Monthly Archives: March 2014
We are constantly working to make sure the ePortfolio is accessible and usable in the wide range of environments in which it is used. We have received feedback on the speed of some pages in the application from a small percentage of users and we are keen to address this. We hope the information below is helpful but please get in touch if you have further feedback.
The NHS ePortfolio is a complex web site that delivers information (content) to a wide range of roles within multiple ePortfolio versions. The content is derived from data accessed from an ever-growing database. Page load times can depend on the complexity of the task that page must perform and on the source, quantity and complexity of the data needed to fulfil that task. Load times can also be affected by overall site activity, be it numbers of concurrent users or by the commonly requested tasks in operation at that time. Lastly, national and local network speeds can limit pages loads as can the age, type and specification of the computer being used to display the web page.
The aim of this short article is to discuss NHS ePortfolio site performance and why, though the majority of pages load quickly, some pages can take rather longer to load.
What happens when you access NHS ePortfolio?
When you log into your ePortfolio account, your web browser requests access to the ePortfolio software that is installed in web servers that return the appropriate content. The software consists of code that determines what should be sent back and what it should look like (i.e. how it renders in a web page in your browser). Behind the code on the server is a database that stores all the information about who you are, what access rights you have, which are your forms and curricula, posts, training programmes, supervisors, and how these items are inter-related. So, for any web page to be delivered to your browser the software must process a series of database “queries” in order to construct the page that is returned to you.
Some pages are more complex to display, such as a Summary Overview, Curriculum or Review of Evidence page. This is because database queries that are performed when requesting these pages search very large data sets. A significant part of the ePortfolio involves accessing web pages that must deliver data derived from several complicated data requests, all of which will take time to process on the server.
Patterns of activity
There are periods of time throughout the year when activity increases and so pressure on the web server increases too. Activity that makes the web server work harder isn’t necessarily due to increased numbers of visitors or by increased numbers of page views (i.e. the number of pages being processed and delivered to the user’s browser). Some pages such as the Form Summary Overview or Curriculum Overview will require higher levels of processing than a ticket request page. So, if you have several hundred trainees checking their Form Summary page (e.g. as they prepare for ARCP) the servers are all working harder to search and display the data.
The graph in the figure below shows how site usage (as page views) increases in the run up to post rotation changeover as trainees rush to complete assessments & other forms before moving on. A particularly busy period is seen during May and June whilst ARCPs are in progress. While the number of people during this time starts to decline the load on the server remains high as ARCP Reviewers access particularly complex, data heavy pages.
What affects how long it takes for a page to appear?
The time it takes for a page to appear fully loaded on your web browser after you have clicked a link or menu button can be influenced by a number of factors:
- How much work the server has to do to generate the page (by the software and the database) before sending it back
- How big (in terms of kilobytes) is the page being returned to you
- How fast is the network connection between the client and server, and how much competition for resources (known as contention) is encountered by users of that connection.
- How quickly can the browser on the client computer process the HTML and scripts locally to fully render the page
Is ePortfolio slow?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain bench mark values with which to compare ePortfolio performance against. Which pages do you compare? Which sites might you compare performance with?
An indication of global page load times by country, industry “vertical” and other interesting web statistics can be found at http://brandongaille.com/acceptable-web-page-load-times-by-country-and-industry/ or view the info-graphic from this site by clicking this thumbnail (opens in a new window):
What we are able to see from analytics data is that while 17% of pages take less than 1 second to load, 36% of ePortfolio pages take between 1 and 2 seconds and a quarter of page loads take longer than 7 seconds (see the graph below).
The slower page load times will be a result of specific pages that are more difficult to generate and serve rather than just pages simply running slowly.
Known complex pages include (in no specific order):
- Trainee home page
- Supervisor’s selected trainee home page
- Foundation TAB summary page
- Trainee assessments page
- Trainee curriculum page
In each case these are pages that require a significant amount of data access and processing before being delivered to your browser.
What are we doing to improve performance?
The work to improve site performance is a constant and ongoing process. An obvious source of potential improvement can be found by upgrading the server hardware, i.e. multiple load-balanced servers in a virtual machine environment. In autumn 2012 we migrated to a virtual private cloud environment with exactly this setup, and as a result saw significant improvements in performance. However, this alone will not necessarily solve all speed issues and there are cost limitations of further increasing server power.
