Sunday, February 04, 2007

Websites down

Not a good week for the e-government revolution, at least as far as websites go - a shame in the week that record-breaking income tax returns were filed online. First, the Downing Street petitions website fell over apparently as the Express launched a campaign to ban the "Death Tax", aka inheritance tax. This was a smart move, revisiting the decades old rebranding of "death insurance" to "life insurance." Oddly, the "Scrap vehicle tracking and road pricing" petition has nearly 650,000 signatures but the "Scrap inheritance tax in this year's budget" (referred to as the ihtcrusade in the website's own URL) has only 15,099, slightly fewer than the petition to ban ID cards. Perhaps it was vehicle pricing that caused the shutdown rather than IHT? The road pricing campaign is by far and away the largest petition (No 2 on the list has only 22,000 signatures and is seeking to repeal the Hunting Act). By the by, I believe the petitions sub-site was setup by the folks at MySociety.com. It's a nice job. The Valuations Office site collapsed under load as newspapers published stories about potential re-banding (and therefore refunds) of council tax. Homeowners hoping to reclaim thousands of pounds in council tax have caused a Government website to grind to a near halt. Online traffic to the Valuation Office Agency's website increased almost 20-fold after a consumer campaigner claimed that households could be set for a windfall due to "ad hoc" home evaluations. Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said more than a million people could have been overpaying for as long as 14 years. The VOA problem attracted lots of forum posts in the money world. Downing Street naturally got better press with the "get Blair out no matter what" newspapers, notably the Express, making it front page news, even if it wasn't perhaps their petition that caused the shutdown. Still, if HMRC and the government gateway can handle tens of thousands of complex online tax forms in the space of a few hours, you'd imagine that a website could handle a few lookups of council tax banding or a few thousand signatures.

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Sorry, I posted with some numbers that someone then told me were wrong. Will post again when I know what's right.

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  3. Anonymous9:56 pm

    How bizarre. My post has disappeared.

    Ian

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  4. I checked the comment logs Ian and nothing appeared from you, other than this comment that your "post has disappeared". as far as i know only me or you can delete your own comment. i didn't and doubtless you didn't so it couldn't have made it off your browser.

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  5. Anonymous9:35 pm

    Interesting, I actually saw it in the box. I'll type it in again later tonight.

    In fact, I'll do it right now.

    It's shocking that a government website could go down. There's just no need for it.

    There's an interesting component of the work Chris and I did for you, which used VMWare.

    This came out of an idea I had which I call my laptop conudrum. It's essentially that
    Moore's law keeps on increasing the performance of laptops, but people don't really
    expand their requirements. It therefore follows that one day, a laptop, suitably
    provisioned, with virtualisation will be able to handle the entire content requirements
    for the whole planet, from a single point.

    This goes even further, because people can only really be doing a couple of things on
    the web at once. They click, say, once every ten seconds.

    Though this isn't the case yet, the above theory, combined with the advances of server
    virtualisation gives forth a very interesting position, which would obviate any need
    for server overload on any big distributed, multiservice providing organisation, of
    which the government is a case in point.

    All the government has to do, is mandate a multi-tier architecture. From there the
    departments build virtual web servers, virtual database servers etc. At this point,
    the government hosts them on sufficient machines to hand the maximum load of the
    proletariat, were they all interested in one thing.

    This way, when the country goes mad for Rates information, it's not going to be
    doing anything else is it? Thus the inland revenue virtual servers go idle.
    Since we have a virtual server for each service on each box, the load taken up
    by a popular service is provided from the lack of displacement by the usually
    popular ones who are temporarily disinteresting.

    So all the government needs to do is open 4 or 5 massive datacentres for business
    continuity purposes. Don't get me started on that.

    Ian

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  6. Ian - I think everyone, mySociety *especially* would love such a feature. Maybe we should start a petition? :)

    Tom

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