Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Want to host a taxpayer funded website?

I just want to make it clear that I'm not a naturally suspicious person really, in fact, I'm awfully trusting to the point that in recent days I've realised I shouldn't probably give people the benefit of the doubt quite so much. However,

I'm rather confused right now about something going on at the Wales Office, where, as people will know, Peter "I did nothing wrong" Hain was located whilst also being at the DWP running Job Centres before he had to go and visit one.

You see, what is confusing me is this. Way back in the mists of time, December 2006 to be precise, Peter Hain told Parliament that a company charity called Eduserv had been paid £13,566 for consultancy. The following week, Hain confirmed that this payment was for the Wales Office website design.

If we then shoot forward 10 months to October 2007, Hain tells Norman Baker, that the Wales Office website is the only one the department is responsible for, that it is bilingual, and, since 2001 has had "a running cost of £1,600 per annum".

Nothing wrong there particularly, but recently the website has had another redesign (pictured) and back in April, in response to a question from Stephen O'Brien, the new Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy, said,
The Wales Office spent £10,500 to redesign and implement the new website and we pay £6,936 per annum for website hosting.
Now, call me a pedant if you must, but that hosting cost is, I would say, part of the running cost. That's a difference of £5,336 a year in just over seven months?

What's more, if you work it out on the basis of the new figure, they are basically paying £568 per month for the hosting of a website that is not paticularly flashy, has largely static content controlled by Wordpress (free software). Install and go basically. The point here is that £568 per month is an unbelievably high hosting cost for such a website. They must be getting something good you'd think?

Well, Stephen O'Brien appeared to follow up the question to the Wales Office asking what they actually got for their money. Specifically he asked,
how much bandwidth per month his Department purchases; how much of this is burst bandwidth; what the maximum burstable rate is; what resiliency has been purchased; how many servers host the website; and what backup solution is in place.
Pertinent questions given that it costs just over a monkey a month for hosting of a site that can't get that much traffic.* The response was certainly interesting. According to Paul MUrphy,
uses 1 megabit per second, none of which is burst, although the maximum burstable rate is 2 megabits per second. No resiliency has been purchased, but the company who hosts the website has a complete backup. The website is hosted on one server.
In layman's terms, they basically have something that would cost about £25 a month in bandwidth terms (I am being generous and saying 200GB a month of transfer). There is no resiliency which means if the one server dies then the site.... well it dies.

Just to put this in perspective, you could buy a rack with the space for 10 servers and that amount of bandwidth for £9000 a year. You do the maths. That's £750 per year, per server, and the Wales Office says it only has one server, that costs "£6,936 per annum for website hosting".

Let's put it like this, some salesman (on commission) at the "not for profit" company charity Eduserv (which as I said provides these services) must be laughing their arse off now as they drink the Bolly. That is one hell of a Professional Services contract they managed to negotiated where the taxpayer funds the fun.

Of course, Eduserv also provide services to other Government sites, some of which are bound to have higher traffic which makes you wonder what they are charging them? Those Government departments include:
  • Department for Education and Skills
  • Department for Transport
  • Information Commissioner's Office
  • The Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency
  • Office for Standards in Education
  • Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Training and Development Agency for Schools (who also use that company that lost those discs in America)
I'm not going to cast aspersions against any of the charities trustees because I have no evidence to back it up, but I can't help doing one of those "thinking" poses with my hand on my chin and wonder "hmmmmmmm????".

As I said, I'm not naturally suspicious but if someone could tell me where all the extra costs appeared from I would be most grateful because there is inflation and then there is taking the piss!

* I would offer visitor figures, but as Peter Hain also informed Baker, the department "does not record number of visitors." Given how low other Government websites are it is safe to assume that it is not that extreme like say Number 10.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

So what is the point of this website, Independent Safeguarding Authority
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/about-us/news/independent-safeguarding-date

"The authority, which will vet those wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults, will begin work in October 2009.
When fully up and running, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) will be part of the biggest overhaul of vetting and barring arrangements ever undertaken in this country.
"

Since it appears to duplicate the function of
The Criminal Records Bureaux

http://www.crb.gov.uk/

"The CRB’s aim is to help organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors by identifying candidates who may be unsuitable to work with children or other vulnerable members of society."
Which, for all its' faults, has been up and running for some years now.

