NASCIO 2013 State IT Recognition Award Nomination. California Election Results Website. Open Government Initiatives

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1 1 ONLINE VOTER REG. CARD ~ Office 2007 NASCIO 2013 State IT Recognition Award Nomination Title: California Election Results Website Category: Open Government Initiatives Contact: Chris Maio Information Technology Division Secretary of State s Office th Street, 4 th Floor Sacramento, CA Phone: (916) Project Initiation: Project Completion: August 6, 2012 November 3, 2012

2 2 NASCIO 2013 Award Nomination: California Election Results Website Section 2: Executive Summary As the chief elections officer for the largest state in the nation, the California Secretary of State (SOS) is committed to providing election results in the most timely and efficient manner possible. The SOS California Election Results Website was created for this purpose. For every election, the SOS is challenged with presenting a results website that displays real time data and meets the demands of the business user, media clients, and the general public who are interested in election statistics, information and results. Since the requirements and anticipated volume for the website cannot be defined until sometime after the June primary election, there is a short duration of time between the primary and the November general election to develop and implement changes. With each election cycle, trends and statistics unique to the cycle must be evaluated and considered to structure a website that will accommodate large volumes of data and very heavy traffic spiking when the polls close on election night and the following morning after the election. The SOS was able to build this type of scalable web environment within months utilizing innovative cloud technology that saved the State of California significant time and money, which will continue through future elections. After analyzing the performance statistics of the June 2012 Presidential Primary Election, the SOS realized that the existing architectural design for California s Election Results Website had caching delays that would not support the anticipated website traffic for the November 2012 General Election. Within four months, the SOS planned, developed and leveraged cloud services to build a new, mature, scalable architecture and an elegant and informative user interface using an optimized responsive web design that resulted in an outstanding user experience. The flexibility of the cloud services environment provided a solution with rapid, scalable and cost effective infrastructure deployment. Within the first month of the project, SOS was able to provision and test several iterations of different configurations to find the optimal architecture to meet the anticipated load while containing costs. This, coupled with an efficient website designed around a single code base, allowed the SOS to progress from defining a set of business requirements to launching a fully tested, highlyoptimized and usable website in months. This effort would have not been possible using a traditional infrastructure approach. By leveraging cloud services, SOS saved approximately $250,000 in hardware costs while supporting its goal of launching a new and improved California Election Results website.

3 3 NASCIO 2013 Award Nomination: California Election Results Website Section 3: Business Problem and Solution Problem: Within a compressed timeframe, build a high-performance website to serve an anticipated 11 million Internet page views during a two-day period without augmentation to existing departmental funding. The SOS is committed to providing election information and results to the general public, business users and media as timely and efficiently as possible. Each election, the SOS is challenged with presenting an election results website that meets the demands and requirements of these groups and other interested parties around the world. A development cycle for the website for each election cannot be established until requirements are defined after the June Primary Election. As a result, there are only months between the Primary and the November General Election to build a high performance website to accommodate the millions of Internet page views anticipated during the two-day period surrounding the elections. Although the amount of interest in any given election varies between local and national elections, the desire to know the results is always high. After the polls close on Election Day, the SOS receives vote tallies from counties throughout the semi-official canvass period. The tallies are then aggregated and sent to the website for update every five minutes. If the application cannot update every five minutes, the public cannot view election results until application issues are resolved. In the past, the SOS attempted to meet this demand using only internal resources from its headquarters facility, historically running the website on just four servers with 45 MB of Internet bandwidth. This approach had physical constraints related to the SOS data center and website architecture, which was not scalable enough to accommodate the load for any given election. During recent elections, SOS realized its website architecture for the California Elections Results Website was completely overloaded and unable to provide election results without having inconsistencies due to the delays in processing information. Solution: Cloud computing and open source software to develop a cost-effective, mature, scalable website architecture and informative user interface, optimizing responsive web design for the California Election Results Website. Solutions Architecture To meet the unique challenges associated with developing an election results website for an anticipated 11 million page views in a two-day period, the SOS worked in collaboration with its cloud service provider. The use of cloud services was selected to address the immediate need for substantial additional bandwidth and scalable infrastructure within a limited budget. The code base was designed with a mobile first approach, shortening the time needed to develop the front-end web design. Using the mobile first approach, the front-end was built using a customized and optimized open

