News Analysis

London Marathon 2010: Virgin launches donation site built on open source

Cliff Saran

Virgin, the sponsor for the London Marathon 2010, has created a charity fund-raising site, based on open source technology.

Virgin has used open source components, including the MySQL database, JBoss application server, Apache web server, Jaspersoft Business Intelligence Suite and Talend extract, translate and load database tools, to build a service-oriented architecture to take donations on behalf of UK charities.

Jeremy Walters, head of systems development at Virgin Money, who spearheaded the project, has taken the open source route, over commercial products, in a bid to save costs and increase flexibility. It is a not-for-profit site, so keeping operating costs low is paramount, particularly as Virgin Money hopes to undercut rival donation sites by offering lower commissions on donations taken through Virgin Money Giving.

"When Virgin became the sponsor of the London Marathon until 2015, we were given the option to become the preferred online fund-raising site. While there are a number of donation sites on the internet, we wanted to create something that provided a market-leading service at considerably less cost to charities," he says.

Open source savings

The company took advice from analyst firm Gartner on the feasibility of using MySQL and chose open source companies that offer professional services to support their products.

Walters says, "Open source is not necessarily an easy way to save money up front. We chose credible companies and bought professional support." Since open source code is licence-free, the money saved on licensing has instead been used to pay for external expertise and support.

The site, which was built by a development team of 20 from Virgin Money, integrates the open source components with the company's existing Oracle Financials back-end accounting package and the card payment service supplied by The Logic Group. Virgin Money Giving used Opsera, a provider of open source products and services, to help it build the platform. Opsera worked in partnership with Virgin Money to analyse and design the website and application, and led the initial development and delivery using offshore software development house, Arrk.

Hardware savings

Walters says Virgin Money Giving has not had to buy lots of additional hardware to support the site. Instead, the servers for Virgin Money Giving are run on top of VMware, to create logically separated servers on the same hardware infrastructure as Virgin Money's existing core business applications. He says the logical separation of applications on physical servers provided by VMware means that Virgin Money Giving is able to run the new service within its existing Cable & Wireless managed datacentre, which provides full disaster recovery.

Storage is also shared on the an EMC storage area network, but with full data separation at the application layer. "We have fully segregated the Virgin Money Giving application from Virgin Money systems, while benefiting from the economies of scale of the existing Virgin Money infrastructure " he says.

Valuable experience

Using open source software has not hindered FSA and HMRC compliance at Virgin Money Giving. In fact, Walters says open source has helped Virgin Money Giving customise the site. As an example, he says, "I don't think we could have created a fully integrated reporting function unless we could access and amend the code in Jaspersoft."

Walters says the Virgin Money Giving project has given the team experience of integrating open source systems, working with offshore development outsourcing and even building a Facebook application, experience which could be applied on the core Virgin Money site.

The project began 18 months ago and has an absolute deadline of October 2009, when runners will be notified if they have got a place on the London Marathon 2010.


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