Election Day is less than a week away. Voters are evaluating their options with every piece of new information as everyone gets ready to choose the next group of leaders. Federal government and various local agencies across the country are preparing for the operational aspects of the election. Candidates, news companies, election analysts and Government agencies are increasingly using their websites and social media to share information and communicate with voters.
Irrespective of political inclinations, we can all agree that slow or unavailable websites or phone apps can be a huge deal breaker during the height of the election season. Whether it’s your favorite news media site or a state government website, site availability issues can lead to frustrated users and expensive media backlash.
The peculiar case of Government websites
In June, the British government learned that the hard way when the official voter registration website crashed after more than the anticipated number of people tried to register for the ‘Brexit’ referendum.
British officials said that the number was more than seven times of those who had applied the previous week.
The British government understood the significance of the situation and extended the deadline for voter registration. But the website crash aggravated already emotional voters and implied “insensitivity and unpreparedness” on the British Government’s part, adding air to the flames.
Overwhelmed web servers crashing due to a sudden traffic surge is certainly not desired across any industry vertical. So why is it trickier in the case of Government websites? They typically don’t get a large amount of web traffic on regular days. So even though they take all standard measures of performance before and after deployment, they may not be prepared for the upcoming onslaught of traffic.
Need for the elastic load and stress testing
This calls for understanding the average traffic of the website, projecting the highest amount of web traffic and being prepared for the traffic surge.
Recently, a government agency wanted to test the robustness and stability of their web servers under a massive amount of traffic – close to 150 percent of their average hourly traffic. They also wanted to test various navigation paths or user scenarios across the web application and ensure that the website can sustain the traffic surge across all user scenarios without crashing.
SmartBear Software performed a 100,000 virtual user load test on the agency’s web servers using LoadComplete, the company’s easy-to-use yet comprehensive load testing tool for creating and running automated load tests for web servers and services. LoadComplete helped record and playback typical user transactions on the web app and simulated thousands of virtual users that sent recorded requests to the tested server concurrently.
End user experience monitoring during load testing
While running the load test, SmartBear’s best-in-class synthetic monitoring platform, AlertSite, parallel monitored the web application at the browser level. AlertSite’s built in web recorder, DejaClick, was used to record the key user scenarios and monitored them from AlertSite’s independent global monitoring network while running the load test. This allowed witnessing the website availability and performance as well as end user experience metrics under overwhelming traffic. With the data gathered from the load test and application performance monitoring, the agency was able to identify performance bottlenecks on their app server and web server tiers and tweak their configuration and infrastructure to address those issues prior to Election Day. But the job isn’t over. Another round of load test are running in next few days to validate the recent improvements, so they can face the Election Day with confidence.
Tips for Those in Charge of Election Websites and Applications
This election is stressful enough, so don’t add last minute web performance issues to the mix. Here are some tips to ensure smooth web performance on November 8 and beyond:
- Find the most traversed paths of your website: Make sure you understand all key usage paths of your website so that you test application and production infrastructure appropriately.
- Make sure to degrade gracefully: Nobody can deny the possibility of some unforeseen performance issues. The recent DDoS attacks are still fresh in our memories. Make sure the end user experience is not compromised in case of performance degradation.
- Make sure to project expected traffic correctly: Test your application against 125-150 percent of your anticipated load in order to identify the bottlenecks and are ready with software, hardware and/or both to handle the surge.
- End user experience is crucial: Make sure to monitor the end user experience in parallel of your load and stress tests in order to see what an actual end user will see under the increased traffic. Make the business determination if it is acceptable and develop alternatives, if needed. Seeing a slow web page on a browser is far more informative and impactful that looking at a response time number to determine if it is acceptable.
- Load and stress test at the right time: Don’t deploy new software before you know what it can and cannot support - don’t sacrifice performance and scalability for expediency. Most importantly, determine the right time and when is it too late to load test for your particular business need.
No matter what time of year, however, these tips help ensure website availability and an optimum experience for users whenever they hit your website.