UCAS sticks with HP to manage spike in demand on A-Level results day

By Sooraj Shah
24 Apr 2014 View Comments
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UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admission Service, is to continue using HP Performance Center to help to ensure that its website can cope with the strain of A-Level results day.

Anyone wishing to study for an undergraduate degree in the UK must submit an application through UCAS's website. The service is active all year round, but during the week of A-Level results in August it has to cope with an enormous spike in demand.

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"We have a requirement to have that extreme scalability and load level on A-Level results day. So for a few hours on that day, a lot of applications are logging in to find out which university they've got into," James Munson, director of IT at UCAS, told Computing.

"We used HP Performance Center as a SaaS tool to help to support that extreme scalability testing; it was our tool of choice for the load testing of our applications," he said.

Munson said that other alternatives were looked at before deciding on HP's tool, but declined to say what the other solutions were.

He said that HP stood out because "it was best of breed and had a SaaS offering" which enabled UCAS to use both "offshore and onshore resources".

"We felt with HP we could apply high levels of load with them, we could buy licences on a short-term basis or longer-term lower levels of licensing, we were able to ‘delay start' and HP also had some helpful scripting and reports about what was happening to our applications when they were under a heavy load," he said.

For a three-month period, UCAS took 16,000 virtual users, scaling down to 1,000 for the remainder of the year.

"The key point for our service is that we can cope well under the extreme scalability and that we can provide reliability and resilience, so that our educational partners can have a service that is predictable," Munson explained.

At last month's IT Leaders' Forum, Munson told delegates that UCAS had to switch from a complex on-premise infrastructure environment involving Microsoft .NET and Unix among other tools, to a public cloud infrastructure, with services shifting to a combination of Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and Rackspace. This was in order to deliver the scale necessary for A-Level results day. 

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