Much of the work in improving site speed involves looking at the software and database. Work is currently focussing on analysis of the software to find more efficient ways of achieving the same output, removing redundant or extraneous functionality, identifying and eliminating database bottlenecks. More effective and efficient database architecture and design can also lead to better data access rates by the software. Already we have seen improved service during periods of peak activity during ARCP in May and June 2013 as compared to the same period in 2012.
We have made good progress over the previous 2 years to provide an increasingly stable and speedy web application. We still have work to do to make the NHS ePortfolio more responsive and deliver content more efficiently. While this process of improvement is an ongoing task we have to accept there are limitations in resources in terms of hardware and in terms of technical staff needed to find, develop and implement changes.
Keep up with updates and developments by following us on Twitter: @neseportfolio
Do you have any comments you’d like make? Use the comments box below to voice your opinion or give us any feedback.
Below are the items that are to be included in release 13.5, scheduled for deployment on Saturday, 29th March 2014
Update items included in this build are:
10936 – RCR – Procedural based assessment (PBA)
Establish 8 brand new Procedural Based Assessment (PBA) forms.
10943 – RCR – Multi-Disciplinary Team working assessment (MDT)
Establish brand new Multi-Disciplinary Team working assessment (MDT) form.
11963 – MALTA GP – Other Specialty Supervisor shouldn’t be able to sign a trainee Educational Agreement
Prevent Other Specialty Supervisors from signing trainee Educational Agreements. The ability for Trainers to sign these remains as-is.
11988 – APP – Enable “Add to Homescreen” for Android Users
Enable users of Android devices to quickly and easily add an icon to their homescreen for the NHS ePortfolio Mobile App.
12083 – PHARMACY – Ticketed Feedback form amendmendment
Create a new version to replace the existing Ticketed Feedback form. In the new version the element entitled “Competency Code to which feedback relates” has been replaced with a new element entitled “Performance Indicator/Standard Code”.
12086 – DENTAL – Enable more roles to sign LEP evaluator signature
Enable Advisors, Directors and Assistant directors to sign LEPS via the Evaluator field (previously restricted to Trainers, External Assessors and Admins.)
12088 – DENTAL – Permissions update (round two)
This item updates the permissions of 24 forms within the Dental site, as requested by the customers.
12092 – FICM – Alterations to Educational Supervisor’s Structured Report (ESSR)
Minor updates to previously unused Educational Supervisors Structured Report Form.
12093 – FICM – Limit number of Specialties than can be added per Post
In other sites, more than one specialty can be selected per post. The Edit Posts functionality has been updated to allow only one to be selected for FICM posts.
12120 – DENTAL – New custom version of “Advisor End of Year NRP Statement on VDP Performance” form
Replacement of existing “Adviser End of Year Statement on VDP Performance” form with new version.
12122 – DENTAL – New custom version of “Trainer End of Year NRP Statement on VDP Performance” form
Replacement of existing “Trainer End of Year Statement on VDP Performance” form with new version.
12126 – PHYSICIAN, RCR, RCOG, CEM, FICM and CSRH – New ARCP Form for 2014
Implement new, consistent, ARCP form for 2014 for Physician, RCR, RCOG, CEM, FICM and CSRH.
12171 – PHYSICIAN – A new menu called PYA
Addition of new “PYA” menu after Progression menu to provide access to new forms that will be introduced.
12293 – PHYSICIAN – Make live Immunology DOPS forms [follow-up to 11452]
Make existing Immunology DOPS forms available to trainees on Immunology programmes.
12414 – EPORTFOLIO – Prevent unnecessary logging
ePortfolio internal task
Fixes included in this build are:
* 10644 – EPORTFOLIO – Back button not working in mobile app at all times
* 12142 – RCPCH – Development Log error with 20,000+ characters in answer field
* 12322 – EPORTFOLIO – ELFH – Manual import of activity data from 25-Feb-2014
* 12338 – FOUNDATION – Display issue when linking learning activities to curriculum
Below are the items that are to be included in release 13.4, scheduled for deployment on Saturday, 15th March 2014
Update items included in this build are:
• 11397 – PHARMACY – “Medicines Information Activity and Reflections Log” form to be made ticketable
Existing “Medicines Information Activity and Reflections Log” form is now ticketable.
• 11452 – PHYSICIAN – Assigning specialty specific DOPs Assessment forms for all grades
Enable access to create specialty specific DOPs Assessment forms for grades ST3, ST4, ST5, ST6, ST7, ST8, OOP, LAT, FTSTA3.
