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Action for Children cuts IT costs through hybrid cloud

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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Using a mix of private and public-cloud resources enables charity to achieve goals of data confidentiality and scalable IT.

Action for Children (AfC) has been in the news recently. The charity is


for an update to UK child neglect legislation and the introduction of a so-called ‘Cinderella Law’.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, and on a day-to-day basis, the charity handles some of the most confidential data imaginable, relating to some of the UK’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people and their families and carers.

Learn more about building the Hybrid Cloud at IP EXPO Europe 2014

Much of that data - around 60 percent of AfC’s overall data storage - must, by law, be kept on the systems held on the charity’s own premises, explains Darren Robertson, data scientist and head of digital communications at AfC. As we discussed in the Hybrid Cloud Considerations article of this chapter on Building the Hybrid Cloud, this is an area of concern - and of hybrid-cloud potential - for organisations across a wide range of sectors, including charities and government departments.

Other kinds of data - details of donations, fundraising activities and projects underway around the country - must still be kept safe, but can at least be hosted by a trusted third party. Here, AfC uses a private-cloud environment provided by Rackspace, which also hosts AfC’s website on its public-cloud infrastructure. Many of the databases held in the private cloud environment, Robertson says, feed the public website, allowing visitors to look up, for example, the locations of children’s centres and project locations around the country.
This hybrid environment enables AfC to balance its need to maintain confidentiality with its focus on costs.
“As a charity, we have to keep a very close eye on costs - and, in this sector, we’re far from alone in that. It’s become quite apparent to charities that internal servers are expensive to run - so why would we want to do that, when it’s not always necessary?”
“By working with a provider to host certain types of information, we don’t have to worry whether a crowded server room is running at the right temperature, are systems patched regularly, does a particular component need replacing? We only need to ask those questions about the systems that host data that we’re absolutely obliged to keep in-house. We can devolve responsibility to Rackspace for the rest.”
AfC began looking at options for a hosting environment in April 2012 and completed its migration to Rackspace’s data centre in October of that year. Using an entirely public-cloud environment, says Robertson, was out of the question: “There’s a lot of nervousness within the charity sector around the public cloud,” he says, “but a hybrid cloud environment enables us to address those concerns by mixing public and private cloud.”
It also means that, if traffic to AfC’s public-facing website suddenly spikes - at times when it is actively campaigning for changes in legislation, for example, or if a celebrity tweets about its work - it can quickly tap into Rackspace’s extra hardware resources for that period, paying only for the extra capacity it consumes, rather than lifting the whole website to a larger dedicated server. This is what it previously had to do, Robertson says, and it meant that the charity was unable to update the website during those peak periods.
As for charity’s on-premise IT investment, “it’s still pretty similar for now, but things are winding down,” says Robertson. “We have over 72 data systems within the organisation and you need to remember that, as an organisation, we’re 150 years old, so some of it is pretty antiquated.”
The goal now, he says, is to get some of those on-premise systems into a sufficiently stable state to migrate them to the Rackspace private-cloud environment, “but the idea is that, over time, now we’ve proven that hybrid cloud works for us, we can start to move more and more stuff across. Looking after it ourselves involves too much time and cost, and as a charity, we will never be able to employ the same numbers or quality of staff that Rackspace has on its server team - so why would we not let them take the strain?”
“I strongly believe that it’s our early use of hybrid cloud that will allow us to transform our IT environment over the next few years, freeing up time and money at Action for Children that might be better spent on changing children’s lives for the better.”

Read on to find out: Why organisations are increasingly turning to hybrid cloud technology to address their disaster recovery needs