DNC Sharpens Tech Focus for Convention

The Democratic National Convention Committee's technology director says this year's convention is more focused in its use of technology than previous conventions.

Christopher Gruin, director of technology for the Democratic National Convention, sat down with eWEEK News Editor Scot Petersen at the DNCs Boston headquarters earlier this month to discuss preparations for next weeks convention.

What do you do when youre not setting up conventions for the DNC?

I spent 10 years in the Air Force. I was exposed to a lot of systems development and research development. After that I went to Washington and was an intern at the White House, and worked on their systems there. Then I got involved in the event world, applying information technology to political events and political operations. I did the Inauguration [1996], then went to the Senate, did a project overseas.

The Inauguration was really the kickoff of [technology when] people expected a computer on every desk. We put an e-mail system up; it was the first event I did where we had an Internet connection. It was kind of a big deal, to get that up quickly. Back then, T-1 circuits took forever to get in. Broadband was not everywhere. Then in 2000 they asked me to come out for the Los Angeles convention. And that was a kind of culmination of large events—Id done other large political events.

The convention environment is a whole new world, with compressed development schedules, timelines, a lot of vendors. After that I went into the private sector in Los Angeles. I went to work for a company called Digital Planet, which was a streaming media broadcast studio, and they like many other companies back then started off great and I think in October 2000 they went under. A dot-com bust, went through a lot of money very quickly. Then I went to a production company in Hollywood, Imaginary Forces, as director of operations. ... Then last summer I got a call from Rod OConnor, our CEO [of the DNCC] who asked if I wanted to do this from scratch this time.

Last time I came in more towards the end and [had to] move some mountains, but this time it was a really good opportunity to come in early. We were early enough this time that it made a big difference in what we were able to achieve.

So you had some experience in 2000...

In 2000 we actually ended up rolling everything back and starting from scratch with about six weeks to go, so it had its own challenges. I was involved but not on-site except towards the end.

What was your first order of business this time?

The approach was to get an office environment up. The office where we are in now, 53 State [St.], had no infrastructure, no cabling that we could use, no wiring, no connectivity, no infrastructure at all. So the first thing was to get computers on desks, get some connectivity. Then the next step of building the enterprise network, which was putting the [Microsoft] Exchange server in place, putting the server farm into place.

Thats the infrastructure that the convention itself is using?

Partially. Were getting the services up here, building a really robust network, so that they [staff] can do the heavy lifting and planning for the convention itself. We knew the staff would grow very quickly, so we had to build lots of scalability into the system. We had to line up our official providers. We had to line up our equipment, our hardware, software and then build it with a migration down to the Fleet Center in mind.

We started from the beginning to integrate everything here with the production as a whole, when in the past they were seen as two separate operations: the enterprise side and the production technology side. We tried to integrate those early, and we also made plans for some remote offices and made sure everyone had all the service they need on a daily basis available to them wherever they go.

Next page: The providers and the connection.