In February 2021, Cloudflare launched Project Fair Shot — a program that gave our Waiting Room product free of charge to any government, municipality, private/public business, or anyone responsible for the scheduling and/or dissemination of the COVID-19 vaccine.
By having our Waiting Room technology in front of the vaccine scheduling application, it ensured that:
Applications would remain available, reliable, and resilient against massive spikes of traffic for users attempting to get their vaccine appointment scheduled.
Visitors could wait for their long-awaited vaccine with confidence, arriving at a branded queuing page that provided accurate, estimated wait times.
Vaccines would get distributed equitably, and not just to folks with faster reflexes or Internet connections.
Since February, we’ve seen a good number of participants in Project Fair Shot. To date, we have helped more than 100 customers across more than 10 countries to schedule approximately 100 million vaccinations. Even better, these vaccinations went smoothly, with customers like the County of San Luis Obispo regularly dealing with more than 20,000 appointments in a day. “The bottom line is Cloudflare saved lives today. Our County will forever be grateful for your participation in getting the vaccine to those that need it most in an elegant, efficient and ethical manner” — Web Services Administrator for the County of San Luis Obispo.
We are happy to have helped not just in the US, but worldwide as well. In Canada, we partnered with a number of organizations and the Canadian government to increase access to the vaccine. One partner stated: “Our relationship with Cloudflare went from ‘Let’s try Waiting Room’ to ‘Unless you have this, we’re not going live with that public-facing site.’” — CEO of Verto Health. In another country in Europe, we saw over three million people go through the Waiting Room in less than 24 hours, leading to a significantly smoother and less stressful experience. Cities in Japan, — working closely with our partner, Classmethod — have been able to vaccinate over 40 million people and are on track to complete their vaccination process across 317 cities. If you want more stories from Project Fair Shot, check out our case studies.
We are continuing to add more customers to Project Fair Shot every day to ensure we are doing all that we can to help distribute more vaccines. With the emergence of the Delta variant and others, vaccine distribution (and soon, booster shots) is still very much a real problem to keep everyone healthy and resilient. Because of these new developments, Cloudflare will be extending Project Fair Shot until at least July 1, 2022. Though we are not excited to see the pandemic continue, we are humbled to be able to provide our services and be a critical part in helping us collectively move towards a better tomorrow.
Around the world government and medical organizations are struggling with one of the most difficult logistics challenges in history: equitably and efficiently distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. There are challenges around communicating who is eligible to be vaccinated, registering those who are eligible for appointments, ensuring they show up for their appointments, transporting the vaccine under the required handling conditions, ensuring that there are trained personnel to administer the vaccine, and then doing it all over again as most of the vaccines require two doses.
Cloudflare can’t help with most of that problem, but there is one key part that we realized we could help facilitate: ensuring that registration websites don’t crash under load when they first begin scheduling vaccine appointments. Project Fair Shot provides Cloudflare’s new Waiting Room service for free for any government, municipality, hospital, pharmacy, or other organization responsible for distributing COVID-19 vaccines. It is open to eligible organizations around the world and will remain free until at least July 1, 2021 or longer if there is still more demand for appointments for the vaccine than there is supply.
Crashing Registration Websites
The problem of vaccine scheduling registration websites crashing under load isn’t theoretical: it is happening over and over as organizations attempt to schedule the administration of the vaccine. This hit home at Cloudflare last weekend. The wife of one of our senior team members was trying to register her parents to receive the vaccine. They met all the criteria and the municipality where they lived was scheduled to open appointments at noon.
When the time came for the site to open, it immediately crashed. The cause wasn’t hackers or malicious activity. It was merely that so many people were trying to access the site at once. “Why doesn’t Cloudflare build a service that organizes a queue into an orderly fashion so these sites don’t get overwhelmed?” she asked her husband.
A Virtual Waiting Room
Turns out, we were already working on such a feature, but not for this use case. The problem of fairly distributing something where there is more demand than supply comes up with several of our clients. Whether selling tickets to a hot concert, the latest new sneaker, or access to popular national park hikes it is a difficult challenge to ensure that everyone eligible has a fair chance.
The solution is to open registration to acquire the scarce item ahead of the actual sale. Anyone who visits the site ahead of time can be put into a queue. The moment before the sale opens, the order of the queue can be randomly (and fairly) shuffled. People can then be let in in order of their new, random position in the queue — allowing only so many at any time as the backend of the site can handle.
At Cloudflare, we were building this functionality for our customers as a feature called Waiting Room. (You can learn more about the technical details of Waiting Room in this post by Brian Batraski who helped build it.) The technology is powerful because it can be used in front of any existing web registration site without needing any code changes or hardware installation. Simply deploy Cloudflare through a simple DNS change and then configure Waiting Room to ensure any transactional site, no matter how meagerly resourced, can keep up with demand.
Recognizing a Critical Need; Moving Up the Launch
We planned to release it in February. Then, when we saw vaccine sites crashing under load and frustration of people eligible for the vaccine building, we realized we needed to move the launch up and offer the service for free to organizations struggling to fairly distribute the vaccine. With that, Project Fair Shot was born.
Government, municipal, hospital, pharmacy, clinic, and any other organizations charged with scheduling appointments to distribute the vaccine can apply to participate in Project Fair Shot by visiting: projectfairshot.org
Giving Front Line Organizations the Technical Resources They Need
The service will be free for qualified organizations at least until July 1, 2021 or longer if there is still more demand for appointments for the vaccine than there is supply. We are not experts in medical cold storage and I get squeamish at the sight of needles, so we can’t help with many of the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccine. But, seeing how we could support this aspect, our team knew we needed to do all we could to help.
