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CTO says cloud services earn vote of International Election Monitoring Group

John Moore | May 2, 2014
The National Democratic Institute has workers in 65 countries -- not all of them friendly. To support its growing global mission, and to improve efficiency without buying more hardware, the nonpartisan nonprofit has spent the last four years migrating to the cloud.

Developers also had to overcome the tendency to spin up unnecessarily large instances. The bigger-is-better belief is a common issue among cloud users, notes Chuck Tatham, senior vice president of marketing and business development at CiRBA, a Toronto company that provides automated capacity control software.

"Everybody believes their workloads are special and hungrier than they actually are," Tatham says. Some companies end up modeling their virtual machines based on the characteristics of their typically underutilized physical servers, he says. As a result, they end up with more capacity than they can ever consume.

NDI, meanwhile, eliminated some virtual deadwood on the backup and recovery side. The organization had 13,000 snapshots that required cleaning out. Spence said that peak amount has declined to 4,000 and is expected to drop to 1,500 with additional tweaking of backup scripts.

A Lawson human resources application that NDI has been unable to virtualize and move to the cloud represents another challenge. Spence says the organization plans to make a decision next year on how to retire that application. He said the choice boils down to a new HR management system as SaaS or, should NDI decide to keep Lawson, a hosted Lawson option from a SaaS provider.

Lawson is one of a few applications running on physical servers at NDI. The AIX-based Lawson software runs on four servers. An Oracle database supporting Lawson resides on an in-house storage-area network. The soon-to-transition Costpoint accounting application runs on two servers. The organization also runs three voicemail servers and a few other application servers.

Two of the physical machines are VMware servers for NDI's private cloud, where the organization runs about 30 virtual machines. The virtual machines span many roles, including project tracking, print servers, shared drives for Windows and domain controllers. Blackbaud Razor's Edge fundraising software also operates as a virtual machine.

Cloud Deployments Now Standard for Field Operations

NDI pursues the cloud in the field as well as the back office. The organization is creating reusable set of four SaaS tools for its in-country partners: A political party member-tracking tool, an election monitoring tool, an online town hall platform and a platform for tracking legislative casework.

NDI will distribute the software in a three-tier approach. The first tier will launch in May, when NDI plans to share the open source code in GitHub. The next tier involves making those systems (except for the election monitoring application) available as pre-configured packages that can run in AWS.

The election monitoring tool, a Python app using NoSQL, has a different reusability architecture, Spence says. For that application, NDI will spin up new software stacks within a single multi-tenant type environment for each election using Docker.


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