Keeping the Lines of Communication Wide Open at the Democratic National Convention
The difference between this convention and the last one was substantial. It’s a four-year jump in technology."
- Andrew Binns, CIO, Democratic National Convention Committee
Provide ubiquitous wireless and wireline communications to support a high-profile political convention
Comprehensive communications support including voice, data and Internet connectivity, cloud-based website hosting, network security consulting, mobile communications and mobile application development, and voice and web conferencing
Highly secure and collaborative environment for event planning and production; ability to have global audiences follow and join in convention activities
United States political party system
United States political party system
About the Democratic National Convention Committee
In 2012, the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) planned and conducted the political convention where the Democratic Party’s candidate for United States President was chosen. Held in a new location every four years, the Democratic Convention draws tens of thousands of visitors and attracts the attention of news media and individuals from across the globe. The convention is a high-profile mega-event with worldwide significance.
Though the convention lasts only a few days, planning this important and complex production begins more than a year in advance. As a major technology sponsor for the Charlotte 2012 Convention, AT&T was deeply involved in providing communications support, from the core network to security, Internet and mobility services. A major focus: delivering a range of communications vehicles for audiences near and far who were more dependent on their mobile devices than during the last convention, four years earlier.
As the wireline and wireless mobility sponsor for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, AT&T delivered robust and reliable voice, data and Internet connectivity. The DNCC event managers used AT&T Connect®, a voice and web conferencing solution, to plan and help run the convention. To meet the expectations of a 2012 audience, AT&T hosted the convention website with a scalable, cloud-based solution. In addition, because smartphones and mobile communications played a far greater role than ever before, AT&T helped planners develop a convention mobile ‘app’ that was downloaded by more than 80,000 mobile smartphone users. And because highly secure network security is essential for such a high-profile event, they relied on AT&T for network security consulting and solutions.
Adapting for a Changing World
AT&T came up with a solution that was scalable, was strong, was in the cloud and worked fantastically.”
The political environment may be in constant flux, but some things about American political conventions never change. Every four years these huge, high-profile events move to a new location, where they are created anew. They make big news around the world. And there is no room for error.
That was the challenge for Andrew Binns, Chief Information Officer for the Democratic National Convention Committee, as his team planned the 2012 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their goals: build a communications infrastructure robust and capable enough to ensure a trouble-free event, and use that foundation to deliver the up-to-date communications features the world had come to expect in 2012.
“We wanted to make sure that all of our departments, our staff, our guests and our volunteers – everyone that had anything to do with the convention, including the media – had a safe, reliable, always-on communications infrastructure,” Binns said.
It seemed like the whole world would be watching. Some 35,000 delegates, guests, VIPs and members of the media, plus 50,000 from the Charlotte area were expected for the event.
“You probably had a hundred thousand in the local market,” Binns said, “and once you go outside that, into the resources that we put out on the Web and via the app and via TV, you’re well into the tens of millions.” The spotlight would shine fiercely on Charlotte.
But change was also part of the challenge for Binns and the team. Since the 2008 convention, technology had moved fast. People had grown comfortable getting information through mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, going to the Internet or using mobile applications.
“The difference between this convention and the last one was substantial,” Binns said. “It’s a four-year jump in technology. There’s a huge focus on personal devices and data and our world has become very app-centric. That did not exist four years ago.” The convention team wanted to use those evolving technologies so the audience, whether on site in Charlotte or on the other side of the globe, would feel like part of the event.
Convening the A Team
To tackle the job, Binns assembled a powerful team. “AT&T was our largest supporter, though we had in total nearly 20 kinds of providers that we worked with,” he said. “I had a staff of only about 15 or 16, so we relied heavily on sponsors like AT&T.”
Signed on as an official convention sponsor, AT&T provided IT and communication services that ranged from OC-192 and OC-48 optical fiber backbone connections and data center space to network security consulting, cloud-based web hosting, and audio and web conferencing. AT&T also worked hand in hand with the convention team to create a convention app for many different types of web enabled devices.
Reliability and network security were top priorities. Redundant fiber optic backbone loops provided assurance against an outage, and AT&T worked with the managers of convention sites to ensure attendees could connect through their wireless devices. When threatening weather caused planners to move the President’s acceptance speech to Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena, AT&T rolled its first-ever mobile distributed antenna system (DAS) into place to make sure the audience could share their experience with the rest of the world.
