Department of Health website saw 760% rise in traffic at peak of COVID-19

By Shannon Jenkins

July 9, 2020

parliamentary secretaries
There are several reasons not to introduce competition to foundational public infrastructure. (Image: Adobe/TPG)

The government’s website hosting and content management system has experienced a record number of visits during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Department of Finance.

The GovCMS platform experienced 100,000 page views per minute at the peak of COVID-19, with 187,000 concurrent users, and a total of 2 billion hits in one month.

Various sites on the platform experienced huge increases in visits, including Smart Traveller, Safe Work Australia, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, and the South Australian Department of Education.

The Services Australia website experienced a 650% rise in traffic. The agency worked closely with the GovCMS team to increase database capacity so the website could handle heavy traffic, according to Services Australia general manager Susie Smith.

“The GovCMS team ensured our website was always available and able to supply information to the public during the pandemic,” she said.

“In a very tight timeframe, and under significant pressure, they seamlessly executed a database upscale with no downtime. This greatly improved the performance of the website. This supported real people and their ability to care for themselves and their families.”

Meanwhile, experienced a 760% increase in traffic, with up to 6 million visits a day during the busiest times.

Danni Marlow, technical product owner of, noted that while the website typically experienced up to 20,000 concurrent users, page load time remained under 2.7 seconds.

“GovCMS’ robust tooling allowed us to seamlessly deploy developments at any time of the day, including during peak times. This allowed us to remain responsive to changing needs,” they said.

“We usually deploy IT updates during periods of low traffic which we couldn’t do during the pandemic. We ended up deploying updates whenever we needed to and it was seamless meaning customers could always access the most up-to-date information.”

The GovCMS platform automatically scaled up during huge spikes in traffic amid the pandemic, and handled an unprecedented volume of visitors to websites, the Department of Finance has said.

Read more: Don’t worry, govCMS doesn’t mean standardised sites

Surge teams were also formed to support agencies which publish COVID-19 information, according to Sharyn Clarkson, GovCMS founder and assistant secretary of online services at Finance.

“We worked closely with agencies on the front line to ensure publishing activities and announcements likely to cause large spikes in traffic could be delivered without affecting the platform,” she said.

“We had website engineers standing by to ensure the platform remained stable. These are unprecedented times, the volumes certainly tested us, but ultimately proved the strength and capability of GovCMS. I’m delighted with the reliability and support we’ve been able to provide agencies, it ensured Australians were able to access information to keep themselves safe.”

GovCMS was set up in 2015 to improve digital service delivery through the use of common and reusable tools and skills across government ICT, and was hosted on a platform provided by Acquia on AWS Cloud.

Australian business Salsa Digital won the hosting services contract in 2018. The GovCMS platform now runs on open source software Drupal and an open source platform Lagoon.

It currently hosts 327 websites for 96 agencies across all tiers of government, and reduces duplication of effort by offering security accreditation, procurement, and web site defences centrally.

Read more: Services Australia puts measures in place to deal with ‘unprecedented demand’


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