Preparation for Clearing 2020

We know clearing is the most demanding time of the year for our customers, and that’s why we are doing all we can to make sure things will run smoothly for you.

Clearing is how higher education institutions fill the remaining places they have on their courses

Recap

Steph, our Marketing Executive, updated you on how we can support you during clearing in her recent blog post. In addition, Callum Dickson, our Product Manager, updated you on what we’ve shipped over the last month in our regular product update.

However, let’s do a quick recap, and then share a little more about what we are doing behind the scenes.

Stats show 60,000 students get places each year through clearing, with some estimates showing that we could see up to 200,000 across the country (successful and unsuccessful) – UCAS

We see customers using; forms to handle their applications, call campaigns to make and receive calls with perspective students, keeping students informed via emails and SMS, chat for that realtime messaging to resolve questions there and then – and the bot to automate wherever you can.

How are we preparing?

It’s an unwelcome distraction for customers to worry about whether or not they can depend upon delivery partners during such an important time. You’ve placed your trust in us, and we want that trust to be well placed.

We have been looking at how we accommodate increased usage across our estate, freeing you up to focus on the student experience and driving application volumes.

Technical improvements

General improvements ensure that both the student experience and the admin experience is as performant as possible during hectic times.

Some of the things we have been working on include;

  • Swapping out the underlying technology that powers the event field on your forms. We think this might be up to 6 times faster for students!
  • Improvements to images, with a 3.8mb image which took 1.36 seconds now taking 0.3 seconds to download – huge improvement
  • Introducing caching on the admin side of engage. We’ll only load what we need, making the experience faster!
  • Improving how we manage queues (eg. broadcasts, workflows etc)
  • Introducing a new queue for engage to chat messages, keeping the chat UI running fast!

Plus, loads of other planned improvements for the coming weeks too.

Conducting performance testing

We have scaled our stage environment to ensure the conditions and configuration match that of our product environment for all the tests, giving us confidence that these represent real world conditions.

Technical note; we use both Nightwatch and Artillery for our tests. Nightwatch replicates a user interacting with the platform, and Artillery load tests our API endpoints to ensure these are performant.

Some notable areas you might be interested in…

Submitting forms

We are testing forms to ensure that when the demand increases, we are there to facilitate the increased demand for you. Testing begins at a lower level, with some early tests involving 30,000 responses in 1 hour and 500 responses in 5 minutes.

We have also conducted and passed tests with the same volume for forms with;

  • Workflows
  • Organisation fields
  • Events fields

We’ll be ramping up this testing in the coming weeks.

Running broadcasts

Ensuring that these run in a timely manner is important to meaningful communication with students, so has been a big focus for us. We have found through testing that there are areas for improvement here, in addition to improvements we have already made to reduce instances where things don’t run as expected.

We tested;

  • Single broadcasts
  • Concurrent broadcasts, to emulate customers running broadcasts at the same time
  • High demand broadcasts with tens of thousands of subscribers

Chat widget availability

It’s going to be vital to ensure there are no performance issues with the availability of the chat widget. We’ll be testing that as volumes increase, messages arrive within chat and that the bot responds in a timely manner when involved in conversations.

Workflows starting chat conversations

We are beginning with small tests for low hundreds of conversations starting in five minutes off the back of a form responses, and are increasing this upper ceiling in the coming days. It’s the expectation that we will test around tens of thousands of new conversations within a 30 minute window – and any unexpected performance issues will be identified and resolved.

Chat channels

We’ll also be looking to ensure that message volume from all the different chat channels is handled well too – think SMS, email, Facebook, Twitter etc.

Monitoring performance

We’ve been introducing new monitoring, and improving current monitoring, for areas where we think we can have the biggest impact.

Some examples;

  • Additional monitoring, including for IMB Watson, to keep us fully informed on system availability
  • New monitoring for the RSVP pages, using our newest monitoring platform Amazon CloudWatch

We’ll also be updating our status pages to ensure that you are kept fully informed about the availability of our systems, and the systems we depend upon.

These are available through the drop down menu in the top of the app, but we hope you won’t ever need them!

http://status.geckoform.com/

https://status.geckochat.io/

Scaling for increased demand

Our infrastructure is setup to horizontally scale. This means that our system has the ability to add more servers as demand for our service increases. This is our default setup and happens all year around – not just for clearing.

As we are fortunate to have a predictable period of increased demand each year, we take some extra precautions. For example, we conduct load tests to ensure ensure new functionality can cope with the expected demands (mentioned above). In addition, we also have a window where we “vertically scale” – drastically increasing the size of the infrastructure we use.

Here for you

We will ensure we have maximum availability from all our teams, in particular customer success. Boris Naumov, Head of Customer Success, has been working with his teams to ensure maximum availability for when you need us most.

We’ll also have a full compliment from engineering, design and product available too. Our team will be here to support you!

Summary

We hope that this shows our dedication to ensuring you have a great clearing!

And, that’s it!

Keep in touch, and, as always, reach out to the team via the in-app chat if you have any questions we’re here to help!

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