The Obama campaign’s IT team quickly built applications, using iterative approaches that enabled the campaign to instantly respond to events or issues.
What made all that agile development possible was the use of a consistent set of application programming interfaces (APIs) known as Narwhal across all the applications the team built, which the IT operations team quickly deployed on an Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing platform. According to Ryan Kolak, Narwhal tech integration lead, those APIs essentially created a framework that made rolling out each new social media application not only a lot faster, but also easier for the IT operations team to manage.
“We had integrated data sets in a central database that could all be accessed via a single API,” says Kolak.
Scott VanDenPlas, the campaign’s DevOps tech lead, says the campaign’s success shows the critical need to make sure that the application developers and IT operations team are able to work hand in glove. That doesn’t necessarily mean putting in place a lot of DevOps structure as much as it does making sure that each team member understands the how dependent they are on each other to succeed.
“Nothing we did was revolutionary. It’s not really about DevOps, it’s about integrated ops,” says VanDenPlas. “Having one level of hierarchy just provides a better way to work.”
Reed says much of the methodologies used by his team have already been pioneered at companies such as Facebook and Google. What the IT team did was leverage an application performance monitoring service from New Relic to quickly identify performance issues and, just as importantly, application features that nobody was using. By aggressively eliminating those unwanted features, the IT organization could ensure that application performance remained consistently high, says VanDenPlas.
In fact, Chris Kelly, New Relic’s developer evangelist, says study after study shows that better application performance leads always contributes to more usage.
“What you’re really trying to do is flatten the IT organization to achieve frictionless ops in a way that enables continuous delivery of applications,” says Kelly. “Monitoring is essential to making that happen.”
Reed says he’s not sure how social media strategies in the next campaign may play out or what he and his team might do next, beyond leaving politics to focus on commercial business opportunities. But it is clear to him the U.S. has entered a new era of e-politics in which getting people to vote for a particular candidate will be similar to the social media marketing efforts that are already being widely deployed across the Web.
“Campaigns in the future are going to involve a lot more math and targeted analytics,” says Reed. “It hard to see how anybody is going to get elected in the future without relying a lot more on engineers.”