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Why is the Obamacare website so sick?

One vendor that tested the site fingers poor coding, corner cutting

By , Network World
October 23, 2013 01:45 PM ET

Network World - An apologetic Obama administration has had technical people working around the clock to address problems with its website, which has been unable to cope with visitor traffic since launching on Oct. 1. One vendor, Compuware, is also doling out some free insights into what's wrong with the Obamacare site after remotely running some of its own application-performance management (APM) tests.

[RELATED: Ailing Obamacare website to get a “tech surge”]

“One that stood out as a problem is Pingdom,” says John Van Siclen, general manager at the Compuware APM business unit. As a third-party monitoring service integrated in as a component of the Affordable Care Act website, Pingdom doesn’t seem to be used well at, contributing to the site’s slowness. “It’s not keeping up.”

Third-party monitoring components used on the site include Google, Chartbeat and Pingdom, according to Compuware’s blog written by staff engineer Andreas Grabner, who notes “all these third-party components need to load JavaScript files that impact the initial page load time.”

Compuware says it ran its free tool, Ajax Edition, and also its cloud-based APM service, to get a bead on what can be seen remotely about’s performance as related to both how the site’s software components interact with each other and the incoming traffic of user requests from across the country.

Kathleen Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius, HHS Secretary, is among those on the hot seat over's rough start was supposed to be the site where buying health insurance was going to be as easy for the public as purchasing an airline ticket online, as President Obama once put it. But now, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is expected to soon join the site’s main contractors, including CGI and QSSI, to testify before a House panel about the site’s technical problems and how they might get fixed.

Here’s more on Compuware’s observations about what’s wrong with the site:

- Loading the home page takes a very long time by the standards of other healthcare sites to download just the 59K initial HTML document, which is “probably caused by bandwidth constraints on its web server, as most of the time this is contributed to the server response time and not the network.” There’s a need to optimize the use of third-party components and make sure the initial HTML page can be served faster from the web servers.

- The registration page for the site is “actually a very bad example of some of the well-known practices of Web Performance Optimizations,” according to Compuware’s Grabner. “It seems they forgot to merge CSS and JS files together as they are currently loading about 55! Individual JavaScripts files and 11! Individual CSS files!” Compuware makes specific recommendations on how these could be merged, adding “especially because many of them actually belong logically together as well, e.g.: jQuery and JQuery Plugins.” Grabner adds that “loading too many small JS and CSS files together instead of merging them together results in “too many roundtrips to the web server.” Uncompressed versions of images is also resulting in inefficiencies for the website, he notes.

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