• 11499 – EPORTFOLIO – Remove “Drafts” folder from ePortfolio messaging
The ePortfolio messaging system contained a “drafts” folder, but this is redundant as users cannot save messages in a draft format for editing/sending later.
• 12018 – FICM – update to the Educational Agreement saved form header
Display the type of meeting between the time and author on overview pages, e.g: “Educational Agreement – 15 January 2014 12:19 INITIAL (Jeff Beckingham)”
• 12091 – FICM – Add new professional activities
Create new “Professional Activities” quick link on FICM trainee home pages and update the “Professional Activities” form, adding four new answer options in the “Type of Activity” questions.
• 10844 – EPORTFOLIO – Prevent deletion of completed ticket requests via the app
Prevent a situation whereby an offline app user could delete a ticket request for which a form has subsequently been completed via the main website.
Fixes included in this build are:
• 11117 – FOUNDATION – Foundation School inconsistent in Current Trainee Report
Resolve a situation whereby the Foundation School displayed in the Current Trainee Report was sometimes blank.
• 11849 – FOUNDATION – Ensure all fields on PSGIF Form are returned via Analyse Forms
Ensure that all fields from the “Placement Supervision Group Individual Feedback Form” are contained in Analyse Forms output.
• 12019 – RCPCH – UserDetails are not being updated automatically via the RCPCH Care api
The RCPCH Care API has moved. Update ePortfolio to utilise new API to retrieve RCPCH trainees personal details.
• 12059 – DMS – Correct Self TAB Field Validators.
The validators on the DMS Self TAB forms are incorrectly positioned, these have been repositioned in order that form contents are not adversely affected when error conditions are met.
• 12060 – DMS – Correct Reflection form Field Validators
The validators on the DMS Reflection forms are incorrectly positioned, these have been repositioned in order that form contents are not adversely affected when error conditions are met.
• 12182 – RCPI – Do not enforce password reset for users that login via SSO
RCPI users are been requested to reset their ePortfolio passwords, even when logging-in via RCPI SSO. Prevent this from being requested when the user has logged-in via SSO to avoid confusion.
• 12220 – EPORTFOLIO – Reduce index fragmentation
ePortfolio internal task to maintain site performance.
• 12307 – PHYSICIAN – Incorrect icon/behaviour for associated personal library files in curriculum
Prevent the incorrect display of the green e-Learnign icon beside linked personal library files in the curriculum. Additionally, restore the link to the associated file.
Below are the items that are to be included in release 13.3, scheduled for deployment on Saturday, 8th March 2014
Update items included in this build are:
* 11961 – MALTA GP – Remove ability for trainee to ticket MSF or Annual Appraisal Section C
* 11962 – MALTA GP – Remove ability for trainer to ticket Annual Appraisal Section C
* 11965 – MALTA GP – Text on Annual Appraisal Section A form and Section B form need updated
* 11966 – MALTA GP – Text on Certificates Page needs updated
* 12183 – EPORTFOLIO – Name updating user in notification of email address update : see details
* 12185 – EPORTFOLIO – DefaultFormsHistory Missing Columns
Fixes included in this build are:
* 7305 – EPORTFOLIO – Messaging error with large number or recipients
* 10007 – RCPCH – Error Editing Skills Log Entries
* 11286 – FOUNDATION – Formatting of comments fields on saved CS End of Placement Report Form
* 11759 – FOUNDATION – Repopulate Medical School Details
* 12051 – EPORTFOLIO – Modify handling of padding on “Simply Text Block” items
* 12199 – EPORTFOLIO – New dynamic form not being created
* 12202 – PHYSICIAN – ePortfolio Admin menu update
* 12219 – EPORTFOLIO – Update SQL Database compatibility to 2012
As of the site update on 1st March 2014 (Release 13.2) pages that list form completions have been updated so that forms created from the trainee’s current post are displayed by default. Previously all posts form completions where being displayed when form pages were loaded using up significant amounts of system resources resulting in slower page load times. This change affects Supervision forms, assessments (e.g. Core Procedures and SLEs), and progression (e.g. ARCP) but does not affect log forms, PDPs and equivalent.
In the screen shot below of a Summary Overview page you can see that only the current post’s details are being listed:
However, the drop down allows you to select other posts as well as a “Select All” option that will display all your posts’ form completions:
The example below shows the Education Supervision page (Foundation) with the “Select All” option used: