THE BLOG
02/22/2013 07:04 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

The Decade of Data: President Obama's Reelection Campaign Analytics

President Obama's data-driven reelection victory not only became the "force multiplier" edge over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, but it also heralded a new era of how digital platforms can win elections in the future. The dynamics of politics has changed.

In the decade of data, where all things analog will transition to an all-digital world, Laine Campbell is not much of a "futurist." A principal and founder of PalominoDB, a database (DB) architect firm, doesn't consider herself a seer. She doesn't peer beyond the horizon. She is pragmatic. For a database architect that is an essential quality to have.

In the legacy era in which nearly all databases were relational, the Oracle way, today there's an array of new databases that serve special operations, such as mobile and online gaming. Both require rapid speed and scalability. Some of these firms include Datastax, Couchbase, and 10Gen's MongoDB. A few years before, open-source, non-relational databases that are distributed models cropped up with HBase, Hadoop, Cassandra -- all part of the Apache Software Foundation.

With data big, fast, with a lot of variety, a new Cisco study predicts that global mobile data traffic will grow 66 percent CAGR over the next five years, or from 1.6 Exabyte (EB) today to 11.2 EB by 2017. How big is that? Try 1018 power.

Data Drives President Obama's Reelection Win

After President Obama won the election last November, a great deal has been written about the technology edge his campaign held over the Grand Old Party. The deployment, leveraging and penetration of social media, using Amazon cloud services, brought Laine Campbell's database management firm into the virtual campaign fold.

"Our job was running the front-end databases. Pushing out to Facebook, tracking social media Likes and shares, supporting incident tracking at the polls," Ms. Campbell explained.

"It was exhilarating, mildly terrifying, and rather exciting. I felt a sense of pride throughout," she continued. "There were a few moments as the traffic grew and grew, that I got an adrenaline rush. We wrestled with some last minute surprises, but in the end it ran quite smoothly for some of the most visible and trafficked systems in the United States."

People can debate how much technology benefited the Obama campaign. But one thing is clear: His rival, who was pulling in campaign donations at a solid rate last summer, saw that advantage switch in the fall as donations swung back in favor of the president. So clearly data and mobile donations contributed to President Obama's electoral landslide victory.

Agnostic Approach to Database Architecture

PalominoDB (est. 2007) supports MySQL and its dozen or so variants. "Our specialty is in large, distributed systems such as sharded RDBMS (relational database management systems) clusters, or distributed datastores," Laine Campbell replied in an email interview.

"We believe that most application workloads are complex enough to suit multiple engines based on which component you are looking at. At low scale, most solutions will work, but as you grow in transaction rates, storage size, query counts and geographic locations, you start to need specialized solutions for individual components," she explained. "By working to learn and support multiple DBMS engines, we are able to assist clients in mapping workloads to engines in the most efficient and appropriate configurations to support their growth and business needs."

For several years, Laine Campbell worked at Travelocity, which had two databases working in concert to deliver a seamless experience between the airlines and the myriad query inputs by travellers each day.

"Travelocity was quite the adventure. We did have a large database cluster built to support all of the permutations of flight segments and pricing. It was a beast to manage because of the sheer horsepower, and we spent a lot of time on the phone with Oracle, Sun Microsystems (an Oracle acquisition) and Veritas. But, we kept it running and growing," she said. "The front-end systems for profiles, reservations, content and more were more manageable, and were where I got my chops on scaling, performance tuning and architecting for availability."

Speaking of horsepower, Ms. Campbell has an affinity for horses -- so the palomino, a distinctive type of horse with a blond mane, name in her company -- and appreciation for power, she owns customized, bright green muscle car.

The former was something she always dreamt about as a girl in Louisiana. So it must have come as a surprise to Travelocity when they offered her a promotion and asked her to move to neighboring Dallas, and she turned it down.

"Once I put myself in the market, I realized how big the demand for experienced database architects (DBAs) was, but that most companies required my expertise in small doses only."

PalominoDB Born out of Need

"We offer companies the expertise of senior and principal DBAs, who are very difficult to hire and retain, while also offering them a full team of 24x7 DBAs and operations personnel to augment whatever day to day work their own teams are too busy to provide."

In 2007, who could have predicted the data tsunami of today? Not when Skype was in beta, Apple's store for its then-new product iPhone wasn't open for business yet, and Google hadn't acquired the Android mobile platform.

"Since then, we've been on the forefront of large, distributed database systems, which led us to work with and support technologies such as Cassandra, Mongo and Hbase before most individual contributors got the chance. This has only increased our value proposition."

On meeting her "first officer," Charlie Killian, VP of Professional Services at PalominoDB, she replied: "I met Charlie when he was working for a client of ours. After a few years, he had decided he wanted to branch out into a more entrepreneurial role. We were just starting to plan our professional services and engineering groups, so it was a perfect time to bring in a new leader."

Since those early days, PalominoDB has grown into a global DBA company with no brick office. Why carry physical overhead when your employees are scattered around the world, in different time zones, commuting and communicating online? Such flexibility is a competitive advantage that serves PalominoDB well.

"We are in seven countries now: Krakow, Poland; Barcelona, Spain; St. Petersburg, Russia; the Ukraine, Malta and the Philippines. We've had staff work for periods of time from Amsterdam, Costa Rica, Paris, The Bahamas and Australia, which always makes them enjoy the freedom of working remotely that much more. In many ways, it's a huge benefit. We are able to provide 24x7 coverage without keeping people up all hours of the night."

The Road Less Traveled

Growing up in Louisiana with supportive parents in a "gem of a public school," she got her technology start in repairing video games. As she recalled those days with a sense of bearing, she sees today's administration of databases as "operations becoming commoditized, while the interface to access layer is not."

On working for the Obama campaign, she noted there were a few technical challenges in using open-source, adding, "Time was definitely a factor. We had to make a few architectural compromises because we didn't have time to mitigate risk -- and risk was the biggest concern. So we ended up focusing on performance, preparing for rapid change and interruptions as they came up, rather than building the perfect architecture. And that was a great benefit while preparing for Hurricane Sandy and the impact of the election."

As political technology history was cemented in 2012, the future for PalominoDB looks bright.

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