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November 05, 2013 8:26 am

Former Microsoft executive: Obamacare website rushed

Written by Tom Lawrence

A rural Powell resident has a unique insight on the difficulties being experienced by the Affordable Care Act website.

Rick LaPlante, the chair of Powell Economic Partnership Inc., is a former Microsoft official. LaPlante, who refers to Microsoft founder Bill Gates as “Bill” when discussing the company and his time there, started at the computer titan as a software design engineer and rose through the ranks.

He offered the Tribune some thoughts on what went wrong with the ACA, or Obamecare, website. LaPlante said it appears to him the website, which has crashed multiple times and not allowed many people to sign up for Obamacare, was launched before it was ready.

“We built one at Microsoft for exactly this purpose,” he said. “It is sort of inexcusable that you could put out a website of this importance in this day and age without load-testing it and knowing how it’s going to behave. I suspect that speaks to how much of a rush this really was to get it done on time.”

LaPlante said fixing the ACA website “isn’t likely to be easy or quick” for the Obama administration.

“Websites are very complex pieces of software built on top of other very complex pieces of server software,” he said. “If it doesn’t scale to the expected number of simultaneous users, it is rarely a simple fix. It is almost always a problem with the fundamental design of a system and that means a re-write of significant portions of the application.

“If you are going to do that while keeping the site available, it is akin to doing a heart transplant while keeping the patient not just alive, but out running around town,” LaPlante said.

“What surprises me most is that they didn’t know it was going to fall over when everyone hit the servers,” he said. “There are a myriad of software solutions out there that will simulate load on your website to see how it behaves.”

LaPlante retired from Microsoft in 2007 as director and general manager of Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team System, which had annual revenues of nearly $500 million when LaPlante departed to live on a ranch near Heart Mountain.

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