As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Bob West, Director of the Office of Reapportionment for the Florida House of Representatives, about using the Windows Azure platform to help capture accurate U.S. Census statistics. Here's what he had to say:
MSDN: Tell us about the Florida House of Representatives and how you use technology to help serve your constituents. West: The Florida House of Representatives is part of the Florida Legislature and has 120 members, each representing a political district in the state. We rely on technology to help us communicate with residents and to support several initiatives, one of which is the redistricting process, which, by law, must happen every 10 years after the census is taken.
MSDN: What were the biggest challenges that the Florida House of Representatives faced prior to implementing the Windows Azure platform?
West: We wanted to develop a web-based application to encourage residents to participate in the redistricting process, but after analyzing the infrastructure changes required to support the kind of application that we envisioned, we realized that it was too costly-topping U.S.$300,000 over a four-year period to host the application and data. We also took into consideration that we'd have to build an infrastructure to handle extremely high volumes of traffic during peak periods. Furthermore, we wanted to ensure that any technology solution we implemented could be used for multiple projects that could help us to better serve citizens
MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with Windows Azure to address your need for cost-effective scalability?
West: Prior to developing a redistricting application for Windows Azure, we developed a pilot service to evaluate the platform. MyFloridaCensus (), which uses the Microsoft Silverlight 3 browser plug-in and is hosted in Windows Azure, uses Bing Maps and a Microsoft Geocoding web service, along with census data, to highlight areas that may have been missed by the U.S. Census Department. Citizens can use the Microsoft ASP.NET application to report whether or not they've been counted, and, in turn, the House works with the U.S. Census Bureau to count those citizens who were missed. We use a Windows Communication Foundation communication protocol to access two 10-gigabyte Microsoft SQL Azure databases to store census geography and data.
Green lines are land parcels, blue lines represent U.S. Census paths, and red areas indicate where some residents may have been missed by the U.S. Census.
MSDN: What makes your solution unique?
West: The technology stack-with its scalability and visually appetizing design-will create a direct line of dialogue between Floridians and Florida politicians on what is traditionally one of the most politically charged, but unfortunately ambiguous, issues for the average person. We've proven the Windows Azure platform as a scalable solution, and therefore we can reuse much of that code for our redistricting application. That said, because the redistricting application will require additional storage, we will use a 50-gigabyte SQL Azure database, and may consider supplementing our storage solution with Windows Azure Table storage. These features will support the new application that will allow citizens to participate in the redistricting process online by submitting designs for suggested district boundaries.
MSDN: What kinds of benefits are you realizing with Windows Azure?
West: Based on the information we gathered from MyFloridaCensus, we learned that of the 19,000 citizens who reported their census status, 2,250 households were initially missed by the U.S. Census Department. Each resident represents $1,500 in federal funds that we receive, so having accurate census data has a positive fiscal impact for our state. In addition, we can quickly scale up without the costs of an on-premises infrastructure. In fact, we estimate that we will avoid approximately $300,000 in infrastructure costs. However, the savings and federal funding are only part of the story. The big picture is that Floridians will be able to attain unprecedented levels of participation in defining their elected representation for the decade to follow.
To read more Windows Azure customer success stories, visit: www.windowsazure.com/evidence