“You know,” said Binns, “everything that we built, we built in duplicate and triplicate because you only get one shot. There are no do-overs in a live event like this.”
Building a ‘Huge Place of Information’
A center of convention communication and outreach would be the convention website, www.demconvention.com. “I had always imagined somebody getting out of work, taking a bus home and wanting to understand what was going on at the convention, or to watch the President,” Binns said. “Using their mobile device or their laptop, wherever they were, they needed to be able to see and interact with every piece of information that we had available.
“We had to make sure that our website was a huge place of information, where we had some interactive tools. I wanted them to be able to pull up the website and view a live stream of whatever was going on without any problems.”
Such performance demanded flexibility, scalability, network security and reliability. Using AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service SM with VMware vCloud® Datacenter Service, AT&T provided a scalable, cloud-based infrastructure solution to host the convention website. No matter how high website traffic might spike (something no one could predict), capacity could be quickly scaled up as needed and end users would be served. To protect against network threats, the company incorporated AT&T Web Application Firewall service in its design. The AT&T Chief Security Office conducted a full network security vulnerability analysis, resulting in several security updates and also reviewed the DNCC core network and mobile application.
“We went to AT&T and asked how we should do this,” Binns recalled. “I’m going to have a bunch of people hit this website that first day of the convention that could be in the hundreds of thousands or millions. I don’t know what they’re going to do on the site and I don’t know how long they’re going to stay. I had no metrics whatsoever on what people would do now on political convention websites, because the last one was four years ago. AT&T came up with a solution that was scalable, was strong, was in the cloud and worked fantastically.”
A Better Way to Connect
Planning and producing such a huge event takes coordination among multiple teams of staffers, supporting organizations and volunteers. For this, the DNNC used several AT&T conferencing services. Organizers trained volunteers, held planning meetings and met with the national media using AT&T Connect, which serves up to 125 simultaneous users. Indeed, as convention action began, AT&T and convention staff kept an AT&T Connect conference open for hours at a time, as they monitored website traffic and determined how to respond.
For larger groups, AT&T Connect Event Services made it possible to bring up to 1,500 people together when needed, using the same bridge number throughout the convention week.
Mobile devices and their apps have come a long way since the 2008 convention, and Binns knew an app could be a key element in convention communications. Six months before the convention started, his team sat down with AT&T to begin the development process.
“We started with a whiteboard discussion about what we would like to do,” he said. “I want to see a schedule. I want to see maps, photos and live video. I want to play games. We put literally hundreds of ideas into an Excel sheet and then categorized and ranked them. I would say in the end we had maybe 40 strong, separate ideas.
“We’re not developers or coders,” he added. “We decided on what it should look like and how it should work, and then AT&T and their partners would come back to us with a mockup. This kind of iterative process as we went along worked fantastically.”
And the response from convention watchers? By the convention’s close, the mobile app had been downloaded by more than 80,000 users.
AT&T also helped create a workaround to keep communications moving, even if email services were disrupted. The answer was the AT&T Messaging Toolkit, which made it possible to send texts or messages to key audiences over the mobile network.
“What we wanted to do was make sure that if an issue were to come up with our network or our email, we would still be able to reach all of our staff and other people who had mobile devices and who we were working with via the cell network,” Binns said. “This was just another instance of redundancy and diversity.”
A Bump in Results
Looking back, Binns was pleased with the outcome in both political and technical terms. The convention website received more than three million visits from 210 countries, with almost two million visits in the convention’s last three days. The site ran at 99.99 percent availability, and the core network achieved similar reliability.
“From a high-level perspective,” Binns said, “we got a five-point bounce from the convention, which in political terms does not happen anymore. So as a whole, we were very successful.
“On the technology side, I’m most proud of the reliability that we were able to offer our staff and our guests. No one had any issues. If our help desk had been busy with phone calls and emails, then we clearly did not plan correctly. If convention week comes along and you’re just sitting there and you actually get to enjoy and watch the show, then you’ve planned and done everything right. I think the majority of time we were pretty relaxed and got to actually experience it.”
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