Federal govt collaborates on web traffic spikes

Updated: Talks surround potential internal government Cloud

The Department of Human Services has voiced support for an internal Cloud based on existing infrastructure shared and virtualised between Federal Government agencies, as a means of dealing with spikes in traffic on major government websites.

According to the department’s deputy secretary of IT infrastructure, John Wadeson, talks with other agency CIOs were ongoing about such an arrangement.

“We’re working away at the back-end... some people are calling it a government Cloud of sorts,” he said. “We are trying to get ahead of the game in massive provisioning of infrastructure.

“That’s gong to be a slow process.”

The internal Cloud would be extraneous to attempts by lead shared services agency, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), to push eventual moves to external private, hybrid and public Cloud models across government for certain applications.

In clarifying, John Wadeson told Computerworld Australia in an email that the proposed infrastructure could constitute a Cloud.

"The way our virtualisation is progressing we should be easily able to share capacity across agencies, responding to periods of high demand," he said. "We are building an infrastructure which has many of the attributes of Cloud Computing for example, highly virtualised, large capacity."

The arrangements would allow departments to share resources in order to cope with both scheduled and unscheduled peaks in traffic throughout the year. Wadeson pointed to pressures on Human Services IT resources during the recent floods in Queensland as an example of such a time.

He said servers had to cope with 225,000 people attempting to access the site in a single day during January, surpassing the previous record on 8 December 2008 when the Federal Government handed out lump sum stimulus payments. Total traffic across the month more than doubled on average over the same period in 2010.

The traffic placed extra pressure onto the IT requirements of the department, which was using office-in-a-box infrastructure to deploy Centrelink recovery centres in Queensland towns to process payments to those affected.

Wadeson told those at the Communications Alliance’s Broadband and Beyond 2011 conference this week that the flood disasters proved one of the department’s strongest efforts so far and was a reason for continued focus on boosting internal infrastructure.

“If you don’t meet those peaks you may as well fail all of the time,” he said.

However, in instances where the infrastructure wasn’t being used for those agencies it governs, Wadeson said an internal government Cloud could be used to handle similar traffic spikes witnessed by the Australian Tax Office during reporting season.

Human Services forms one of the largest agency groups in the Federal Government, comprising a PC fleet of nearly 56,000 desktop computers and 2650 IT staff. Its massive infrastructure, currently under consolidation from seven data centres to two, has also been a catalyst for in-sourcing infrastructure from agencies such as the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Other, smaller agencies had also approached the department for similar in-sourcing agreements, particularly for website infrastructure, but Human Services has been unable to cope with the extra staffing pressures.

The government - including individual agencies and lead shared services agencies AGIMO - are yet to confirm any plans to share such infrastructure, but Wadeson has hinted that such a method could be possible on several instances.

However, he said any investment in government infrastructure and websites was necessary, even if to handle small, infrequent traffic spikes.

“For the first hours of a [government website’s] existence, it will probably face an impact of probably 100 times more than it will ever reach in its lifetime,” he said.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags CloudDepartment of Human ServicesJohn WadesonBroadband and Beyond 2011

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