The superheroes of this crisis are the medical professionals who are taking care of the sick and the scientists who so quickly invented these miraculous vaccines. We’re proud of the supporting role Cloudflare has played helping ensure the Internet has continued to function well when the world needed it most. Project Fair Shot is one more way we are living up to our mission of helping build a better Internet.
Today, we are excited to announce Cloudflare Waiting Room! It will first be available to select customers through a new program called Project Fair Shot which aims to help with the problem of overwhelming demand for COVID-19 vaccinations causing appointment registration websites to fail. General availability in our Business and Enterprise plans will be added in the near future.
Wait, you’re excited about a… Waiting Room?
Most of us are familiar with the concept of a waiting room, and rarely are we excited about the idea of being in one. Usually our first experience of one is at a doctor’s office — yes, you have an appointment, but sometimes the doctor is running late (or one of the patients was). Given the doctor can only see one person at a time… the waiting room was born, as a mechanism to queue up patients.
While servers can handle more concurrent requests than a doctor can, they too can be overwhelmed. If, in a pre-COVID world, you’ve ever tried buying tickets to a popular concert or event, you’ve probably encountered a waiting room online. It limits requests inbound to an application, and places these requests into a virtual queue. Once the number of users in the application has reduced, new users are let in within the defined thresholds the application can handle. This protects the origin servers supporting the application from being inundated with too many requests, while also ensuring equity from a user perspective — users who try to access a resource when the system is overloaded are not unfairly dropped and forced to reconnect, hoping to join their chance in the queue.
Given not many of us are going to live concerts any time soon, why is Cloudflare doing this now?
Well, perhaps we aren’t going to concerts, but the second order effects of COVID-19 have created a huge need for waiting rooms. First of all, given social distancing and the closing of many places of business and government, customers and citizens have shifted to online channels, putting substantially more strain on business and government infrastructure.
Second, the pandemic and the flow-on consequences of it have meant many folks around the world have come to rely on resources that they didn’t need twelve months earlier. To be specific, these are often health or government-related resources — for example, unemployment insurance websites. The online infrastructure was set up to handle a peak load that didn’t foresee the impact of COVID-19. We’re seeing a similar pattern emerge with websites that are related to vaccines.
Historically, the number of organizations that needed waiting rooms was quite small. The nature of most businesses online usually involve a more consistent user load, rather than huge crushes of people all at once. Those organizations were able to build custom waiting rooms and were integrated deeply into their application (for example, buying tickets). With Cloudflare’s Waiting Room, no code changes to the application are necessary and a Waiting Room can be set up in a matter of minutes for any website without writing a single line of code.
Whether you are an engineering architect or a business operations analyst, setting up a Waiting Room is simple. We make it quick and easy to ensure your applications are reliable and protected from unexpected spikes in traffic. Other features we felt were important are automatic enablement and dynamic outflow. In other words, a waiting room should turn on automatically when thresholds are exceeded and as users finish their tasks in the application, let out different sized buckets of users and intake new ones already in the queue. It should just work. Lastly, we’ve seen the major impact COVID-19 has made on users and businesses alike, especially, but not limited to, the health and government sectors. We wanted to provide another way to ensure these applications remain available and functional so all users can receive the care that they need and not errors within their browser.
How does Cloudflare’s Waiting Room work?
We built Waiting Room on top of our edge network and our Workers product. By leveraging Workers and our new Durable Objects offerings, we were able to remove the need for any customer coding and provide a seamless, out of the box product that will ‘just work’. On top of this, we get the benefits of the scale and performance of our Workers product to ensure we maintain extremely low latency overhead, keep estimated times presented to end users accurate as can be and not keep any user in the queue longer than needed. But building a centralized system in a decentralized network is no easy task. When requests come into an application from around the world, we need to be able to get a broad, accurate view of what that load looks like inbound and outbound to a given application.
These requests, as fast as they are, still take time to travel across the planet. And so, a unique edge case was presented. What if a website is getting reasonable traffic from North America and Europe, but then a sudden major spike of traffic takes place from South America – how do we know when to keep letting users into the application and when to kick in the Waiting Room to protect the origin servers from being overloaded?
Thanks to some clever engineering and our Workers product, we were able to create a system that almost immediately keeps itself synced with global demand to an application giving us the necessary insight into when we should and should not be queueing users into the Waiting Room. By leveraging our global Anycast network and over 200+ data centers, we remove any single point of failure to protect our customers’ infrastructure yet also provide a great experience to end-users who have to wait a small amount of time to enter the application under high load.
How to setup a Waiting Room
Setting up a Waiting Room is incredibly easy and very fast! At the easiest side of the scale, a user needs to fill out only five fields: 1) the name of the Waiting Room, 2) a hostname (which will already be pre-populated with the zone it’s being configured on), 3) the total active users that can be in the application at any given time, 4) the new users per minute allowed into the application, and 5) the session duration for any given user. No coding or any application changes are necessary.
We provide the option of using our default Waiting Room template for customers who don’t want to add additional branding. This simplifies the process of getting a Waiting Room up and running.
That’s it! Press save and the Waiting Room is ready to go!
For customers with more time and technical ability, the same process is followed, except we give full customization capabilities to our users so they can brand the Waiting Room, ensuring it matches the look and feel of their overall product.
Lastly, managing different Waiting Rooms is incredibly easy. With our Manage Waiting Room table, at a glance you are able to get a full snapshot of which rooms are actively queueing, not queueing, and/or disabled.
We are very excited to put the power of our Waiting Room into the hands of our customers to ensure they continue to focus on their businesses and customers. Keep an eye out for another blog post coming soon with major updates to our Waiting Room product for Enterprise!
The collective thoughts of the interwebz
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.