4 4 NASCIO 2013 Award Nomination: California Election Results Website source HTML5 and CSS3 framework, which allowed the SOS to eliminate the need to create specific applications for the varied mobile and desktop platforms. This permitted the SOS to operate a single code base that performed on every platform. Using this method significantly reduced design, development and testing timeframes and simplified the overall complexity of the service offering. Because the SOS focused on a single code base, all federal and state accessibility requirements were met. To simplify the Elections Results Website and ensure consistency, cloud servers were provisioned in multiples of 10 by script, making each server exactly the same. The servers were configured using CentOS, an open source Linux distribution. The application was built using the Zend Framework, an open source-programming framework for high-performance PHP applications. The database leveraged was Redis, an open source advanced key-value store. To increase performance, a caching layer was implemented using Varnish, an open source web application accelerator. This blend of products allowed for finer optimization of the website, application and database which further reduced the total number of cloud servers, and the associated cost needed to provision and meet the projected election website demand. Not only did using all open source products allow the SOS to utilize internal resources to save a substantial amount of money, it also saved time by eliminating the lengthy software license procurement process. To ensure the solution was designed to handle the heaviest predictable load, the SOS tested the website using an external load testing vendor. The load scripts that where created also used an open source language, Lua, designed to simulate observed traffic patterns from prior elections. The target was to produce enough traffic to duplicate the 16,000 requests per second realized during the 2008 election night. The load test results, after several iterations of load testing, proved that the site could withstand more than 64,000 requests per second, far exceeding our 16,000 requests per second goal. Section 4: Significance California Elections Results Website Solution Aligns with State and National Strategic Priorities The Election Results Website solution directly aligns with the priorities of improving state efficiency and improving service delivery to the Citizens of California. This project supports Objective 1.1 of California s IT Strategic Plan, Increase online service and information offerings and make them more accessible through mobile devices; Objective 1.3, Enhance transparency, accessibility and openness through online and mobile solutions to promote informed participation by the public; and Objective 3.2, Leverage cloud computing technologies to achieve scalable, cost efficient and rapidly deployable computing capabilities. With its mobile first design and cost effective cloud

5 5 NASCIO 2013 Award Nomination: California Election Results Website hosted architecture, the Election Results Website aligns with NASCIO strategic priorities. Cloud Services Provided an Innovative Solution through Quick and Cost-Effective Means to Improve California Elections Results Website One of the most challenging hurdles to execute a project of this magnitude was to find a solution that could be designed, developed, tested, and deployed within a few short months. With five months separating the June and November elections, there was very little time to develop a project schedule. After extensive research and analysis, cloud services were selected as the means to provide an innovative solution that could quickly transform the California Elections Results Website into a cost-effective scalable solution. With cloud services, the SOS found that scripted deployments could be used to provision ten identically configured servers in a matter of minutes. With such tight control over the environment, the SOS saved time troubleshooting, optimizing, and finetuning during load testing. By minimizing the time spent managing the infrastructure, SOS staff were able to dedicate the remainder of time building and configuring the election night application and website. Furthermore, using cloud services eliminated the need to procure additional equipment or software, which can be expensive and take an extensive amount of time to procure. Although the SOS saved money on equipment and software, and devised a method to design, develop, test and deploy the Election Results Website in just months, ultimately, the primary benefit of the California Election Results Website was to provide accurate and timely election results. With over 11 million page views being provided within an average page load time of just over one second, this application truly exceeded the performance requirements the SOS sought to achieve, resulting in a superior user experience for the public, business user, media and other interested parties worldwide. Communicating with Media and the Public Utilizing cloud services also ensured media clients from radio, print, and television had the latest vote tallies. The SOS provided an XML version of the California Election Results Website which is essential to successfully convert election results to the charts and scrolling tickers displayed on news broadcasts and websites. In the past, the process the SOS used to create and update the XML version of the site required up to seven minutes to complete. This was problematic because there was often data being provided to the media that was out of sync with the data being shown on the SOS California Elections Results Website. For the 2012 election cycle, the SOS refactored this process using PHP. The new process took less than one second to complete, eliminating the possibility of a synchronization issue and the ability to provide real time data to the media, quickly giving the public the information they are looking for.

