to reach the service, maintaining sufficient connections and bandwidth.
Despite the success of the web site, the government has been criticised over delays and lack of coordination in implementing a wider strategy including a telephone helpline. Britain is already affected by a serious and escalating epidemic of "swine flu" (Mexican flu or porcine influenza). The crisis will get much worse before it gets better -- the flu season in the northern hemisphere (winter) is imminent.
The web architecture for the National Pandemic Flu Service is Microsoft's well-established n-Tier pattern. Essentially it's just a standard ASP.NET web application running on IIS 7 on Windows Server 2008 with a SQL Server 2008 database. The application uses ASP.NET's built-in page-level output caching, the most basic of the caching levels available in ASP.NET out-of-the-box, which allows pages to be served instantly direct from memory with minimal overhead even under extremely high traffic volumes.
This type of infrastructure is readily scaleable. Additional web servers and database servers can easily be introduced to increase capacity, with physical hardware or through virtualisation, and of course you can always add more RAM units or CPUs.
The official UK Resilience web site, which is the general government web site for major emergencies, is also powered by ASP.NET, along with other mission-critical online government systems.
It's reassuring to know that, when it really matters, for instance in times of national or international crisis, we all can (and do) rely on simple, effective, reliable, and robust commercial technologies like .NET.
23 July 2009
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