How Many People Does It Take to Crash Obamacare?

No, that’s not a setup for a joke, like “How many Libertarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” (“None, the market will provide correction.”)

Really, how many do you think?

The administration is saying that is non-functional because millions and millions of people are trying to access it.

In other words, it’s only failing ’cause it’s so gosh-darned popular.

One would think that a massive, high-profile website rollout would have been thoroughly load-tested long before it was set to go online, and corrected in order to handle millions of potential customers, or even tens of thousands.

A single server for a massively multiplayer online game should be able to handle anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 or more players, and a successful MMO may have millions of subscribers in a graphically rich, live environment. And, of course, there are many, many servers in locations all around the world. I think one World of Warcraft player requires something like 10 kilobytes per second, which is like an eyelash in an ocean of data. One of the producers of Star Wars: The Old Republic game said their servers can handle 100,000 people and were tested with 200,000 bots (artificial players). That’s really high, but I see no reason to doubt him since BioWare spent $150-$200 million making and testing their game: one-fourth the amount spent on the Obamacare data processing.

So, if a company making a game spends months tuning servers so people can chop up wookiees with light sabers, you’d expect the flagship initiative of the current administration of the most powerful and wealthy nation in the history of the world would at least spend as much time testing theirs, right?


Nope. One week. They load tested for a week.

And failed.

What was their failure threshold? How many people did it take to crash a system that was merely collecting simple data fields?

A few hundred.

What’s that, Tom? you say. You mean, a few hundred thousand, right?

Nope. A few hundred simulated logins took down the system on a test “days” before the launch.

I know what you’re thinking: “But they found the problem and fixed it, right? They got it to the point where it could handle hundreds of thousands of users, and it was only the demands of millions that brought it to its knees. Please tell me they got somewhere closer to being able to handle more people than God and the Machine has readers in a single day.”

Ah … no.

On launch day, it was able to handle two thousand logins before the servers packed their bags and headed for Tahiti with that hot backup drive from accounting.

Two. Thousand. People. 

In a nation of 300,000,000.

And now Secretary Sebelius, testing out what she’ll wear for her appointment under the bus, says Obama never knew, and Obama is sounding as surprised as anyone about the failings.

“No one is madder about the Web site than I am,” he said. “which means it’s going to get fixed.”



Wasn’t he engaged before this? How does his anger translate into a solution to technological, administrative, financial, and managerial incompetence? When the Republicans were begging for a one-year delay in implementation, why didn’t he, in the spirit of bipartisanship and covering-his-own-ass-ship, agree and give everyone time to work things out? And why is a nation of laws and democratically elected leaders–a Republic in the purest and most classical sense of the word–being driven into ruin by the whims and vanity of this one man?

See also: in Three Images

Embracing Mystery
How I Pray: Steven D. Greydanus
Dog Gets 3D Printed Legs
The Three Pillars of Lent
About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • victor

    Can you imagine the CEO of Microsoft saying a similar thing? “No one is madder about Windows 8 than I am. Which means it’s going to get fixed.” The stock price would seriously tank, the company would lose all credibility and effectively be ruined. Whereas all that’s happened here is… oh, uh… never mind.

  • Devin Rose

    So painfully incompetent…and yet so expected as well.

  • EMS

    Okay, let’s get real here, folks. This was a government site (and I am NOT bashing the government; I worked for them for 30+ years). The contract for the tech went to the lowest bidder, not the best bidder. A government site/project is up against timetables, budgetary or otherwise, that they have to adhere to. Having been a victim of more than one government-related tech projects, I know that the techies (who are paid far less than they could make at a softare/computer company) are probably dealing with outdated software and computers (We didn’t get decent PCs until years after businesses in general got them – they weren’t in the budget.), and also dealing with the folks in charge of overseeing the implementation (who was most likely not a career employee but a person appointed by the politician in charge and did not have a clue how the work should/would be done and the problems faced by the people stuck implementing the decisions of someone else). As for Obama being in charge of it – I think the President has more importatnt things to worry about than computer issues, though whoever he put in charge should have worried about it and should have realized how hard it would be to get it working right givien the time/budget constraints they had to deal with. As for another real life mess, how about the roleout of the 2013 SimCity? How much money/testing did EA put into it (much more than the government had budgeted for it) and still manage to mess it up?
    Of course, all of it could have been avoided if they just expanded Medicare to cover everyone in the country. No new software, no new programs, no new webistes, as Medicare has been around for decades.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    The fact that government programs run like crap and go to the lowest bidder (and for “bidder” read, “liar,” since they know they’ll exceed their bid) isn’t actually an excuse.

    I don’t expect Obama to manage a product rollout, but I expect him to know what’s happening with his main initiative, and if he didn’t, that speaks poorly for his leadership ability, which is comprised mostly of daydreams and petulance.

    Given what many inside reports say–that he’s easily bored and blows off briefings–we can assume that he didn’t trouble himself overmuch with the practical aspects of his airy generalities about “affordable” healthcare. He just went all Picard on it: “Make it so!”

    SimCity ran. It had bugs, but it ran. Diablo III had bugs, but it ran. This isn’t even close.

    I don’t disagree that something was necessary, which is what I said here:

    Finding a solution to insuring those without healthcare was not actually a complex thing, beginning with means-testing for Medicaid AND MEDICARE and then expanding those programs to only handle the needy, while providing for interstate insurance portability.