Relate UK considers cloud due to demand for online chat counselling

The largest provider of relationship support in the UK, Relate, is considering migrating some web-based services to an external private cloud environment following the success of a government-based project to implement online chat for people in need of discreet counselling.

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The largest provider of relationship support in the UK, Relate, is considering migrating some web-based services to an external private cloud environment following the success of a government-based project to implement online chat for people in need of discreet counselling.

Relate is a UK charity that has been running for nearly 75 years, with 70 regional centres and some 600 branches across England and Wales.

Although Relate’s services still largely focus on face-to-face counselling, it has seen a growth in people, largely men, looking to online support, given the benefits of anonymity. Having won approximately £200,000 from the Department for Education’s innovation fund, Relate opted to implement Moxie Software’s live, web-based chat software.

“We have been running an email service for many years now, but Relate tries to meet clients where they are. We saw an increasing number of people hitting our website, so we applied for some innovation funding and launched a pilot,” said Stephen Thorlby-Coy, Head of Relate Response at Relate UK.

However, given the success of the project, which launched in 2009, Relate is now considering lifting the service and hosting it in an external environment, given the demands that are being placed on the network and bandwidth.

“We use our internal network at the moment, but over the next few months we will be considering an external cloud environment, mostly because of the bandwidth requirements. We could have a guaranteed hosted data centre,” said Thorlby-Coy.

“Also, it would help with a number of online projects we have got in the pipeline. We are looking to embed live chat as one of our core service offerings.”

At the moment Relate uses the live chat to complement its other services, with dedicated time slots where people can live-chat online. However, if hosted in an external environment, it could give it the same prevalence as its other services. It is also currently trialling the use of webcam technology to counsel people across the UK, another online project that would benefit from extra bandwidth.

“We have delivered more than 44,000 live chats in less than three years. We think that the way it seems to work is that clients will go online as their first port of call,” said Thorlby-Coy.

“By putting the live-chat on the website, it allows people to dip their toe in the water with counselling, but we see it leading to other service, such as face-to-face.”

“We are now up to about 20,000 chats a year, which isn’t massive, but it’s growing.”

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