Web Interaction, Reliability and Scale

As we move toward systems with greater web interactivity, I feel it’s important to consider reliability and scale.

Just this weekend, our web interface for the Destiny library database is acting up again. It runs on Tomcat Apache, not IIS, and this has been causing some reliability issues. It’s not a major interface, carrying a major load, but it is having problems allowing web searches of the database.

On a step up, our Moodle system is having load issues, primarily in the realm of overloading the CPU when a certain number of students are online simultaneously. Currently, our load on the system is only around 30 percent of what it will be in the future, so obviously we’re looking for solutions that can scale appropriately.

As I research web portals, the norm now seems to be hosted solutions instead of in-house servers, and this is becoming less and less of a controversy. Their facilities should have more redundancy, larger pipes to the Internet, better fire systems and fall-backs. The portals may speak and interact with our databases, but the front-line information is hosted and shared by them.

Before we go too far with planning serious online database interfaces, it’s worth taking a moment to think about load, scale and reliability. Any academic content management system, for example, will eventually be larger and more important than the email system, and it should be planned for accordingly. Web portals into Student Information Systems fall into the same league. So, in the future, we may have more mission critical systems, doing a greater volume of work, and we need to be realistic about the facilities and staffing needed to do this in-house vs. hosted.

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