Cisco Systems Helps UK's Tenth Red Nose Day Charity Event Process Record Donations
July 28, 2005
by Jason Deign, News@Cisco
Technology donated by Cisco Systems® has helped one of the UK's biggest charity events, Red Nose Day, process donations worth more than £8 million.
Red Nose Day is organized every two years by Comic Relief, a charity committed to helping end poverty and social injustice in the UK and the poorest countries of the world. Since their inception in 1988, Red Nose Days have become the largest fundraising events in the British calendar.
Each event is supported by the country's public service broadcaster, the BBC, with a seven-hour live program featuring contributions from comedians and other celebrities.
In addition to terrestrial TV, the campaign's delivery is integrated across radio, press, the Internet, interactive television and mobile.
This year's Red Nose Day saw donations breaking all previous records, to reach a record £38 million on the night, with Cisco technology playing a critical role in ensuring that any donations made online could be processed quickly and securely.
£1.5 million (US$2.7 million) of donations came through interactive TV (compared to £640,000 for 2003) and the platform processed a further £1.5 million (US$2.7 million) of cash donated through call centers.
In total, the Cisco technology helped process more than 225,000 transactions worth in excess of £8 million (US$15.4 million).
Cisco has been one of Red Nose Day's corporate sponsors since 2000, providing support across a spectrum of products and staff skills, from a considerable gift of Cisco Business Ready Data Center equipment (including switches, firewalls, secure content acceleration hardware, VPN and intrusion prevention technologies) to professional services and volunteers.
These all power the charity's data centers and support donations authorized and processed through www.rednoseday.com, complementing donations taken through call centers and helping meet a primary Comic Relief goal of increasing the amount of money taken through interactive digital channels rather than via the old-fashioned call handler and paper route.
Ever since Cisco helped build the original architecture for the Website, the amount of money it has had to process has risen with each campaign.
Although the majority of donations still come in via the phone, broadband use is higher than ever in the UK and growing rapidly, and the percentage of the overall total received online has continued to grow.
This year, for the first time, the platform managed some of the call center transactions alongside those of online and interactive TV donors.
"So no matter how the pledges come in," explains Cisco UK and Ireland technical director Peter Nicholls, "Cisco technology is helping to deliver a faster punch line.
"This year some call centers could process donations using the platform, meaning the money entered Comic Relief's bank account weeks sooner than if they had to wait for paper-based transactions to be processed," he says.
"This faster turnaround means Comic Relief can earn interest on the money almost immediately, which is vital considering the organization survives in part due to the interest accrued by the funds raised."
All the costs of running Comic Relief are met in cash or in kind from all kinds of other sources, including corporate donors such as Cisco.
This promise to the donor on the street means that Comic Relief ensures that every penny of their donation gets to work in the places it is needed most, and is not used to cover overhead or administration costs.
Martin Gill, Comic Relief's head of new media, says: "As the speed and reach of connectivity increases, the fuller potential of interactive media is being realized.
"For Comic Relief, this means we can integrate the Web offer closely with the TV and mobile offer; we can take money more quickly; we can keep people updated with the latest news; and we can connect our donors to real stories about the way their money will be used.
"All these benefits are only available to us because of the professionalism, generosity of spirit and strength of vision that threads through all that Cisco does with us."
Managing donations online helps boost their value further by allowing Comic Relief to quickly make them tax efficient in reclaiming the UK Government's Gift Aid tax relief.
Donations made online of via interactive TV avoid weeks of delay and additional costs normally incurred in having to post forms to individual donors.
Comic Relief initially approached Cisco for technical support, advice and sponsorship for Red Nose Day 2001, which was the first campaign to benefit from a focused approach to new media.
Cisco came on board as one of Comic Relief's major new media suppliers (in conjunction with Energis, Macromedia, Oracle and Sun Microsystems) to help secure, and boost the capacity of, the Website infrastructure that was put in place.
This infrastructure has had to withstand huge bandwidth demands every Red Nose Day when the public responds to a live seven-hour BBC ONE TV program. Since 2001, Comic Relief has processed more than US$35 million in donations through the Cisco-powered site.
This year, the site had 1.3 million visitors in four weeks, who viewed a total of 55 million pages, representing more than 1.15 terabytes of content served. People donated £4.7 million (US$9 million) online, compared to a 2003 figure of £2.6 million.
To help improve the resilience of the data center infrastructure this year, Cisco and Comic Relief used the intelligence of the network to spread the workload it had to support.
Cisco Global Site Selectors were used to split the traffic load between two data centers, depending on the service being provided. This system also allowed improved the availability and resilience of the platform.
Content Switches and Cisco SCA 11000 Series secure content accelerators then balanced the traffic and handed off Secure Sockets Layer handshakes ahead of numerous Sun Microsystems Web servers.
The Cisco technologies were an integral component in the design of the Comic Relief Java-based applications, examining user traffic and passing this to the most effective available Web server for optimum service; this helped a Zeus Web server and Oracle 10AS middleware perform flawlessly.
Cisco VPN technologies and Cisco PIX firewalls were also critical in helping ensure the security of the Comic Relief sites, and supported remote management and monitoring of the platform.
Site-to-site VPNs were used for secure management and synchronization of the two database clusters, using DataGuard to mirror three instances of Oracle 10g Real Application Clusters, with hardware VPN Accelerator Cards deployed where higher VPN performance was required, such as for Oracle database back-up traffic.
Using broadband, secured by a Cisco Remote Access VPN solution, a 20-strong virtual team of consultants from Comic Relief's technology suppliers was able to develop and support the two data center sites remotely, minimizing travel and accommodation costs without compromising security.
Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.