We hit a milestone recently at Ixis – completing a full year of hosting for Haringey Council’s website with 100% uptime. That’s 365 back-to-back days of seamless reliability and performance for a complex and critical website which receives thousands of visitors.
How did we do it? And how can the same approach be applied to other organisations?
Downtime: not an option
Websites like Haringey’s play a major role in the digital transformation projects that many local councils are now undertaking. The aim is to provide a single interface between residents and the council, whereby essential local information can be accessed and people can access key services - such as registering for housing and benefits or buying parking permits – which are all linked to from the website. Ultimately, this drives efficiency and enables residents more clarity and control.
Because many council services are critical to residents’ day-to-day lives, it is crucial for the website in question to be easy-to-use and always on. Downtime could potentially prevent people from paying their bills and council tax on time or having access to critical information.
Haringey Council had already come to Ixis for help with the migration of the council’s site content to Drupal, followed by a redesign and mobile optimisation of the site to make it as intuitive and as accessible as possible. This included working with the RNIB to improve the website’s accessibility for blind and partially sighted people, resulting in the site being the first Council site to be officially approved by the RNIB. We scrubbed and migrated over 3000 pages of static content and developed a high performing Drupal-based Content Management System to manage and maintain their award-winning website, judged Best in London in 2017 by the Society of IT Management. Ixis also hosts and supports the site on an ongoing basis, ensuring that it remains secure, responsive and reliable for its tens of thousands of visitors.
An improved hosting model
The site was previously using single server dedicated hosting, however, this meant that should a fault occur, the entire site would go down. Instead, we shifted Haringey Council to a clustered, high availability hosting model, which maximises resilience during periods of peak demand. With a multiple server model, downtime is minimised or avoided altogether, even when scheduled maintenance or upgrades need to take place. We also moved across to using a popular content delivery network that has the capacity to handle many of the anonymous simple page requests.
We also set up a Service Level Agreement with a 30-minute response time, so that should an incident occur, Haringey Council could be confident of returning to normal operations quickly.
Lessons for other sectors
The challenges that local government websites face are not particular to them, but are also felt in other sectors. Things like the need to present a huge range of information and services all at once, and maintaining reliability and high performance at all times, are common requirements.
Any organisation with a commerce function on their website, for example, needs to be able to offer both smooth navigation and absolute resilience, or baskets will be abandoned and revenue will drop. The same principles always apply. Spread the risk of server fault or failure with a clustered model, and set up a monitoring and support contract with clear SLAs for incident response. The first step ensures that your hosting is set up to be as reliable as possible, and the second gives you an extra layer of insurance should a problem occur.
Our new aim is two years of 100% uptime with Haringey Council!