About the US Department of State
The United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) fosters mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries to promote friendly, and peaceful relations, according to its website. ECA hosts the ExchangesConnect social network, an international online community that highlights first-person stories about cultures, commonalities, and exchange program experiences.
The State Department designed an online video contest to encourage discussion and participation around cultural topics, and to promote membership in the network. Faced with budget constraints and a short implementation timeline, the State Department was looking for a nimble and cost-effective way to accomplish its mission.
Why Amazon Web Services
The State Department and its prime contractor, MetroStar Systems, who built the contest platform, looked to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to power the contest. According to the State Department, AWS provided a “reliable hosting platform capable of supporting any degree of scalability, and a platform that allowed the development team to focus on the software solution rather than the infrastructure.”
The contest was a success and took advantage of AWS’s scalability. The contest drew participants from more than 160 countries, and video uploads from over 50 of them.
MetroStar Systems’ video contest platform made use of several AWS services:
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) – Hosted all key software components
Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) – Provided block storage for the contest’s databases
Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) – Provided all block storage for contest pictures and videos
Elastic Load Balancing – Provided load-balancing for incoming network requests
The diagram below illustrates the deployment architecture for the State Department’s ExchangesConnect Video Contest.
Figure 1: US Department of State ExchangesConnect Deployment Architecture Diagram
The biggest challenge on this project was time. According to David Keener, a Senior Solutions Architect for MetroStar Systems’ New Media Practice, “We had to implement the entire contest platform in two and a half months, including features such as entry submission, a sophisticated workflow, online comments, voting, moderation, administrative reports, tools to support judging by remote celebrity judges, and numerous other features.”
Keener notes that paying for virtual computers on an as-needed basis is cheaper, easier, and faster than having to procure physical hardware and customize systems one at a time. He says, “The process is indisputably faster and easier than before, and doesn’t involve any support personnel.”
Johnny Nguyen, Vice President of MetroStar Systems’ New Media Practice, added: “Selecting the AWS Cloud was one of the easiest and simplest system architecture decisions. AWS provided us with many key benefits and we will continue to leverage AWS for future solutions here at MetroStar Systems.”