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Making exam time go more smoothly with flexible AWS hosting

Doctor with a child


The RCPCH is at the forefront of both medicine and education. Founded in 1928 and receiving Royal College status in 1996, they are the UK's foremost experts on children's health. 

We initially spoke to them via our friends at NDP Studio. Consequently, they were building them a new Drupal 8 website that needed a home. They have a particularly interesting traffic issue which made them perfect for AWS AutoScaling Groups.

A few times a year, the RCPCH releases exam results. These are for students and medical professionals who have taken RCPCH courses. The release of results places an enormous load on an otherwise moderately busy website. But, only for a few days. Because anxious scholars want to know how they've done! Of course, the college cannot keep the infrastructure running all year round just to cater for this short time. During this period, they receive tens of thousands of more visits than usual. Here is where AutoScale came in.


Using the AWS EC2 AutoScaling Groups feature, we grew their capacity to cope with these exam time spikes for one week. Then it scaled back down afterwards. In this way, we avoided student frustration where the website might crash and they wouldn't be able to retrieve their results. What's more, we did it so without breaking RCPCH's budget.

Of course, there's more to it than simply adding more servers to the EC2 cluster. You have to think of and scale everything. So, we worked out scaling strategies for the RDS database and the Elasticache instances. These supported their EC2 webserver cluster because they needed to scale too. 

Furthermore, we worked with RCPCH and NDP Studio to discover and optimise external services used by the website. We did this to ensure they did not become a bottleneck for page delivery. It's no good getting Drupal scaled up to take the load if a back end API call to a certifying body can't cope behind the scenes.

Additionally, it's worth noting we also provide Drupal support on occasion to the gang at NDP. If they need some assistance with a particularly tricky issue, and the RCPCH website - while managed by NDP - uses our open source deployment scripts to push out new releases automatically.

Working with charities

As RCPCH is a registered charity in the UK, we helped them set up their AWS account and benefit from the specific discounts AWS offer to non-profit organisations.

This is typical of the kind of work our systems administrators routinely do with not for profit clients. We understand budgets are tight. We work with our clients to optimise their cloud hosting and squeeze as much performance out of AWS as their budget allows while using automation wherever possible to keep our own fees down.

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