One of the UK’s largest charities, Cancer Research UK, is in the process of developing a comprehensive public cloud strategy for bursts in capacity on public facing websites, but was concerned that it still needs to convince its internal security staff that it’s viable.
Jane Swindle, information systems (IS) manager at the charity, spoke to Computerworld UK about its imminent plans to put select infrastructure into the cloud.
“We are always interested in things that could potentially save us money. One big area of interest for us is infrastructure that we could either burst out or actually run from the public cloud,” said Swindle.
She added: “So some of our public facing websites we host in a traditional environment – and with this comes all sorts of costs. We could reduce these considerably if we were to run them ourselves, but on someone else’s infrastructure.”
“If we did this, we wouldn’t have the problem that we currently have where we have to contract infrastructure for peaks in demand. We want to move to a pay-as-you-go model.”
Swindle hopes to deploy such a solution for the Race to Life campaign, which has a race season once a year and then ‘lies dormant’ for the remaining months. She said that Cancer Research UK needs to maintain a holding presence, but by using the public cloud it wouldn’t have “peak infrastructure just sitting there”.
Cancer Research UK’s infrastructure development team is currently looking at the options in the market, where it will be considering players with a "large presence", and hopes to have a final strategy by the end of the year. Swindle said the charity will move “swiftly” after that to make the move.
However, ICT security staff may prove a sticking point for the team’s plans, as Swindle admits that they aren’t entirely convinced of the move just yet.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be our internal audit security people. Convincing them that it’s the right thing to do and that all the security measures we need to put in place have been done correctly. People on that side of things don’t seem to be moving as fast as the technology,” said Swindle.
“I think in terms of functionality, there is always a technology solution out there. The problem is getting the security people to a place where they are happy for you to go and do it.”
She added: “The challenge is convincing them that the way to do it is to educate the end-users, rather than anything to do with technology. You need to have an active education programme for your user base so that they are aware of the types of information, and what they can and can’t do with that information.”
Cancer Research UK began experimenting with cloud when it embarked on a consolidation project of its real estate in London – where it moved eight offices into one central building. This began 18 months ago, and as part of the move it placed its entire infrastructure into a third-party co-location facility hosted by Interxion, where it has 99 percent of its estate virtualised.
In doing this it also set up a 1,200 user base Citrix XenDesktop environment, using Wyse T10 thin clients. This project is still progressing as it is upgrading to Citrix 5.6, from Citrix 4.0. Swindle explained that the technology has allowed the charity to make huge operational savings, which has been reinvested into research.
“To stay ahead of the curve we are moving to Citrix 5.6. Citrix 4.0 was all about one-to-one desktop provisioning, so every user would need to have an individual profile set up. Whereas, 5.6 gives you the ability to just have a gold image that can be deployed out to all users, rather than storing an image for every user you set up,” she said.
“We saved a great deal of money on power and cooling because of the smaller devices, they use a third of the power of a desktop. In terms of the whole project, we have saved £1 million a year on the operational budget.”
Cancer Research UK was also able to reduce its physical footprint after deploying the virtual desktop infrastructure, though this has not gone as far as Swindle would like.
“We had hoped to see great internal flexibility to reduce the footprint of our internal estate. However, the culture is a hard nut to crack. We were hoping that people would be more willing to share space than they actually are. A lot of people still want to have their own desk,” she said.
“We were able to reduce the footprint by a quarter of a floor in March, which is about 125 desks. We now have two floors. If people we more flexible we could reduce that further, but I don’t think we will be able to achieve that.”
It was also revealed in January that Cancer Research UK has begun using a cloud-based fund raising platform that was made available to UK charities for the first time this year.
Convio TeamRaiser provides charities with a fully branded online platform that allows registration, online donations, real-time fundraising reporting, event management, email capability and social media integration. It is designed to maintain engagement with participants all in one easy-to-use package.