The Obama campaign used open source and the cloud to build a highly efficient powerhouse tech infrastructure. It was done in-house too, not outsourced, which gave them more control. They hired the best and the brightest, with good results. The online fundraising module, for example, was bulletproof – hardened, massively redundant, not dependent on other modules, and designed to keep operating even if its own database failed.
By contrast, the Romney campaign outsourced everything and the idiots in charge didn’t even test the system to track voters. Instead it went live at 6 AM on Election Day and unsurprisingly crashed spectacularly. Romney boasted about being a businessman who could get things done yet his own tech infrastructure was ineptly planned and executed, making numskull rookie mistakes.
Key in maximizing the value of the Obama campaign’s IT spending was its use of open source tools and open architectures. Linux—particularly Ubuntu—was used as the server operating system of choice. “We were technology agnostic, and used the right technology for the right purpose,” VanDenPlas said. “Someone counted nearly 10 distinct DBMS/NoSQL systems, and we wrote something like 200 apps in Python, Ruby, PHP, Java, and Node.js.”
It also helped that the campaign, at least for internally developed applications, relied almost exclusively on Amazon Web Service for its infrastructure.
Using the Amazon cloud had huge advantages. The services are metered, you only pay for what you use, with no monthly fees. Servers scale instantly to meet any load. Plus, the campaign didn’t have to worry about maintaining the infrastructure because Amazon was doing it for them and thus could concentrate on building applications.
“This is the difference,” VanDenPlas said, “between a well run professional machine and a gaggle of amateurs, posing in true Rumsfeldian fashion, who ‘don’t know what they don’t know.’ I would be shocked if such a chasm exists next cycle between the parties—these aren’t mistakes to be repeated if you want to do things like win elections.”