Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Oz Parliament website up and stumbling

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-12

While the webserver for the Australian Parliament is up again after a significant time off line, the new senate submission system still crashes or gives pathetic response times.

This suggests negligent governance processes by very senior IT managers, and raises questions about all other applications being introduced to parliament, and possibly across the whole of government.

In the meantime, test it yourself by (1) opening the main main inquiry page and then clicking on the "Submissions received" menu item, and/or (2) bypass the main inquiry page and go straight to the submissions.

Please add comments to this post about your observations, especially if you note anything odd.

Over the fold, the diagnostics I’ve got 2 tries out of 5.  I’ll publish another post on the implications when I get a chance, but releasing this information now so others can verify my claims of error and significant performance problems.

When you do get the list of submissions to the Disability Discrimination Act amendments, it takes nearly a minute to return less than half a page of information.

A fair percentage of the time, you get the following:

Server Error in '/Submissions' Application.
The operation has timed out
Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

Exception Details: System.Net.WebException: The operation has timed out
Source Error:

An unhandled exception was generated during the execution of the current web request. Information regarding the origin and location of the exception can be identified using the exception stack trace below.

Stack Trace:
[WebException: The operation has timed out]
   System.Web.Services.Protocols.WebClientProtocol.GetWebResponse(WebRequest request) +54
   System.Web.Services.Protocols.HttpWebClientProtocol.GetWebResponse(WebRequest request) +4
   System.Web.Services.Protocols.SoapHttpClientProtocol.Invoke(String methodName, Object[] parameters) +172
   SCIDDocumentUpload.SCIDDocumentUpload.ViewSubmissions(Int32 InquiryId) +63
   UploadInterface.ViewSubmissions(Int32 InquiryId) +11
   comittees_ViewSubmissions.Page_Load(Object sender, EventArgs e) +218
   System.Web.Util.CalliHelper.EventArgFunctionCaller(IntPtr fp, Object o, Object t, EventArgs e) +15
   System.Web.Util.CalliEventHandlerDelegateProxy.Callback(Object sender, EventArgs e) +34
   System.Web.UI.Control.OnLoad(EventArgs e) +99
   System.Web.UI.Control.LoadRecursive() +47
   System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequestMain(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint) +1061
Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:2.0.50727.832; ASP.NET Version:2.0.50727.832 

So there is either a huge flaw in the Microsoft .NET framework (a flawed choice of product), and/or the application was put into production without proper testing, including load testing (hopeless management).

I’m not ruling out testing of Conroy’s censorship testing as a contributing factor, but unfortunately, he might be off the hook (although it is still a dain-bramaged idea).

See Also/Notes:


11 Responses to “Oz Parliament website up and stumbling”

  1. zombinol said

    The is running exceptionally slow, so I can see why timeouts in the .Net application could occur, the unhandled exception is as a result of poor coding in the senate application, as the timeout condition has not been anticipated by the developers, so it is not being managed, this smacks of very sloppy developers. Whatever is timingout could be a downstream database that is being overindulged, if its intermittent then it might just be a couple of servers in a cluster misbehaving

    I saw the exact same issue in the Job Network system many years ago.

    What I find absolutely astonishing is that the raw error is being presented client side! from the error several things are now known of an otherwise publicly unknown system. I will not disclose them here but the vulnerabilities of this version of .Net are considerable, rootkit considerable.

    Perhaps its a desperate web servers cry for help!

  2. Lyn said

    I got the error message you’ve got here.

  3. Dave Bath said

    It is worth noting that while it is absolutely required to use https (encrypted transport) when logging in to such a system and supplying personal details, there is no justification for the use of the CPU/memory intensive (both server and client) https protocol when running through an anonymous session and merely viewing documents that have been marked for public viewing.

    So we have poor analysis of requirements that could have avoided wasted money, poor exception handling by developers (no time allocated to do it properly), inadequate testing, as well as the possibility that the servers are grossly underpowered… just the sort of thing to make your quotes for software and hardware lower to win the contract, and then charge big bucks for time and materials to fix things up later.

    And obviously no load/sociability testing, plus no easy rollback of flawed configuration changes, especially if you are snapshotting virtual machines like you should be whenever you add major software components.

    All too common practice, and managers/contract_administrators are too easily duped. Let’s hope that there are penalty clauses in the contract (probably not), and/or the parliament sues the pants off them. (No, I don’t think either party will want to admit the stuffup and the suppliers will want to avoid easy identification in any case).

    Yeah…. old version of dot Net – I think it’s at v3.5 now. For a new system to be based on a stack that is a major release and a half behind current production levels is, or at least should be (without good reason, unless the developers admit v3.5 is unsuitable), unusual.

    Makes you wonder about whether other components of the software stacks around the joint are patched up regularly to avoid known exploits.

    If the parliament cannot manage something as simple as ensuring testing and sociability of what every technologist knows is achievable (with even minimum care), how the hell can they rush in something we all know is impossible (Conroy’s censorship filter) that affects the entire country!

  4. zombinol said

    The use of HTTPS does provide an additional layer of security over plain old HTTP – it provides added delivery integrity for the content, when you receive the content or a download it has been subjected to an additional checking process over and above the http protocols get command. Also not all content is being sent in HTTPS, only textual content.

    Plus there is an also an added level of sender non-repudiation as the server certificate that establishes the HTTPS session is cross certifiable to be proven to be the correct originator of the transmission. Know who sent it.

    Also in this day and age of shared infrastructure services a new issue that is emerging is that shared components cannot easily be patched or changed as the applications that share the infrastructure might be dependent on an old version of something or its too much of a headache to coordinate all the testing for the many applications – especially just for web sites.

    So where is the Tender & Contract information for the web site development, some of it is mentioned here (look for web)?

  5. Dave Bath said

    * The Black Rod’s systems in the link you point to provide benefits to senators. I bet if there were a similar delay or stuffup in remuneration in THOSE systems there would be all hell to pay!
    * I’ll grant https gives other side benefits, but if it is worth the overhead for viewing of the (usually ignored) opinions of we lowly mortals, then surely there are many other products of our exalted representatives that deserve that encryption first. (That is, when they are even worth the bandwidth rather than consigning them to the dustbin or the intray of satirists). …. although, maybe analysis has shown that the words of we lowly mortals are more worthwhile than those of Senators and MHRs.

  6. Dave Bath said

    Z: More on Black Rod 2006/07 report… if the submissions tools were part of “The section began to develop the Senate Centralised Information Database and supporting web-based applications to make the management of committee inquiries more efficient and effective”, then it is an initiative under the Howardian infrastructure, although the Black Rod is independent.

    Don’t want to be had for contempt of parliament, but I hear some asking “where does the Black Rod fit in?”

    Here is the 07/08 equivalent page with work continuing on committee systems.

    Cannot wait for the 08/09 report! Will this even be admitted in performance reviews, or will we get a “the dog ate my homework” line?

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  8. Dave Bath said

    More thoughts….
    I suspect that the page is more likely to throw and error when a new record is being added (as they were today). This would mean the application is NOT running a readonly cursor. I don’t know of MS-SQL server has the ability to run a query returning rows as they were when the query started (which is what Oracle does, so you always get a consistent view). If DotNet/MS-SQL /does/ support this, and the designer/developers haven’t used this, the designer/developers should be shot, together with the person who signed off the testing.

    If DotNet/MS-SQL does /not/ support this without heavy wizardry or deep magic from before the dawn of time, then it should never have been chosen.

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