UCAS moves to cloud for clearing

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has confirmed that it successfully handled a “colossal spike” in traffic on A-Level results day last year with the help of cloud technology.

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The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has confirmed that it successfully handled a “colossal spike” in traffic on A-Level results day last year with the help of cloud technology.

The service is active all year round, but it has to process 15 million transactions in one week in mid-August, representing a huge increase in demand.

UCAS’ IT director James Munson explained: “Last year, over 495,000 students secured a place at university or college through UCAS, the most ever in a single year.”

He said: “Even under this huge volume of traffic, UCAS systems delivered flawlessly and were widely praised by students in a follow-up survey. This year, our latest statistics show a four percent increase in the number of applicants compared to last year.”

UCAS recorded 1.17 million logins over the course of results day on 15 August, many of which were in the first hour of the service being available, at which point there were more than 180 logins per second.

The system is supported by HP’s Performance Centre software-as-a-service, which was used to test against anticipated loads. UCAS signed up for 16,000 virtual users for three months, before scaling down to 1,000 for the rest of the year to contain costs.

Munson said: “UCAS currently has a hybrid cloud infrastructure with around 450 desktops at our office in Cheltenham.”

He added: “Application data is hosted in the EU at UCAS and by our established cloud computing partners Amazon, Microsoft and Rackspace.” UCAS previously used an on-premise solution from Oracle.

According to Munson, UCAS is currently looking at further developing its service-orientated architecture.

He said: “This means developing reusable services and using them across multiple products; such as a registration tool that we can design and build once, and implement across our portfolio of application services.”

VP & GM HP Software UK&I Alastair Corbett said: “To cope with the increasing number of applications for higher education places, UCAS needs a scalable performance testing solution that not only meets the demands for major spikes, but maintains cost efficiency throughout the year.

“With HP Performance Center on SaaS, UCAS can accurately simulate and rigorously test anticipated loads, providing better intelligence to plan for next year’s volumes.”

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