Obamacare, or how not to implement online services

It’s not load that’s causing the Obamcare exchanges not to work, it’s bad design:

Load problems could explain servers hanging in California and New York … but the drop-downs? The standard explanation for this is “high load,” but high server loads don’t cause your security dropboxes to empty out.

“The drop-down thing is mystifying,” he told me. If federal exchanges decided to populate the security question fields by calling up a list of possible questions from another server — one that didn’t have a lot of capacity — then that might be causing the sign-up process to stall at that step. For an application that expects a lot of traffic, this is a very bad idea. . .

Why would they use such a seemingly obvious poor design?

“It can be easier to make a call to another server to get something when you need it than to implement a cache that you prepopulate either from static files or from the database on startup. Making a call to another server is also something you’d naturally think to do if you hadn’t had to focus on scalability before. The security question page is probably not the thing you’re most concerned about, so you give it to the new hire to do as their starter project. They don’t know what they’re doing, so they implement it the straightforward way … and since you’re under unbelievable deadline pressure to get something working now nobody reviews it in detail.

(Emphasis mine.)

The load they are getting isn’t all that much. Just one order of magnitude more than a prominent blog.

(Previous post.)

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