How two Uni Students built a better Census site in just 54 hours for $500

How two Uni Students built a better Census site in just 54 hours for $500, by Trevor Long.

Census fail website

One of the fundamental problems with the 2016 online census was the architecture. Not the building the ABS works in, but the way the computer system built to handle millions of Australians was designed. Turns out two uni students designed a better way to do it in just 54 hours on the weekend – at a cost of just $500. …

Austin Wilshire and Bernd Harzer are both [first-year students]  from the Queensland University of Technology.

Austin and Bernd wanted to design for scale.

The traditional approach to designing web services is “on-premise” – this means that somewhere there are a bunch of computers all built to serve up the content – in this case, census forms.  This is what IBM and the ABS did with the actual Census.

[T]hese two smart cookies went for a “cloud-first” design which can quite simply “infinitely scale”.

What this means is, you use a service like AWS (Amazon Web Services) and the software is built to simply grow, as load increases, it re-deploys itself to continually be able to cope with the demand. Think about it – does go down often?

On the weekend “Make Census Great Again” was load tested to 4 million page views per hour.  And 10,000 submissions per second – insane numbers.

The ABS proposed and tested their site for 1 million per hour. The magic “260 submissions per second” they keep banging on about.  Their testing? $469,000.  Testing for “Make Census Great Again” – $0.

How would it cope with a Denial of Service attack though?  “Fine” – “it would have racked up a bill, but it would have survived”

And that bill – nothing compared to the budget the ABS has spent on Census 2016.

Recall PM Turnbull’s rhetoric about an “agile” and “innovative” country? Sad.

Our elite are inept at everything but a postmodern, no-such-thing-as-truth, mastery of the 24-hour news cycle. And getting into taxpayer funds.

The head of the ABS gets $705,030 per year, or $350 per hour. He spent $470m on the census. The two first year uni students got paid nothing, though they did win a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 donated by event sponsor Technology One. Can we sack the head of the ABS and hire the students? Please?

hat-tip Chris