icitizen: Cutting costs and improving stability for political polls

About icitizen

icitizen’s mission is to help people influence and inform decisions that improve their lives. It does that through an online polling and data analytics app focused on political engagement in the United States.

Industries: Government
Location: United States

About ReactiveOps

ReactiveOps builds and maintains world-class infrastructure, helping customers to improve application development speed, security, and availability by harnessing Kubernetes and DevOps best practices coupled with DevOps-as-a-Service plans.

icitizen uses Google Cloud Platform and ReactiveOps IT consulting to refine its business to focus on online polling, and scale to meet big traffic spikes

Google Cloud Results

  • icitizen saves more than $500K annually in personnel costs
  • Cloud platform spending has been reduced by 60%
  • System stability has improved by 15%

The icitizen website launched in 2012 to help people better engage with elected officials and have a stronger voice in their communities. Several years later, it fine-tuned its mission to focus on providing online polling for citizens, elected officials, candidates, and groups. Now, people and organizations can sponsor polls and share the results with one another and the public, and promote discussions.

System stability increased to 99.99% uptime

To meet the growing demand for polling services, the company needed to expand its infrastructure but found its legacy setup inadequate. The existing infrastructure, which was spread across several cloud platforms, including Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Rackspace, was too unwieldy to run the microservices technology it needed to power the polls and site. It required icitizen to manage three different vendors and multiple ways of deploying and supporting software.

To solve this problem, icitizen turned to Google because its technology met the needs of icitizen and its philosophy was also closely aligned with the company’s. The site chose Google Kubernetes Engine to build and manage microservices because it was flexible and affordable, and could easily scale to handle site traffic growth. In addition, “Google had published several papers about how technology could be used in the political sphere, and it showed us that Google clearly understood what we were setting out to do,” says icitizen DevOps Manager Dane Frazier.

“The combination of Google Cloud Platform and ReactiveOps helped us build and retool our infrastructure to easily handle the mission we set for ourselves–to focus on online polling. With it, we knew we would be able to offer better services and more stability while reducing costs.”

Dane Frazier, DevOps Manager, icitizen

In 2016, icitizen decided to streamline operations to cut costs and allow IT staff to focus on core functions, like offering new site features. To do this, the company contracted with ReactiveOps to manage and run the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) infrastructure, freeing engineers for higher-value work.

“The combination of Google Cloud Platform and ReactiveOps let us build a new infrastructure that could easily handle the mission we set for ourselves – to focus on online polling,” says Dane. “With it, we knew we would be able to offer better services and more stability while reducing costs.”

Scaling to meet big traffic spikes

Kubernetes Engine runs and manages Docker containers built on Kubernetes to run 20 separate microservices, which power the site, provide data analytics and live client dashboards, and allow icitizen to offer live on-demand polling services.

Elected officials and groups use icitizen polling to draw more attention to important issues and communicate how the public feels about them. For example, Oregon State Senator Chuck Riley used the results of an icitizen poll to support a bill that requires high school students to pass a civics exam in order to graduate. Polling results on icitizen are regularly covered by popular websites such as Huffington Post and FiveThirtyEight.

“Because of our partnership with ReactiveOps, we don’t have to staff 24/7 and can focus on building new technology.”

Dane Frazier, DevOps Manager, icitizen

With Kubernetes Engine, icitizen easily scales its polling and website to meet big increases in demand. In a typical month, 15,000 people participate in polls and visit the website. Several hundred new users are added a day, and 3,000 separate polling entries are made every week. But when important political events spark community interest, traffic can surge quickly. For example, usage nearly doubled in a spike during the 2017 State of the Union speech when icitizen conducted and streamed multiple live online polls. With Kubernetes Engine, the website operated smoothly during that event and the online polls were always open.

Meanwhile, ReactiveOps serves as a direct arm of the icitizen IT staff. The service handles traffic spikes by ensuring icitizen has autoscaling and, if applicable, cluster autoscaling, activated and properly tuned and tested. It monitors the GCP infrastructure around the clock, pinpoints underlying technical issues that need to be fixed, and makes sure everything runs properly.

ReactiveOps also fine-tunes the Kubernetes Engine deployment, and helps plan for future growth. “Because of our partnership with ReactiveOps, we don’t have to staff 24/7 and can focus on building new technology,” says Dane. “Our partnership with ReactiveOps allows us to tackle technical issues from a combined approach. We have a great working relationship, direct lines of communication, and share ways to simply get stuff done.”

“Running on a single platform is a time-saver and a productivity enhancement. We traded three separate platforms for a single platform, with just one way to build what we need. It's much easier to manage a single point of contact and a single point of support.”

Dane Frazier, DevOps Manager, icitizen

Reducing costs and improving uptime

With GCP and ReactiveOps, the technology budget for icitizen has been dramatically reduced. Frazier estimates icitizen saves a half a million dollars or more annually in personnel costs by allowing the company to operate with fewer operations engineers. The company has also saved 60% in cloud platform spending because ReactiveOps “has right-sized our platform to sustainable and reasonable levels,” in Dane’s words.

“Running on a single platform is a time-saver and a productivity enhancement,” Dane adds. “We traded three separate platforms for a single platform, with just one way to build what we need. It's much easier to manage a single point of contact and a single point of support.”

In addition, uptime has dramatically improved, particularly important when handling real-time events because the polls can’t run when the site is down. System stability has increased by approximately 15% and now has 99.99% uptime, according to Dane. With the help of GCP and ReactiveOps, icitizen hopes to move towards zero downtime.

About icitizen

icitizen’s mission is to help people influence and inform decisions that improve their lives. It does that through an online polling and data analytics app focused on political engagement in the United States.

Industries: Government
Location: United States

About ReactiveOps

ReactiveOps builds and maintains world-class infrastructure, helping customers to improve application development speed, security, and availability by harnessing Kubernetes and DevOps best practices coupled with DevOps-as-a-Service plans.

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Try Kubernetes Engine, BigQuery, and other Cloud Platform products with $300 in free credit and 12 months.

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