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UCAS should have a cloud based virtual system that can scale with demand

The A Level results were released just before I went on holiday. For me the noticeable bit was the fact that the UCAS system failed to cope with the demand for people wanting to see how they got on. Someone from UCAS came on BBC Radio to discuss this and mentioned the fact that due to next year’s University course fee hikes they had planned for a huge increase in visits but in the end the capacity was still inadequate.

This is clearly an example where a cloud based implementation would get by the problem. UCAS would have been able to increase the resources available just for the period of high demand which is of course only for a few days in a year. Lets hope they get their act together for next year when kid #2 goes through it all.

PS I’m back – didn’t have time to write this in the mad rush before going on holiday.

PPS It’s good to be back 🙂

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

6 replies on “UCAS should have a cloud based virtual system that can scale with demand”

Tref – I agree that it appears to make sense for sites like these, with very uneven demand, to use a cloud-based approach to meet peak demand – it would save a lot of wear and tear on kids and parents at a critical time, for one thing. But would it actually work? How quickly can new instances of a web server and database search engine, as well as the connectivity to reach it, be brought on stream when the existing site is already crumbling under pressure? Is the practical reality that you can turn on more capacity as easily as flipping a switch, or does it take minutes/tens of minutes/hours to order the resource, copy more instances of the web server onto that resource, integrate and load balance all those instances and start providing a better service? Especially if the team doing the ordering only do it once a year and so have little to no experience….

It’s usually just case of the customer logging on to the portal provided by their provider and increasing the amount of bandwidth/storage/io capacity they are paying for so it could be instantaneous.

The same principle would apply for other online resources such as the government’s e-petition site which didn’t cope after the riots and everyone was baying for blood.

Hi, I recently had a similar issue. I went online to book some concert tickets and the website could not cope with the demand. As a result, after completing the booking form, with bank details, I was informed that the transaction had failed and was advised to re-try. With doing this, I received 2 lots of booking confirmation and was charged for twice as many tickets!

Thanks Victoria. I think we have all had similar experiences – or at least close shaves. Often it’s the uncertainty as to whether the transaction worked or not is the annoying thing.

Tref, many organisations are faced with the dilema of building infrastructure for peak capacity sometimes for just a couple of days a year, but cloud can’t be there just to add capacity to an organisations in-house setup – the right architecture has to be in place all year round and the commercial / licensing model has to cost effectively support this. I’ve been head of IT at 2 leading universities and now find myself at a FTSE100 retailer. Whether you’re handling a rush of exam results or having millions of hits during an on line sale, the challenge is the same. Most cloud vendors still don’t have the flexibility or commercials that can make this work, that’s why organisations like UCAS still run things in house with under-utilised infrastructure for 95% of the year that then creaks under peak demand. Lets hope an agile player like Timico can come up with the technical and commercial models that solve this conundrum!

I agree about the need to have the infrastructure in place all year round and very much take noteof your comments re commercial model which I will discuss with our marketing team in the run up to launch.


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