Action for Children takes fundraising to the cloud with Rackspace

Charity Action for Children has overcome its website traffic issues and has saved costs by using Rackspace cloud

A tweet from Stephen Fry about a charity programme, My Action for Children in 2010, flooded Action for Children’s website and that triggered the charity’s move to cloud computing.

“Stephen Fry’s tweet drove a lot of traffic to our website and our shared services infrastructure could not cope with that much pressure,” says Darren Robertson, the data scientist at Action for Children charity.

If the charity organisation continued using the shared services infrastructure then, in case of such occasional traffic peaks, it would have to host the website on a separate server that cannot be used for any other services during peak traffic, Robertson says.

“This means one day's downtime to move the web services from one host to another and another day’s downtime to move it back,” he adds.

“We knew we wanted a dedicated website hosting infrastructure and we considered various options, including cloud computing,” he says.

After considering several providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Rackspace and Microsoft, the IT selected Rackspace for a hybrid infrastructure. 

Today, its infrastructure comprises of Rackspace cloud services to host its website, the charity’s internal datacentre to host sensitive data about the children it deals with and a Rackspace hosting service to run some of its other applications.

But it wasn’t until September 2012 that the organisation started using cloud computing. 

“We knew cloud would help us achieve our objectives but in 2010 there was a little nervousness around adopting cloud, especially among the government and charity organisations,” Robertson says. “We were also in the middle of our contract with the shared services provider.” 

Since September 2012, Action for Charity has put its website and some business development applications on the Rackspace cloud.

We want to be innovators and we want to change how fundraising is perceived today

Darren Robertson, Action for Children

But the charity has some big plans on cloud computing moving forward, especially when it comes to fundraising activities. “We want to be innovators and we want to change how fundraising is perceived today,” Robertson says.

The charity has just finished the proof of concept of big data analytics on Hadoop cluster using Rackspace services.

The idea is to structure all the unstructured data from social media such as Facebook and Twitter and mix it with other structured datasets to analyse the organisation’s data. 

“This will help us with our fundraising activity, understand who our donors are and ask for donation appropriately,” Robertson says.

“We don’t want to put off a student by asking for a £30 donation. Instead, we can target them with £3 text message donation or ask them to do a sponsored run for us. This is only possible through data analytics.”

Part of its big data analytics includes web personalisation and business intelligence (BI) activities too.

In the last six months of using open source cloud computing, Action for Children has saved money on in-house IT investment and is able to sustain the website even in terms of peak traffic. 

“Cloud’s pay-as-you-go model means we don’t have to invest in shiny new IT storage all the time,” he adds.

But why Rackspace’s open cloud services? 

“We considered several providers such as AWS, but getting hold of AWS in case of a service issue is a nightmare,” says Robertson. The organisation was also familiar with open source as many of its applications were based on that technology. 

“The cloud just matched our ethos. Also, if we have a problem, there is a whole community out there that is working to finding a solution,” he adds.

“Our short-term goal was to find a place where we can host our website permanently and our long-term goal was to improve our fundraising activities. We are on track to achieve all our goals,” says Robertson.


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