Private cloud central to Amnesty’s digital communications strategy

Amnesty International was founded in the UK in 1961 on the belief in the power of ordinary people to make extraordinary change. Today, Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for human rights. Its work is based on careful research by volunteers, and on the human rights standards agreed by the international community. Amnesty International UK (Amnesty) raises £10.4m annually through its fundraising, and is one of more than 50 nationally organised sections that make up the Amnesty International worldwide movement.

The challenge

As a campaigning organisation, Amnesty is dependent on acquiring and retaining members, encouraging activism and facilitating campaigning activity, and its online presence and digital communications strategy is central to helping it achieve this. Through a private cloud solution, the charity gathers real-time news and information via video footage, blogs and forum updates, posted by individuals around the world, as and when acts that breach human rights occur. This allows Amnesty to respond straight away, communicating news and updates to its members and online communities in order to organise protests, petitions and forums designed to support its human rights campaigns.

Having the right hosting platform in place to support its digital communications strategy is therefore fundamental to the charity’s success.

Before partnering with Claranet, Amnesty worked with several web and hosting agencies, each responsible for a different part of its online properties. Kamesh Patel, Head of IT at Amnesty, explained why this was problematic: “Several third parties used to look after our websites, and each of them had their own hosting providers who provided different levels of service. This led to everything being done in silos, which was difficult to manage. This situation also exposed the organisation to significant instability and risk. Should one of the third parties go under, or should a dispute arise, any of the developers or agencies could simply turn off Amnesty’s website.”

Amnesty’s previously disparate and complex hosting environment didn’t allow user data to be integrated across the organisation’s various properties, which meant that the charity had poor visibility of its users’ profiles and their individual activity online. Patel commented: “We knew that with enhanced access to this vital information, we would be able to see if an online visitor was an activist, was supporting us financially, or had any other areas of interest. This would enable us to support them and ensure they had access to everything they needed, which in turn, would help us to encourage and facilitate campaigning activity.”

Enhanced access to [our members’] information… would enable us to support them…which in turn, would help us to encourage and facilitate campaigning activity"

Laying the foundations

To drive its digital strategy, Amnesty’s IT team embarked on an ambitious three-year project to overhaul its hosting platform. This project would involve the consolidation and re-engineering of Amnesty’s hosting infrastructure, and aimed to fully integrate all its online properties, and to provide enhanced data analytics and much greater functionality to users. Other objectives included simplifying the management of the platform and eliminating other inefficiencies, and improving the reliability and flexibility of the online infrastructure.

After a competitive pitch, Amnesty chose Claranet’s managed application hosting solution to underpin its technology transformation. According to Patel, “Claranet offered the most comprehensive solution, with an SLA that covered the whole service and guaranteed application availability.”

Results

The first phase of the project, completed in 2010, involved the implementation of the managed application hosting platform - to support the www.amnesty.org.uk website and the organisation’s central registration system.

Since implementing Claranet’s flexible and resilient hosting platform, Amnesty has been able to add further functionality to its websites. For example, it is now able to offer a self-service function to users wanting to access its resource system. This allows users visiting the Amnesty website to become members by signing up online and setting up direct debits themselves.

“Before Claranet’s hosting platform was in place, any e-commerce - where our members request information packs, CDs and other materials, or set up direct debits - had to be fulfilled manually as our website and applications couldn’t support this capability,” said Patel.

Claranet has helped us to simplify our back-end processes and to automate fulfillment, so that our staff can get on with more important things like building additional functionality to support our next campaign."

Moving to the cloud

For the second phase of its IT revamp, Amnesty is embracing social media tools and changing the content management system (CMS) on which its website is built. According to Patel, this has made the ability to flex, as online capacity requirements change, even more important, and has prompted the move to a new hosting platform, Claranet’s dedicated virtualised hosting platform (DVH or private cloud).

By moving to Claranet’s private cloud service, Amnesty now has in place the foundations to support its constantly changing requirements. “For example,” says Patel, “we recently ran a campaign highlighting Shell’s appalling human rights record in Nigeria, and using donations, had bought an ad in the Financial Times. At the last minute, however, the ad was pulled by the FT, infuriating campaigners. As a result, our blogosphere went completely crazy. Despite the huge spike in demand, our websites didn’t crash. Claranet’s virtualised platform meant that our server resources could be dynamically allocated to where they were needed.”

A dedicated cloud platform also enables Amnesty to avoid downtime. “From a business continuity and disaster recovery perspective, the virtual platform really delivers,” comments Patel. Amnesty no longer needs to downgrade servers when making a physical upgrade to its IT infrastructure; and should something happen to one server, the intelligence in the platform allows resource to be reallocated automatically ensuring continued uptime. “We also now have peace of mind knowing that, no matter what, an unknown third party supplier can’t turn off the website – everything is securely managed in Claranet’s cloud environment.”

Conclusion

The third and final phase of Amnesty’s digital strategy involves the launch of a revamped Amnesty International website in late 2011. This will mark the end of the three-year project in which, thanks to Claranet, the charity’s hosting infrastructure has been consolidated, simplified, and made more flexible and reliable. And through enhanced data analytics and online functionality, Amnesty has been able to better engage its members.

According to Patel, Claranet’s private cloud infrastructure will continue to be the foundation that underpins Amnesty’s digital communications strategy. The realisation of this strategy will help Amnesty to continue to fulfill its mission.