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The Obama for America 2012 Campaign began in April 2011 when President Barack Obama formally announced his plans for reelection. Obama for America will be remembered as the first U.S. presidential reelection campaign to leverage social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
The campaign developed other technologies to enhance the organization’s ability to reach voters. For example, Dashboard was an online organizing network for growing and nurturing a community of supporters. By logging into Dashboard, a supporter connected with a “neighborhood team” and was empowered to contact voters in the area. Data was then collected from the Dashboard, allowing the Obama for America team to track everything the supporter did for the campaign. With thousands of servers and hundreds of deployed products, the Obama for America team ran a highly technology-focused campaign. Spending nearly $400 million, Obama for America successfully achieved reelection for the President with the aid of a more intelligent and reliable IT infrastructure.
Obama for America used Loggly for log management, Nagios for infrastructure monitoring, and New Relic for application performance monitoring. Prior to implementing PagerDuty, the campaign’s alerting came through a generic SMS gateway connected to Nagios. Such a system lacked escalation capabilities, integration with other tools like Loggly, and the ability to alert engineers multiple times by phone calls or push notifications. If a serious problem occurred in the middle of the night, the chances that the on-call person would respond to a single message was unlikely. Obama for America needed to be proactive in its monitoring to ensure minimal downtime and thus needed a reliable alerting system. “Failure was not an option,” said Harper Reed, Chief Technology Officer of Obama for America. “Our campaign had no opportunity for downtime.”
At first, the Obama for America IT team only had a few members, so Reed managed the on-call schedule with relative ease. However, as the group grew, maintaining order in the schedule became increasingly difficult. Manually managing on-call schedules led to slower response times and more frequent outages. The campaign needed to figure out a way to establish who was on-call, how to contact them, and how to escalate if the incident went unresolved.
If Obama for America was going to successfully reelect the President, the organization would need an effective alerting system and on-call strategy. With PagerDuty, Obama for America could be confident that no alerts would slip through the cracks. PagerDuty integrated with Loggly’s alerting tool, Alert Birds, by using PagerDuty’s API. If an incident occurred in the middle of the night, it would be difficult for an on-call engineer to sleep through multiple means of contact, including email, SMS, phone calls, and iOS or Android push notifications.
PagerDuty allows engineers to individually customize how they want to be reached and at what specific time intervals. This reassured the campaign’s on-call engineers that they would be properly contacted for every incident. “We wanted alerts to reach the right people to take care of the issues,” Reed said. Obama for America’s monitoring infrastructure easily integrated with PagerDuty’s system, so the organization did not miss a step. PagerDuty helped Obama for America respond to incidents before problems worsened.
“PagerDuty solved a problem we needed to solve. That’s all you can ask for.”
Obama for America needed 24/7 alerting for both its DevOps and analytics teams. PagerDuty empowered Obama for America to have easy-to-manage on-call schedules for each team. Instead of every alert going to the same on-call person, Obama for America categorized incidents so only necessary alerts reached the proper engineers.
With PagerDuty, the campaign reduced its mean time to resolution by avoiding time-consuming manual escalation or missed alerts. The new schedules made it clear who was on-call, how they should be contacted, and the escalation policy if the incident was not acknowledged. PagerDuty enabled Obama for America to respond to alerts entirely through mobile devices helping the campaign function while on the go.
Through PagerDuty, Obama for America no longer needed to worry if an engineer had missed an alert. Instead, the campaign was able to spend more time on what really mattered: getting out the vote.
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