AWS Public Sector Blog

Faster IT at Fractional Cost: Spin Up a Serverless Solution to Support Election Night for Just $25

From viewing election results to monitoring stock transactions, government, education, and nonprofits are adopting serverless for increased agility and lower costs. Election night presents a challenge for city and county administrators across America. Voters, party workers, journalists, and constituents converge to a precinct’s website to view election results.

Alameda County in California, with 800,000 registered voters, was one county that learned a lesson about surging traffic on the 2014 election night. Their on-premises server crashed soon after the first set of results were released. Upgrading their on-premises server capacity in time for their next elections would have cost $20,000. Instead, on the 2016 election night they relied on a serverless computing solution in the AWS Cloud to support the web and mobile traffic to their site – peaking at 3,000 users at times. With a serverless solution in the AWS Cloud, supporting the election night traffic cost Alameda County just $25.

How serverless computing delivers value for public sector organizations

With more than 3,000 counties in America reporting election results, more county elections websites may find their concurrent user limits tested this fall. Serverless computing can help manage occasional traffic surges, reduce operational costs, and improve the productivity of IT operations.

Nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and educational institutions, such as FINRA, Fannie Mae, and Saint Louis University, have also adopted serverless solutions for IT transformation.

Why public sector organizations choose serverless computing

Serverless computing does not mean there are no virtual machines. Instead, the operations around provisioning, managing and scaling servers, and architecting for high availability and fault tolerance are handled by AWS. With serverless computing, public sector organizations can experience faster time-to-market, focus on development instead of operations and infrastructure, eliminate the need for server capacity planning, and eliminate costs for idle server capacity.

In public sector organizations where IT talent is often hard to acquire and retain and budgets remain limited, a technology that helps reduce cost and enhance focus on mission-critical tasks is welcome.

AWS Lambda allows IT departments to run code in response to a trigger or event. A trigger or event might include a citizen uploading a photo to a health database or a GIS user downloading spatial intelligence data or even an http request (as in the case of Alameda County). The code runs in parallel and processes each trigger individually, scaling precisely with the size of the workload. Developers pay only for compute resources used. AWS Lambda is often used with Amazon API Gateway, which makes it easy for developers to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale. Both services received FedRAMP authorizations and are ideally suited for organizations with regulatory compliance requirements.

Four top serverless use cases

Four main use cases that serverless computing supports are:

  1. Control systems – IT automation-related event-driven tasks, such as tasks that might be handled through Cron Jobs on a Linux platform or through Task Scheduler in Windows. These tasks generally include backups, log file rotation, and system maintenance. This use case is an easy win for early serverless adopters.
  2. Data processing – This use case includes data analytics, batch, Extract-Transfer-Load (ETL), machine learning, MapReduce, and stream processing using Amazon Athena, Amazon Aurora, AWS DynamoDB, and Kinesis DataStream.
  3. Backend systems – This use case includes web and mobile backend for mission-critical applications.
  4. Internet of Things (IoT) – This use case triggers processing from a sensor in IoT scenarios, such as fault prediction, environmental monitoring, public safety, and Alexa skills for Amazon Echo using Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), Lambda functions, and AWS AppSync.

As serverless computing adoption grows within public sector IT organizations, AWS is making more learning opportunities available. AWS is hosting a Public Sector Serverless Day in Washington, D.C. on October 11. To learn more on how to build serverless applications, view this video and webinar.

AWS Public Sector Blog Team

AWS Public Sector Blog Team

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Blog team writes for the government, education, and nonprofit sector around the globe. Learn more about AWS for the public sector by visiting our website (, or following us on Twitter (@AWS_gov, @AWS_edu, and @AWS_Nonprofits).