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"Too much" publicity crashes another website

Last Saturday afternoon I was sitting at my PC when I noticed that the BBC published an article on their news website. The article described a service which allowed members of the public to search for “lost” bank accounts. The headline suggested that over £645m had been returned to account owners since the service had started.

In these times of austerity anything that can help the public get their hands on extra cash tends to attract a lot of attention. I had an inkling that this site would be experiencing a lot of traffic. At 14:38 when I read the article, I followed the link from the BBC website to the “my lost account” website. Although the homepage was slow, it was at least working. I decided to explore the site and clicked on the “search” link.

This was when I noticed that the server was struggling, I saw the “undergoing maintenance” error message. After this, I tried the homepage again and I found that all requests from my browser to the website received the same error message. 

As website operators, many of us can’t always predict those days where demand will exceed our server’s capacity to deliver content. All we can do is run tests from time to time to try to establish the break points for applications and websites. It is far better to find a performance bottleneck with simulated users than real ones (simulated users don't get angry, bored or leave you for a competitor).

It is true that complex performance testing of detailed business processes can be time-consuming and expensive; but simple tests that simply request a home page or perform simple searches or user registrations could easily be done in just a few days.

Using a low-cost testing service such as those offered by blucap or other web-based performance test providers problems such as this could be avoided without the ignominy of a public website failure.

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