Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) has recently launched a very handy map of water quality in Finland, which allows anyone to check the ecological status of Finnish lakes and rivers.  After a news article featuring the online water map was published at the very popular news website YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company on 1st of May 2016, the map gained unprecedented popularity up to 85 000 visitors per day wanted to see whether the lake by their summer cottage is ready for after-sauna swim. While being an inspiring use case of open data of SYKE, the unexpected success of the application also resulted in some technical problems for the group running the background services.

We had a chat with Mikko Hynninen, Development Engineer at the Finnish Environment Institute, to find out how they were able to react to the problems and what were the key takeaways from the situation for their team.

“The map’s popularity peak happened on a national holiday (Vappu) and the capacity of the map was not initially sufficient for accommodating that many users”, Mr Hynninen told us. “One of the problems was that the exact timing of the media announcement of the map launch was not known, so the capacity of the services was not increased beforehand. Also the particular overloaded services were not technically monitored at the time, which prevented us noticing the traffic increase immediately. Customer feedback about the application problems made us notice pretty soon that there was something wrong.”

How was the capacity issue solved?

Finnish Environment Institute team was able to react to the service disruption in a timely manner. “As soon as the capacity problem was noticed, our GIS-group increased the service capacity as much as possible”, Mr. Hynninen adds. “The amount of users peaked on Sunday, and by Monday evening we managed to more than double the service capacity. On Monday night we further increased the capacity of our servers. The number of parallel processes in the services were adjusted based on statistics from ArcGIS Server. Our internal systems are isolated from the Internet services, so neither the national environmental administration nor our research activities were not affected by the traffic spike.”

“Successful communication and timing is crucial in making a popular service stand to the expectations”, Mikko summarizes the lessons learned. “After the news article about the water map was published, the number of requests multiplied by 250. Services intended for wide use of the citizens should only be provided using tiled and cacheable maps. We did know this beforehand, but had made an intentional decision not to pre-calculate these map tiles, since the application also required dynamically retrieved data.”

Ilkka Rinne, CTO of Spatineo, a leading European company providing availability monitoring, usage analytics and performance testing tools for Spatial Web Services, comments: “Open data and public web services like the ones driving the Water map of the Finnish Environment Institute are very important for the society and it is great to see how well this map was received by the Finnish citizens. This kind of cases where particular services suddenly become very popular for a short while are becoming commonplace as the online news sites take advantage of the tremendous possibilities in creating new and interesting dynamic maps that combine data from several open services. We are glad to be able to help our customers, such as the Finnish Environment Institute, in preparing for events like this and improving the already high quality of their Spatial Web Services.”