During the live launch event of the 1940 Census, Census Director Robert Groves was set to search for a member of his family. But the image never loaded, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune. Upon launch the website 1940census.archives.gov was immediately overwhelmed. In the first three hours, the website had 22.5 million hits.
“We want to apologize to the millions of people who came to the 1940 census website this morning in search of information about their family history,” the company said in a statement. “We take full responsibility for the technical issues that have occurred and are very sorry for the inconvenience you may have experienced.”
The contract between the government and Archives.com parent, Inflection, specified that they had to
4.4.1 Support up to 10 million hits per day, while providing response times of less than three seconds for keyword searches of the descriptive metadata. A hit is defined as a request for a file from the web server.
4.4.2 Support up to 25,000 concurrent users.
4.4.3 Scale on demand in the event that 10 million hits and/or 25,000 concurrent users are exceeded.
For “scale on demand,” Archives.com utilizes services from online bookstore vendor, Amazon.com. In addition to its online store, Amazon also provides “in the cloud” services to some websites. Theoretically, Amazon cloud services can be easily scaled to meet unexpected needs. Apparently, scalability is not completely transparent.
“We'd like to thank Amazon.com, who has been helping us with some of the scalability challenges we're tackling and lending important technical expertise,” said Archives.com.
Archives.com engineers worked through the night to fix issues, according to the company. Overnight engineers disabled some functionality, hoping to relieve the load on the overburdened servers. As I write this mid-day Tuesday, the website is still not functional. The site displays text without graphics or formatting. Click the image at the top of the page to see what the page should look like.
The company continues to work today to solve issues.
“Genealogists often claim that theirs is the biggest hobby in America,” said NPR host Robert Siegel. “It's very hard to find hard data to support that, but this would come pretty close if there are that many millions of people who are trying to get in.”