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House staffer frets over bandwidth, format of Starr report

September 10, 1998
Web posted at 5:15 PM EDT

by Sandra Gittlen


(IDG) -- Friday, Sharon Hammersla could find herself in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky affair. The low-profile Congressional systems administrator has to figure out how to serve up millions of copies of Kenneth Starr's report over the Web.

House of Representatives leaders said today they may put the independent counsel's 445-page report up on the Internet. Hammersla, computer systems coordinator for the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, is scrambling to figure out a way to do it.


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Hammersla hopes to set up a series of mirror sites to handle the anticipated demand. Her list currently includes Web servers run by the House, the House Judiciary Committee and the Library of Congress. She hopes to have two more on board by tomorrow's House Rules Committee vote on whether to make the document public.

"We get 200,000 hits a month at a non-busy time, but there's no way to tell how many hits we'll take with this," she said. Hammersla was uneasy about even guessing. After all, she said, the whole country will want to access this.

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An example of what could happen occurred earlier this year when a Massachusetts judge announced plans to release his verdict in the British au pair case on the Web. The mere announcement was enough to crash his designated server -- people began hitting the site days before he actually released his decision.

Hammersla said the House site is served by a single Unix box running Netscape's Web server. She said the House Judiciary Committee has the same configuration. She could not comment on the Library of Congress setup.

The Library of Congress site receives millions of requests daily, she said. "It can handle it."

But first Hammersla has to figure out how to make the document Web-ready. Because she has not received a copy -- it is under lock and key by the House Sergeant at Arms -- she doesn't know whether it is in electronic form or on paper. "Obviously if it's in electronic form, we can just put it in HTML and throw it up there," she said. If not, then Hammersla said the document will have to be scanned and put into Portable Document Format (PDF). She said her system is able to scan 30 pages per minute so that will not take too long, but trying to set it up online will be more difficult.

"It's hard to know the size of the document or if there's a logical break so that we can offer it in parts," she said.

However large each part of the document is, Hammersla admitted that serving up PDF files would weigh on the servers.

"We're planning ahead as much as we can," she said.

Hammersla said an intranet site is being set up for House and Senate requests. "[Congressmen] will need quick access to the document" and can't be forced to wait for the inherent slowdowns of a public Web site, she said.

Sandra Gittlen in an online reporter at Network World Fusion.

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