Tracking Santa in the cloud and what it means for government

24 January 2013 | Dana Barnes, Director, Microsoft Joint & Defense Agencies

I don’t know how, but Santa continues to outdo himself.  This year he delivered over 7 billion gifts to homes around the world, and once again NORAD helped anxious children track him every step of the way.  Nearly 23 million people from 234 different countries followed Santa’s journey on the NORAD Santa Tracker website this year, and they did so through a range of devices – from PCs to tablets to smartphones, as well as a host of new apps.  By any measure, this year’s program was a huge success, and with Microsoft serving as one of NORAD’s technology partners, we saw it as a major success for cloud computing as well. 

The Santa Tracker website, which was built on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud computing platform, experienced 16,000 hits a day for most of December and then jumped to 90 million page views on Christmas Eve!  That’s a huge spike, and Microsoft’s cloud resources were ready.  Servers lit up around the world, ready to handle the increased demand, and datacenter resources were primed in the event of a disaster or unexpected service interruption.  

That’s the beauty of the cloud – flexible, reliable, and scalable computing.  In the age of big data, government agencies are increasingly in need of serious computing power at specific times. Whether it’s the NORAD Santa Tracker during Christmas, the IRS during tax season, or FEMA during a natural disaster, agencies need flexible and affordable IT infrastructures that are able to scale up to meet surges in demand, and scale back down when resources are no longer needed.  The same is true for agencies looking to simulate large-scale national security or public health scenarios, like a hurricane, wildfire, earthquake, or terrorist attack.  Those types of analyses require enormous computing power, and in the cloud, agencies can access those resources when they need them, without having to pay for them when they don’t. 

For challenges like natural disasters and security threats, time is of the essence, which highlights another valuable aspect of cloud computing – it’s nimble. The entire NORAD Santa Tracker content delivery network was created in about a month, and for emergency response situations where personnel need immediate access to information and resources, an infrastructure can be stood up in just a few days.  And because Microsoft adheres to open industry IT standards, “access” means from any agency-approved device and any location with a web connection.

From tracking Santa to managing disaster response, cloud computing has changed the game for government agencies. We encourage everyone to continue to support the great NORAD Santa Tracker program, and for more information about how the cloud might be able to support the needs of your government agency, please visit our Cloud Computing for Government page

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Dana Barnes
Director, Microsoft Joint & Defense Agencies

About the Author

Dana Barnes | Director, Microsoft Joint & Defense Agencies

Dana oversees Microsoft’s Joint DoD business and previously managed Microsoft’s accounts in the Naval District of Washington. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served for seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Read more