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November 19, 2012

Cloud Helps Obama Win Reelection

Tiffany Trader

Add elections to growing list of cloud use cases. The Obama camp leveraged Amazon Web Services, including the EC2 cloud, for its successful 2012 election campaign.

“Imagine setting up the technology infrastructure needed to power a dynamic, billion-dollar organization under strict time limits using volunteer labor, with traffic peaking for just one day, and then shutting everything down shortly thereafter,” writes Senior Manager of Amazon Cloud Computing Solutions Jeff Barr in a blog entry.

The implications add new meaning to phrases like “mission-critical” and “high stakes,” notes Barr.

To meet the needs of the campaign, the Obama technologists built, deployed and scaled more than 200 applications on Amazon supporting millions of users. The primary voter file database ran on Amazon’s Relational Database Service (RDS). The analytics system was deployed on EC2 Cluster Compute instances (cc2.8xl), while a database cluster ran Leveldb on High-Memory Quadruple Extra Large instances (m2.4xlarge). Barr puts the cost of building an equivalent system outright in the tens of millions of dollars range.

“This array of databases allowed campaign workers to target and segment prospective voters, shift marketing resources based on near real-time feedback on the effectiveness of certain ads, [and] drive a donation system that collected over one billion dollars (the 30th largest ecommerce site in the world),” writes Barr.

Nearly every AWS service was called upon for this ambitious task, including EC2, Route 53, SQS, DynamoDB, SES, RDS, VPC, EBS Provisioned IOPS, SNS, ElastiCache, Elastic Load Balancing, Auto Scaling, and CloudFront, as well as Solution Architects and AWS Premium Support.

After the election was over, the entire operation was scaled “way, way down” and backed up to S3 storage.

In contrast to Team Obama’s agile IT strategy, Mitt Romney’s campaign platform, codenamed Orca, was reportedly fraught with accessibility issues. The Republican candidate relied on a more traditional IT system, built by Microsoft and an unnamed consulting firm.

Obama campaign CTO Harper Reed will be part of the “Big Data and the US Presidential Campaign” panel taking place at AWS re:Invent next week in Las Vegas.

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