6 6 NASCIO 2013 Award Nomination: California Election Results Website Section 5: Benefits California Elections Results Website Can Be Used as a Model for Other Entities The innovative use of cloud services, universal architecture, and open source software makes the web design readily usable by other states that have to address the need for a short term high-performance and high-availability service offering like election results. Compared to the traditional approach of making a capital investment of over $300,000 for single purpose equipment that will rarely be used and not easily re-provisioned for other purposes, other states can follow this same model and commit a much smaller short term operational expense scaled to the size of their state and predicted load. Ongoing Cost Savings Due to the nature of the election cycle, the SOS only requires this type of scalable cloud based environment for the months surrounding each election. As a result, overall maintenance costs are a low operating expense. The flexibility of the cloud services environment allows the SOS to scale the application to meet the load presented during each election cycle and then only pay for the services used during that narrow window of time. If the SOS were to host this at its headquarters facility, it would cost over $300,000 to purchase the equipment and that equipment would only be usable for about three election cycles, sitting dormant in between each election. Using cloud services, the most the SOS spends for a presidential election is about $50,000 with a substantially lower cost for primary elections since the SOS does not provision as many servers to handle the predictably lighter load. Various Measurable Increases Realized by the Public On November 6 and 7, 2012 with the new architecture, application and front-end optimizations, the SOS realized the following improvements over the November 2010 election: Visits: Increase of 35.12% Unique Visitors: Increase of 27.50% Page views: Increase of 32.10% Average time for website update: Decreased from 7 minutes to 0.04 seconds

7 7 NASCIO 2013 Award Nomination: California Election Results Website During the same two-day time frame in 2012, the website also provided the following services in comparison to 2010 data: Increase Unique Visitors 1.52 million 1.19 million 27.50% Visits per hour (at peak traffic) 251, , % Page views million 8.65 million 32.10% Unique page views 6.89 million 5.95 million 15.51% Page views per hour (at peak traffic) 1.72 million 342, % Average page load time 1.11 seconds 2+ minutes (est.) 40.83% Pages per visit % The most telling statistics are the number of page views per hour at peak and the number of pages viewed per visit. The 2010 site architecture and design could not handle the traffic, which resulted in slower page loads and fewer pages viewed in each visit. The number of pages viewed at peak dramatically increased in Because of the improved cloud architecture and site design and a site that responded quickly and efficiently, visitors were able to view more pages per visit. In addition, the SOS experienced an increase in the success rate of page request responses as follows: In 2008 and 2010, SOS technical staff were continuously attempting to mitigate the service offering to improve performance during the entire peak period. In 2012, the service offering operated flawlessly, as was evidenced in our monitoring tools and general user experience and feedback. In 2010, approximately 50% of all page requests were provided a response. In 2012, all page requests were provided a response. Expansion to Mobile Devices The SOS also prepared for an increase in the number of visitors using mobile devices, including tablets and smart phones with the November 2012 election. The SOS redesigned the California Election Results Website to respond to the device of the user and presented an interface optimized to the given platform. Visitors accessing the site from a desktop PC were presented with a full interface including graphics and left hand navigation while those visitors using a smart phone were presented with an interface free of graphics and resized to fit their screen. This was an optimal development strategy for the SOS to utilize given the short development window. Visitors using mobile devices accounted for 38% of all visitors to the website, which represented a 4,614% increase for the November 2012 election over the November 2010 election.

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