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A day like no other


Article Type: Case Study          Published: 09-2016         Views: 1211      

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UCAS needed to address a unique scaling issue: for just one day in the year they have to manage nearly 300 logins a second (almost 1.5 million logins during that one day), while the rest of the year required nowhere near that processing capacity.

For students and parents all over the UK, A-level results day is one of the most important moments in the calendar year. This year on A-level results morning some 424,000 students were placed in UK higher education; it's therefore vital that technology plays its part at a time which is already stressful for a lot of young people.

UCAS is an independent charity providing information, advice, and admissions services to inspire and facilitate educational progression. Its services support young people making choices after their GCSEs, as well as those applying for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The UCAS undergraduate admissions service handles around three million applications each year from 700,000 UK, EU, and international students.

The number of people accessing the system in a short period of time is very high and the UCAS website sees a huge spike in usage. At 08:00, when the systems went live on Thursday 18th August, Track, one of UCAS' crucial online systems received 276 logins per second with students logging on as early as possible to find out if they had been accepted onto their chosen course, and in total Track handled in excess of 1.4 million logins during that day.

To meet this demand, UCAS uses the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud platform. This provides resilience and support to students during this heavy usage period. A-level results day is a perfect example of where Cloud technology delivers exceptional benefits, enabling UCAS to scale up for the single day where incredibly high numbers of users need their service. This is also especially cost effective as it eliminates the need to have expensive hardware under-utilised through periods of less intense activity. UCAS has also turned to AWS Cloud technology for a large proportion of its critical back-end infrastructure.

"For one day of the year in August, we need a very high level of processing capability, but for the rest of the year we don't need anything like that scale," commented James Munson, IT Director at UCAS. "With AWS we are able to scale up for that one day and meet that level of demand, and then scale back down."

In order to ensure that the admissions service runs as smoothly as possible for customers, the organisation is utilising AWS's European Region in Dublin and is taking advantage of Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Amazon EBS, Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, AWS CloudFormation, Amazon CloudSearch, Amazon Elasticsearch Service, AWS CloudTrail, Amazon CloudWatch, AWS Key Management Service, Amazon Simple Queue Service, Auto Scaling and Amazon Relational Database Service.

Fatuma Mahad, Director of Technology and Operations at UCAS said: "Hundreds of thousands of students and hundreds of universities and colleges from across the UK rely on our services to make A-level results day a success. This is why we're continuing to invest in our online systems, to ensure UCAS delivers the best possible service to all of its customers. A high level of service is expected from us, and Cloud computing is a technology that's proven to work and that we rely on."
More info: aws.amazon.com

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