Guess 1. The 12 million on the 'new' ISA database will be Required to have the voluntary ID card because they work with vulnerable people.

mitch said...

They can stick it on mine, that cash would pay my mortgage and buy me a car! which i suspect is what its doing anyway.

ianvisits said...

Although Alexa stats are about as reliable as a government press release, you can use them to guestimate traffic by comparing a website with another similar site.

Based on the presumption that both sites would have a similar user profile, and hence similar numbers of users with the installed alexa toolbar - you can then cross reference the traffic stats.

http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/walesoffice.gov.uk

Also, if you know someone with access to Hitwise - they have agregated stats from the ISP's own traffic logs and tend to be very informative.

Based on a quick look though - I agree that the hosting fees look excessive (to put it politely).

Simon Dickson said...

My company, Puffbox redesigned and rebuilt the Wales Office site(s), launched in February this year. Bang on time, and bang on a relatively low budget.

I had/have no involvement with their contract with Eduserv, but I can add a few details and clarifications on Dizzy's post.

By my reading of the PQs from December, Eduserv were paid £13k for consultancy since the Wales Office was established in 1999. The answers don't say it was for a 'one off' web design job; and if you'd ever seen it, you'd know it was done in 1999, not 2006. (£13k divided by 7 years is more or less the £1600 annual running cost they quoted.)

Pre-2008, virtually every page on the WO site was hand-coded by external parties. As you'd expect, it wasn't always pretty, and I had to migrate each of 1000+ pages manually.

It's now all handled through WordPress (not SiteCore), and properly structured at last.

The move to a (GPL-licensed) blogging platform gives them numerous benefits. It's optimised for quick and easy content creation. Tags, categories and date archives mean everything's easily findable. And it may be the single most RSS-friendly website in government. I wish more gov.uk websites were more like it.

As I say, I can't offer any insight into the hosting charge quoted. But I do note that Eduserv hold the DNS records for the walesoffice.gov.uk domain, which certainly implies they do more than just host a website.

dizzy said...

Thanks for that Simon. The SiteCore assumption was based on what Eduserv do. To be honest it was not the redesign cost that was of concern but more the amazing leap of cost in a matter of months.

Tony Kennick said...

I would suspect that the hosting costs are because instead of specifying just enough oomph on a virtualised or shared platform they will have pulled out a standardised specification for a dedicated server with a swanky SLA.
I would also say I think Simon is right that the £1,600 PA was for maintaining the site itself and didn't included the hosting.

Anonymous said...

Those fees for hosting are to be expected. You have forgotten to include in your calculations the bribes that have to be paid to get such business.

Anonymous said...

If I found out how much they cost to run what other information would I need to work out if it was value for money (not being a techie)?

MYBF said...

I thought govenment websites were supposed to be user friendly?
(able to resize the text for easy reading and/or have a text only version)

It's not even Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional :)

The webdesigner is making a killing for only half (or less) a job. Nice work if you can get it!

CharlieB said...

As an accountant, tedious I know, I would suspect Eduserve bills the government as a whole for the cost of maintaining the websites (i.e. for all the sites listed), and then the cost is divided and sent on (recharged) to the individual departments from the government accounts dept. It looks like this has been done fairly poorly. Admittedly, if I was the accountant at the Wales Office and this charge was sent ot me by the central government accountants or whatsit, I'd kick up a fuss, but let's face it, this isn't a private company.

If you're in the mood, the aggregated figures for Eduserve would be more interesting, and probably still ridiculously expensive, but as it is it looks a little misleading.

Apologies for the typos above. I really should learn to touch type.