Comic Relief gets IT ready for donation deluge
Case study: How Red Nose Day's website copes with "peaky" traffic
Comic Relief has revamped its website and IT infrastructure to cope with its increasingly tech-savvy fundraisers.
Supporters are using the charity's website more often to donate and fundraisers are getting web 2.0 friendly - downloading photos and videos of their efforts - putting more pressure on its infrastructure.
Martin Gill, head of new media at Comic Relief, told silicon.com: "All those things - supporting what [the users are] doing,
doing our own stuff or giving them applications where they can provide a bit of information about themselves and get tools
to help them raise money - lead to additional burden on our platform."
The charity expects between 1.2 and 1.3 million donations to come in on the Red Nose night alone, with the lion's share
being split between the charity's website and the 13,500 call centre operators employed to take donations.
The infrastructure can now deal with 20,000 transactions per second. The old system was only
able to cope with 800 per second...
The infrastructure is also dealing with even more data as the charity's call centre moves to a computer-based system to
register and check pledges.
The charity has opened up its back office with 10,000 operators using a computer system to input donations – and
the other 3,500 sticking with the previous paper and pen-based system.
Gill said: "The challenge is transactions appear in a very peaky way between 19:00 and midnight [of Red Nose Day] so there's
a huge volume of what potentially can be very dense traffic."
To help cope with such peaks - usually due to a surge of TV viewers reacting to a certain clip on BBC One's fundraising
show - the infrastructure can now deal with 20,000 transactions per second. The old system was only able to cope with 800
The charity's two data centres have also streamlined the load-balancing and security of transactions, to speed up the process
of supporters inputting their credit card details into the website or via call centre staff.
Gill said if things get sticky and slow down then donors start to get concerned about the security of their information.
He added this has the knock-on effect of call centre operators having to deal with worried donors - rather than taking
money from other people.
The Red Nose Day website expects to have around two million registered users by the main day - 16 March, 2007 - with those
users wanting to do more via the Comic Relief website, putting additional pressure on the charity's IT infrastructure.
Users can already create blogs and put photos on the site. Around 4,000 events and sponsorship pages were created on the
site in its first month of opening (it launched on 1 February).
Comic Relief is planning to use social networking more in future fundraising events and has approached the likes of YouTube to start pushing punters to support the charity. It has already joined forces with teen-based site Piczo to encourage a younger audience to get involved