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11/16/2012
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6 Ways Amazon Cloud Helped Obama Win

Amazon Web Services played a starring role in President Obama's quest for a second term.

Amazon's 7 Cloud Advantages: Hype Vs. Reality
Amazon's 7 Cloud Advantages: Hype Vs. Reality
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Much has been made about President Obama's tech-savvy 2012 campaign, which made use of technologies from big data to social media to email to bring votes home for Obama. Across those efforts, cloud computing played a key part in powering the campaign.

In particular, the campaign made heavy use of a vast array of services offered by Amazon Web Services, building more than 200 apps that ran in the cloud. The Obama re-election effort used Amazon so heavily that Amazon Web Services CTO Werner Vogels personally congratulated the campaign's chief technology officer, Harper Reed, on Twitter.

The long list of Amazon cloud services the Obama team tapped into included compute power and storage, Domain Name Service, distributed queue messaging, NoSQL and relational database services, bulk emailer services, virtual private cloud services, load balancing, in-memory caching, and Amazon's content delivery network. "The applications made use of virtually every AWS service," Amazon Web Services evangelist Jeff Barr said in a blog post Thursday.

[ Read 5 Ways Amazon Web Services Protects Cloud Data. ]

Here are just six Amazon Web Services tools that the Obama team used to its advantage:

1. Databases.

Data was a huge force for the Obama re-election effort. According to Scott VanDenPlas, head of the effort's DevOps group, the team used 180 terabytes of data. The primary voter file database ran on Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), which is Amazon's MySQL-based relational database, and pulled in information on voters from numerous sources. Obama for America also used Amazon DynamoDB key-value store; Amazon Simple Storage Service to store images of databases; and Google's open source LevelDB key-value store, which has its roots in Google's internal BigTable databse system.

2. Data Modeling And Analytics.

Although the databases were important for storing information on voters, donors, and volunteers, analytics put the data into action. Obama for America ran an analytics system on EC2 Compute Cluster Eight Extra Large instances, which Amazon targets for high-performance computing jobs. The campaign also did big-data modeling on Amazon with Amazon's Elastic MapReduce service and tools from HP Vertica.

3. Data Integration.

In order to connect various campaign apps with various data streams, Obama for America built a tool called Narwhal. Narwhal made heavy use of Amazon's Simple Queue Service distributed queue messaging service by integrating data from polls, third-party vendors such as Blue State Digital and NGP VAN, and other sources, and queueing the data up for processing.

4. Media management.

Amazon powered the tools that Obama for America built for what Barr termed "multi-channel media management." For instance, The Optimizer tool helped the campaign determine the most efficient television advertising strategies. Twitter and Facebook Blasters targeted individual voters on social media.

5. Voter and volunteer coordination.

The cloud powered Obama for America's social coordination and collaboration efforts as well. For example, the re-election campaign used Amazon Auto-Scaling to quickly add cloud resources in order to enable as many as 7,000 volunteers make more than two million calls to voters in four days at the campaign's end.

6. Backup.

Finally, once the election was over, Obama for America backed up its information to Amazon's Simple Storage Service.

More than half of federal agencies are saving money with cloud computing, but security, compatibility, and skills present huge problems, according to our survey. Also in the Cloud Business Case issue of InformationWeek Government: President Obama's record on IT strategy is long on vision but short on results. (Free registration required.)

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Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2012 | 3:11:10 PM
re: 6 Ways Amazon Cloud Helped Obama Win
Very interesting. I wonder a) if the Obama team could have even done deployed their IT strategy using traditional IT resources (could they have got things up and running in time?), and b) how much the campaign saved by using AWS?
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