Florida IT staffers try to cope with Web site overload

Computer World –

Before yesterday's presidential election, the information technology staffers at the Florida Department of State knew they would be in for a busy night as hordes of Internet users visited the agency's Web site to check the results in what was expected to be a key battleground between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

But by 7 a.m. this morning -- with Florida's winner still unclear and the whole election hanging in the balance -- traffic on the department's Web servers was three times above the normal election load, and IT workers were scrambling to add more resources to keep the site from completely bogging down.

"It's so overloaded right now, you just get a message [that says], 'Too busy, too busy, too busy,' " said one IT staffer, who quickly handed off inquiries to Florida Department of State CIO Gene Bryan.

Noting that the agency's three Web servers already had received a total of about 1.5 million hits as of 7 a.m. today, Bryan said he has no idea how much traffic will be generated today as users look for information on the recount that's now taking place in Florida. "I wouldn't venture a guess," he said.

A spokesman at the Florida State Technology Office, which is a separate agency from the Florida Department of State, said late this morning that the number of hits was up to 3.5 million and counting. Bryan couldn't be immediately reached to confirm that updated number.

The Florida Web site may have gotten a boost early this morning from NBC, which showed a live shot of the department's election results page as part of its television coverage.

The Florida Department of State's Web site gets 400,000 to 500,000 visitors in a typical election, and Bryan said he expected that yesterday's balloting might produce as many 700,000 hits. To prepare for the increased load, he added, the department had IT staffers working in its data center throughout the night to ensure that the Web site ran smoothly.

But the department couldn't have anticipated that Florida would become the epicenter of an undecided election, with interest in the results there soaring beyond any reasonable expectations. "There's not a whole lot you can do other than just get through the night and try to regroup in the morning to get some additional resources to handle the workload," Bryan said.

The department hoped to add a fourth Web server around midday to help ease the crunch. "Hopefully, quite a few people are getting in and only a few are getting a busy signal," Bryan said. "Nobody expected this. Of course, nobody expected the vote to be so darn close all over the country."

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