In November following a shaky rollout that revealed numerous bugs, an abundance of error messages, and shoddy navigation, the Obama administration announced that HP would host healthcare.gov instead of Terremark, a subsidiary of Verizon. This transition occurred on March 30 – the day before the program’s period of open enrollment came to a close. This may have impacted another poor website performance on the final day of enrollment. The timing of this switch has, understandably, been an issue of concern.
Changing web hosts under the most optimal circumstances is bound to result in some technical difficulties, and the need for tweaks is to be expected. A site that has struggled with countless glitches and significant downtime, however, has the potential to collapse under the pressure of such changes combined with an unexpectedly high-activity period.
Four months after the announcement, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated that it has extended its contract with Verizon Communications, Inc. The risk of further chaos and complication is precisely the reason for the extension. A smooth transition is imperative and can most efficiently be achieved by allowing it to proceed slowly and purposefully. As a result, the Terramark contract may be extended for up to seven months, with the possibility of renewing the contract in 30-day increments afterward.
An In-Depth Process
For the site to relocate as seamlessly as possible, both the new and old host providers should be actively involved. All files must be downloaded from the old “home” and uploaded into the new one. Before doing so, however, all files should be backed up – there are no guarantees of a smooth transition, and it is advisable to have all data safely stored in the event that something disappears along the way. Specifically, a backup system mirrors the original system and acts as a safety net by taking the place of the original in the event of downtime.
Once the entirety of the site is securely situated with both hosts, all the domain names must be changed. After that has been accomplished, it will take a minimum of 48 hours – possibly much longer with a resource as vast as healthcare.gov – for the pages to load from the new host. In the most ideal circumstances, the data will then only be accessible via the new host, and the account with the old host can be cancelled. For such an intricate process, it’s unsurprising that Terramark’s contract has been extended.
This move may be unrelated to the problems stemming from healthcare.gov thus far. Although Verizon has been blamed by some for the site’s inadequacies – accusations that could have merit – HP won the contract last June. That was months before the site’s tragic launch, which indicates that the inept site is not responsible for the host change.
Nonetheless, there is still considerable skepticism regarding the site. The system lacks a reliable back-up, meaning its valuable data can be lost during a troublesome host transfer. This absence of a backup system, which would mirror the original, may be due to the administration’s desire to cut costs and meet self-imposed deadlines.
It may also be argued that backing up a faulty system is not worthwhile, despite it being home to information belonging to approximately 1.1 million people. Although some level of redundancy is crucial to a successful host transfer, it’s assumed that a formal, secure backup system will be firmly in place soon after the website is comfortably resting in its new home.
Reliable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable web hosts are able not only to recognize such inadequacies, but also have the tools and wherewithal to efficiently respond to warning signs. According to the iPage blog, “Cloud hosting not only helps when something fails; it also makes it easier for you to increase capacity when your traffic increases.”
Is HP recognizing this need and properly utilizing the cloud?
As healthcare.gov’s new host, HP should provide significant support through a variety of channels, as well as sufficient space and bandwidth, nearly 100% uptime, programming assistance, domain names, content management, and analytics. Perhaps most importantly, the official Obamacare site should also be secure, with regular malware scanning and immediate removal of detected threats.
It may be too soon to predict the success of healthcare.gov in its new home, but the extension of Terramark’s contract may be a sign of careful consideration. If nothing else, it relieves some pressure by pushing the contract termination further from the healthcare enrollment deadline. The next few days will undoubtedly result in high-traffic and heavy scrutiny of healthcare.gov.