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Running Your Own Site


Most users of our software will access a version that an organization or individual has made available for others to use. If you are that sort of person, please read our user guide to help you with our software. It is not necessary for you to install your own version of the software.

A list of participating organizations that make our software available to the public are located on the right hand sidebar of our home page. If you are an educator, we may provide you with free access for yourself or your students to versions graciously supported by Amazon Web Services in Education. If you would like to receive this access, please contact us at from a .edu e-mail address.

If you wish to administer your own version of the software for yourself or others to access through their web browsers, then you need to provide web hosting for the software. There are two options for you to consider:
  1. The easiest option is to use Amazon Web Services, also called AWS. We have created what are known as Amazon Machine Images or AMIs of state versions of the software where we have loaded state data and configured the software with default settings. You can create your own AWS account, copy over the AMI, follow some installation procedures described below, and enable mapping for yourself and others.
  2. The more difficult option is only for those with extensive computer systems management experience. The software is completely open-source. It is therefore possible to compile the source code and install the software on your own system. This may be an option for those who wish to provide large-scale public access, for a redistricting competition, for example.

Option 1. Running the Software on Amazon Web Services

The software can be most easily run using the Amazon Web Services. While our software is free, AWS provides web hosting and data storage services for a fee. Our experience with AWS is that the data storage costs are minimal, typically less than a dollar a month. However depending on how much computing power you need to host the software, costs can range from minimal or even free, to approximately $1,500 a month.

Web Hosting Cost Considerations

There are two important considerations for web hosting: the size of the state and the number of users you expect to visit your site.
  1. Geographic information systems software, similar to our software, must process a large amount of geospatial information. Literally millions of calculations are being conducted behind the scenes to display maps and statistics to users. There is more data to process in a large state compared to a small state. Thus, large states generally require more computing power than small states.
  2. Each user places demands on the server, so the computational costs increase with the number of users who are drawing maps at any one time. Anonymous users who are merely browsing maps require considerably less computations.

Managing Your Web Hosting Costs

To manage your your web hosting costs, you should consider how you wish to use the software. A primary reason why we have chosen AWS for web hosting is that it provides you with flexibility. You can turn on and off your web site or increase or decrease the server size to meet your needs. In this manner, you can control your costs. But, you need to pay close attention to your instances, as the web hosting costs can be considerable if you choose to run a very large server.

Typically, Amazon offers the following sized instances.

We recommend that you begin experimenting with a micro instance for Rhode Island since Amazon offers free storage and micro instance computing time to all new users for one year. You will still incur data storage and access changes, which in our experience tend to be minimal. For larger states or for use in a public environment with significant numbers of users, we recommend large or extra large instances. Large instances run approximately $250/month and one-year blocks can be purchased for $1,000. Amazon also offers computing grants for research and educational use. (Although these may not be used for purchase of one-year blocks.)

One of the reasons why we were attracted to Amazon is that you have the flexibility to change your instance size to meet your demands, and to turn off the service when not in use. These are excellent ways to manage your costs.

Individuals or Organizations Wishing to Do Internal Mapping.
If you are an individual or a small organization that wishes to use our software to do your own mapping, we highly recommend that you stop the instance when you are not mapping. Note the the web address that Amazon provides is complicated -- there are additional services that companies provide if you wish to have a friendly web address like It is highly unlikely that when you start your website someone will happen upon your website by chance, so you can be reasonably assured that your website is not generally known to others.

Public Mapping. If you wish to support public mapping generally available to anyone, perhaps for a redistricting competition, we recommend you use at least an Extra Large instance, or larger. In our experience, an Extra Large instance can run as much as approximately $1,500/month. If you are using our software to support a competition or similar function, it is likely that you will want to customize the software configuration. While this is possible for you to do, we recommend that if you wish to host large-scale public access, you contact either Azavea or the Metropolitan Chicago Information Center, which are two firms that have provided hosting of our software on their own servers and have customized the configuration settings for public redistricting competitions. There are ways by which a web hosting provider can increase the software's performance to support a large number of users that are unavailable through Amazon. You can also contract with your own web provider. If you do so, we highly recommend the web provider have programmers knowledgeable with geographic information systems and census data on their staff.

Running an Amazon Machine Instance on Amazon Web Services

The AMI for the current version 1.1 release is "DistrictBuilder".

If you are new to Amazon Web Services, we recommend that you follow these illustrated step-by-step instructions to launch the software using Amazon EC2.

If you are familiar with AWS, here are 3 quick steps to get you started:
  1. Go to the EC2 tab, and launch a new instance,  in the eastern region, using the following Community AMI string:   DistrictBuilder
    (Choose your preferred state data; instance size; keypair; and see the illustrated steps for the settings for the security groups)

    The following AMI's are currently available. We are working on preparing data for more states.

    State AMI Recommended Server Settings
    Floridaami-47b5742eLarge or Extra-Large
    Georgiaami-dbca0bb2Large or Extra-Large
    ami-3e29d157Large or Extra-Large
    New Mexico
    ami-fa30c893Micro or Large
    Oregonami-c41be5adLarge or Extra-Large
    Rhode Island
    Micro or Large
    South Carolina
    ami-8a11efe3Large or Extra-Large
    Virginiaami-1c916f75Large or Extra Large

  2. Go to https://<Public DNS of Your Instance>/admin, login as Admin/admin, and change the administrative password.
  3. Go to https://<Public DNS of Your Instance>/ to use the software.

Option 2. Running the Software on Your Own Server

Amazon Web Services is not required to run the software. If you wish to install the software on your own web server, detailed installation instructions accompany the software, see the README file that accompanies our source code available at SourceForge.

Project Source Code

We have a strong commitment to open-source programming principles. As such the software code is available for public inspection. We encourage knowledgeable programmers to contribute to the project.

The software is free and it is open-source, under the Apache license, version 2. The source code for the mapping software is available at Github.

The software interfaces with a redistricting analysis engine called BARD, authored by Dr. Altman and Dr. McDonald. The BARD source code is available at SourceForge. The software can be automatically installed in the R statistical package.