Obama For America Logo
Frameworks: Rails, Flask, Kohana

Obama for America (OF) gets real time insight into an agile development environment.

Obama for America (OFA) was a political organization charged with re-electing Barack Obama in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election. Headquartered in Chicago, OFA raised funds, persuaded Americans to support the campaign, registered new voters, and mobilized supporters on Election Day. The organization benefited from a robust web presence, raising approximately $670 million in online donations between April 2011 and November 2012 – a remarkable feat by any measure, but especially remarkable given an average donation of $55. Upon Obama's inauguration in January 2013, OFA transitioned into a nonprofit advocacy group called Organizing for Action, tasked with supporting the President's executive agenda for the remainder of his time in office.

When you're building software in an agile environment, it's easy to overlook simple fixes during the initial build. New Relic pointed us to some of the blind spots that had emerged during our first few months of work. And within a few days, we'd increased our response times across the board by 90 percent. Jason Kunesh Director of User Experience, Obama for America

Challenges

  • 21st century political campaign harnesses technology to engage prospective voters online, maximize use of social networks, and track voter turnout
  • Needed to manage voter and campaign data for complete real time picture of what was occurring 'on the ground'
  • Over 200 applications produced over 18 months by centralized in-house OFA technical team
  • Agility and split-second responsiveness essential for success in high volume environment
  • Social Media provided opportunities that centralized technical team could maximize
  • Extreme traffic spikes driven by campaign speeches and events
  • Traffic surged from 1000 donations totaling $15K/hr to 500,000 donations totaling $2 Million/hr. following acceptance speech
  • Single 'send' through every channel hit 60 Million people
  • First mega performance rush pushed 4 GB/second exposed all pain points with all vendors' traffic failing over to OFA

Solution

  • Greenfield operation
  • "Narwhal" platform integrated data across apps and becomes backend for 18 applications
  • Open source solutions dominate mix
  • Narwhal fully redundant and fault-tolerant to maximize application availability at all times
  • Amazon Web Services chosen for infrastructure, allowing team to focus on optimization rather than basic infrastructure operations
  • New Relic deployed for performance monitoring, management, improvement
  • AWS East, AWS West, and payment vendor site implemented for donation payment process for full redundancy; Proved essential during Hurricane Sandy
  • Flexible APIs enabled easy manipulation and use of huge storehouse of voter information
  • New Relic essential in helping team to communicate with non-technical people

Results

  • Within one hour of deploying New Relic, OFA team achieved an 80% increase in Narwhal performance, thanks to the NR software
  • Within a few days of using New Relic, the team improved the response times across the board by 90%
  • New Relic enabled team to demonstrate value of refinement of features vs. developing new features – saving time and money
  • New Relic graphs made it simple to show stakeholders why something would or would not work
  • Using New Relic the team could demonstrate how they could improve the speed of one of their applications
  • New Relic allowed team to focus more energy on iteration, less on reinvention, a core attribute of the OFA agile development process
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