A few weeks ago, I lodged an Freedom Of Information (FOI) request with the Department of the Taoiseach for information related to the setup and running of MerrionStreet.ie. I requested the development and running costs of the site since its launch in July 2012.
The site was built for the Government on the WordPress Open Source software platform by Arekibo (an Irish digital media company). The reported cost of the project was €40,000 and the project took about five months to build (from initial RFP to the go-live in mid 2011).
The reason for the request was to see if the use of Open Source software (such as WordPress) can really deliver an efficient cost-effective website, or whether there were any hidden costs associated with its deployment. MerrionStreet.ie is a relatively straightforward website based on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, php) stack, and does not require complex interfaces or heightened security. It should therefore serve as a good barometer for whether there is efficient hosting platform available within the Irish Government for such sites.
The costs provided based on the FOI are outlined below and broadly in line with previously released estimates:
Merrionstreet.ie ICT Costs as at 1 Dec 2011
|1||Development (Includes 5% o/s balance of €907.50 paid April 2011)|
|2||Implementation support costs|
|3||Maintenance and support costs post implementation (2010)|
|4||Independent Security Testing|
|5||Hardware (PC and Laptops)|
|6||Software (Corel VideoStudio Pro X3 licences)|
|7||Audio Video Equipment – (Cameras, Mikes, Tripod, Autocue Cables etc.)|
|9||Maintenance and support costs (2011) (excludes €907.50 o/s balance of Development costs paid in April 2011)|
|10||Hosting (2011) Estimated|
The FOI response also detailed the following costs:
- Total running costs for Merrionstreet since inception in July 2010 are € 57,777.35 (as per above € 45,751 in 2010 and an estimated € 12,026 for 2011)
- Total costs paid to Arekibo to date are €35,204
- Total staff costs since July 2010 are €76,965. The team that maintains and updates the site content is drawn from staff in the Government Information Service in the Department of the Taoiseach, with the exception of two temporary staff – journalism graduates requiring relevant experience who were recruited at CO level (although one has recently left the Department).
Hosting spend and cost per request
Out of all the costs above, one of the most expensive is the hosting costs estimated to be €4,500 for this year. This is despite the fact that many of the bandwidth intensive objects on MerrionStreet.ie e.g. videos, are stored on third party platforms such as YouTube. The website is currently hosted by the Local Government Computer Services Board and costs are calculated on a cost sharing basis at the end of each year. The costs for 2011 are expected to be in the range of €4,000 to €5,000.
The site has had 784,336 pageviews (see Google Analytics below – requested through FOI) since its launch in July 2010. With hosting charges of an estimated €6,500, this works out at €8.28 per 1000 page views. In comparison to other sites (i.e. based on an analysis of UK based Gov websites), this appears to be high given the site is a static php site hosted on open-source low cost stack software.
There has been 202,116 unique visitors to the site with an average of 2.47 pageviews per visitor. This works out at a cost per 1000 visitors of around €20.45 – again relatively high in comparison to other sites.
Moving to Cloud computing
Full comprehensive data on the cost and analytics for Irish Government websites is not freely available. Many government websites around the world freely release their web statistics (e.g. NY Senate and UK Dept. Business, Innovation and Skills), but there are no examples of Irish central government departments publicly releasing this data. This data would make a good addition to the Government’s proposed centralised open data portal.
The Government has said it will continue to enhance the use of cloud computing in the public service and a “Cloud Computing Strategy” for the public service is expected to be published at the end of the first quarter 2012. The recent Public Service Reform plan contains a provision to “Seek, through market exercises, to develop a compelling case over traditional computing provision for infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS) provision for the public service”.
Moving many sites (particularly relatively simple static sites such as those under the remit of the Dept. of the Taoiseach), to a concurrent cloud hosting environment would reduce the hosting expenditure and provide for improved performance for the site users. A cloud infrastructure would reduce costs by allocating resources as the web sites require them, and should be seen as a priority during this period of economic austerity. MerrionStreet.ie is an optimum site to migrate and its corresponding hosting expenditure should be monitored to see if some a move can significantly reduce costs for 2012.