The Challenge

Education Counts is a Ministry of Education website that provides statistical research about New Zealand's primary and secondary education. It has run on Squiz Matrix CMS since 2006, along with a number of other Ministry websites.

New Zealand Education Minister Hekia Parata announced that National Standards data submitted by over 2000 schools, along with Education Review Office reports and schools' annual reports, would be published on the Education Counts website.

It was understood by both the Ministry and Squiz that this would generate a large amount of interest from media, bloggers and the general Fairfax Media's Stuff website had earlier released National Standards data obtained under the Official Information Act from over 1000 schools - and received 'an overwhelming response': over 300,000 page views in just a few days, with associated stories receiving nearly half a million views.

At the time, Education Counts was hosted within a physical server environment that couldn't scale on demand at speed. Migrating the CMS and all websites running on it to the Squiz Cloud would allow the Ministry to cope with the expected spike in visitors to the Education Counts website.

Before the migration could be performed, three implementation issues needed to be addressed:

  • Due to the sensitive nature of the schools data, Squiz needed to provide a content management solution that would allow the Ministry to load and preview the embargoed data, and assess progress, while keeping the website up and running.
  • Approximately 2000 PDFs needed uploading, along with relevant information about each document. This would enable each document to be associated with the correct school and also produce metadata that could be used as content when displaying the document.
  • A National Standards tab at the top of each schools page in the Find a School section of the website was required to contain one or more PDFs containing National Standards data specific to each school.
Case Study Divider

The Solution

Migration to the Squiz Cloud was a natural step, as the underlying platform could:

  • Scale on demand with no downtime; and
  • provide a higher level of reliability, scalability, security and performance.

Sensitive data

Squiz Matrix's ability to serve permissions-based content solved the embargo issue. By removing public permission from the assets involved and applying permission for the various ministry accounts, security was ensured.

PDFs and National Standards tab

Before uploading the PDFs a PHP script was created to process the documents. A naming convention was agreed upon between the Ministry and Squiz that would allow passing of the school ID, year and version of the document within the file name. The script went through each document and sourced the relevant details from the file name. It then communicated with Squiz Matrix's SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) API to upload the document, returning the newly created asset ID and finally pushing the document details into a CSV (Comma-Separated Value) file. This file was then used to create a database table.

This allowed Squiz to implement the National Standards tab in the 'Find a school' section of the Education Counts website. This section works by passing the school ID to the Squiz Matrix Database Data Source asset which queries the database that was created using the CSV file. The results are returned as shadow assets within Squiz Matrix.

When a user views the National Standards tab for a particular school, the Data Source asset takes the passed school ID and finds any records within the document table that matches the ID and returns the results. The Squiz Matrix CMS then uses these results to look for the correct documents and displays them as links within the content of the National Standards Tab.

Easy administration

The initial PHP script was adapted to periodically check the document list for any changes. If any were found it placed them into the database table and the front end reflected the changes accordingly.

Varnish caching

Implementing a scalable caching engine was an important aspect of the launch of the National Standards online. As the number of visitors to the site was expected to increase significantly, it was important as much content as possible was delivered with minimal impact on the application server.

The Result

As predicted there was a massive spike in visitor traffic to the Education Counts website. It received approximately 300,000 page views, 60 times greater than normal; 25 times more visitors than normal for a Friday - 25,000 visits by 23,000 visitors.

During the course of the day, traffic was monitored in real time. Links to the National Standards release within articles on the Stuff and New Zealand Herald websites were a major contributing factor to the extended morning increase. A further mention on the six o-clock news can account for the significant rise in traffic later in the day. While the morning increase was expected and planned for, the large evening spike was more of a surprise. Real-time monitoring of traffic allowed for an instantaneous scaling of the system architecture in reaction to real-time activity. As a result Squiz was able to:

  • Vertically scale cloud-server resources two-fold and on an ad-hoc basis.
  • Horizontally scale the solution with the addition of load-balanced and replicated database backends.
  • Optimise certain aspects of the implementation in response to real-time performance analysis.

The Education Counts website was able to sustain the increase in traffic. Reserves were scaled up as required and scaled back as the traffic subsided. From an implementation point of view the overall solution:

  • Accurately returned results.
  • Leveraged and added to existing content.
  • Allowed the Ministry to continue to manage their content within a familiar interface without any intervention from Squiz.
  • Minimised ongoing cost for the client.
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