American Red Cross

The American Red Cross and Akamai: Keeping critical web infrastructure available during disasters

“Using Akamai’s cloud-based solutions to maintain our online presence fits with our strategy to right-size online delivery capabilities via a cost-effective, resilient, and highly scalable solution.”

C. Annette Gumm , Senior Director of IT Portfolio Management , American Red Cross

The Situation

As one of many organizations providing humanitarian care, the American Red Cross distinguishes itself by aiding victims of natural disaster and by relieving the suffering caused by war, strife and famine. The organization relies on donations of time, money and blood to provide needed services. As part of that, its main website (www.redcross.org) serves a vital role in helping the American Red Cross accept donations and keeping the public informed about its needs and activities. On average, the American Red Cross invests 91 cents of every dollar donated in humanitarian services and programs.

The Challenge

It is critical for the Red Cross to maintain an online presence, most notably during a major crisis when surges in public donations occur due to heightened public awareness. The convenience and immediacy of online donations makes the process easy for donors and enables the American Red Cross to move resources more quickly to the people it helps.

However, because disasters spur significant volumes of Internet traffic to redcross.org, the organization needed to take steps to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted web experience for online giving. This issue was brought to the forefront in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast, and media outlets directed the public to the American Red Cross’ main website for donations. The overwhelming public generosity flooded the organization’s site with a 14X increase in traffic, effectively halting the flow of critically needed donations.

The Goal

The American Red Cross needed to meet two key requirements to support its objectives:

  • Ensure 100% uptime: The organization wanted to ensure uninterrupted access no matter how many visitors came to the site.
  • Address availability issues quickly and cost-effectively: The American Red Cross wanted to ensure site availability without building out a content delivery infrastructure that would largely sit idle during times of no crisis.

Why Akamai

Quickly Responding in Crisis

Without the time or budget to expand its datacenter infrastructure, the American Red Cross turned to Akamai. Within eight hours of engaging Akamai, the American Red Cross was able to restore the flow of public donations using Akamai’s cloud-based solutions designed to scale on demand, absorb traffic surges and maintain site availability. According to C. Annette Gumm, Senior Director of IT Portfolio Management for the American Red Cross, “Using Akamai’s cloud-based solutions to maintain our online presence fits with our strategy to right-size online content delivery capabilities via a cost-effective, resilient, and highly scalable solution.”

Instantly Scaling to Support Traffic Spikes

The American Red Cross has successfully leveraged its cloud-based strategy – underpinned by Akamai’s content delivery network (CDN) and cloud services – to seamlessly scale on demand and remain available during other natural disasters as well. For example, when the California wild fires occurred in 2009, the organization saw a 15X increase in site traffic. And after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the site experienced a 10X surge in traffic to its site. In both cases, the site performed flawlessly. By tapping into the Akamai CDN and cloud-based solutions, the Red Cross is able to handle these massive flash crowds without having to provision infrastructure that remains unused most of the time. As a result, it can avoid unnecessary capital and operational expenditures and instead apply them to humanitarian efforts around the world. Equally important, it gains protection from malicious activity and unauthorized access.

Accelerating Site Delivery and Applications

While Akamai’s globally distributed platform delivers web content and applications from Edge servers that are close to end users, its dynamic mapping system directs end-user requests to the optimal Edge server depending on network location and load across the Akamai CDN platform. Patented connection optimization techniques are used to improve communications between the Akamai Edge servers and the Red Cross data center. As a result, dynamic content – such as the results delivered by web applications that help visitors conduct an on-site search or find a local Red Cross office – is delivered quickly from Red Cross data centers to end users.

Optimizing Site Availability and Infrastructure

In addition to supporting Internet traffic surges of any size, Akamai offloads the American Red Cross’ data center while maintaining 100% site availability by using NetStorage. In fact, directly following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the American Red Cross offloaded over 90% of its traffic and was able to maintain uninterrupted uptime.

Reducing Energy Consumption and Carbon Footprint

By leveraging Akamai’s shared, globally distributed CDN platform, the American Red Cross can significantly reduce the energy consumption of its data center infrastructure, as well as its overall carbon footprint. Through best practices in efficient use of power across its operations, Akamai has developed cloud services that drive dramatic efficiencies by enabling rapid and widespread migration of consumer and business activity to a shared Internet platform. Due to aggressive improvements in hardware and software efficiency, Akamai itself has achieved a 32% reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions relative to network traffic, representing more than 90% of its overall environmental (or carbon) footprint. Using Akamai’s carbon management tools, the American Red Cross can see the carbon reductions achieved by leveraging Akamai’s efficient platform.

About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at blog.redcross.org.