3wks delivers Good Friday Appeal app for sick children on GCP

With a history stretching back to 1931, the Good Friday Appeal is a charity that raises money for The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. The charity runs a program of activities each year that culminates in a high-profile 15-hour telethon each Good Friday. In 2017 alone, the Good Friday Appeal raised $A17.6 million to improve the quality of care for children at the hospital.

To enable members of the public to pledge donations and deduct contributions from their credit cards, the Good Friday Appeal runs a web-based application, which this year handled in excess of $4 million. By 2013, the Good Friday Appeal was using a range of legacy systems to manage donations and information about donors. These systems were hard to operate and enhance, while support was expensive. To reduce costs, minimise the resources dedicated to the administration of donations across these systems and streamline its processes, the charity decided to consolidate the donation management functions into a single cloud-based web application.

This application would have to support business requirements such as credit card payments during 364 days of low traffic before scaling to support more than $A4 million worth of donations and accompanying data in one 12-18 hour period.

The Good Friday Appeal identified 3wks as the business best qualified to undertake the project. The organisation based its decision on a range of factors, including 3wks’ track record of successfully delivering business-critical technology projects for prominent customers since 2012. The application and supporting platform would need to support this spike in traffic without compromising performance or availability. The Good Friday Appeal identified 3wks as the business best qualified to undertake the project. The organisation based its decision on a range of factors, including 3wks’ track record of successfully delivering business-critical technology projects for prominent customers since 2012.

3wks moved the Good Friday Appeal from existing production systems running on legacy platforms to an easier-to-use, richer application running on a cost-effective, reliable, scalable Google Cloud Platform (GCP) environment. The partner completed the project over four to six months, ahead of the 2014 Good Friday Appeal telethon.

“We completed a detailed analysis of the existing array of systems used by the Good Friday Appeal to determine which features were less important and could be eliminated,” says Adrian Mawer, Consultant, 3wks. “This would enable the Good Friday Appeal to focus on the core capabilities needed to capture, manage and analyse donors and payments, and reconcile payments with the relevant bank. We also identified which GCP services could best support those capabilities.”

The Good Friday Appeal application is a donor management system that enables members of the public to pledge donations and deduct contributions from their credit cards, and reconciles those with the relevant bank. The app supports spikes in traffic driven by calls to action featured in the Seven Network television coverage of the Good Friday Appeal telethon. These calls to action prompt people to go to their phones, tablets, notebooks or desktops to visit the application and donate. The application also enables the Good Friday Appeal to log details of the coin and note donations collected from members of the public by charity workers and volunteers.

The Good Friday Appeal is running the application in a Google App Engine standard environment. Google App Engine automatically caches static images, web pages and Javascript files close to users in different locations. This speeds up response times and reduces the load on back-end virtual machines and databases. Automatic scaling ensures that spikes in traffic are managed without disruption. Google Cloud Datastore runs a highly scalable database for the Good Friday Appeal, while Google Cloud Storage stores receipts for all the donations received. “Google Cloud Datastore also provides the rock solid transactional support we need to manage customers who are giving money by credit card,” says Mawer.

“We also make heavy use of the Google App Engine Task Queues to process large numbers of requests either simultaneously, or throttle them to a certain throughput if necessary,” he adds. “The simplicity of GCP means we can ‘move the dials’ in minutes to suit the shape of the traffic we expect each day, whereas in other environments administrators may need a day or a week to make similar changes.” These queues automatically retry in the event of any intermittent or temporary errors in downstream systems.

A Google BigQuery data analytics warehouse is also playing a key role in delivering real-time financial reporting to the Good Friday Appeal and broadcast partner the Seven Network.

“When the application went live in 2014, we were able to service the first two Good Friday Appeal telethons well in terms of taking credit card transactions,” explains Mawer. “However, during broadcast coverage of the telethon, the Seven Network would regularly flash up the total amount donated each hour. We wanted to ensure the reports that the network relied on for those figures continued to be delivered in a timely fashion.”

In the lead-up to the Good Friday Appeal telethon in 2015, 3wks used the new streaming functionality in GCP to send data associated with actions such as pledges or credit card transactions into Google BigQuery. This enabled the partner to deliver real-time reporting to the Good Friday Appeal and the Seven Network to ensure the donation numbers flashed up on the screen during the telethon remained accurate. “Google BigQuery did so much ‘out of the box’ and meant we did not have to set up a business intelligence and analysis pipeline,” says Mawer. “The service performed so much of the indexing seamlessly and we just ran queries to determine the contributions by hour or by minute.”

High levels of performance and availability

3wks and the Good Friday Appeal are extremely pleased with the performance and reliability of the app running on GCP. The application has maintained high levels of availability and rapid response times during demand spikes on the one day of the year when millions of dollars go through the system.

Little need to raise tickets with GCP

“There has been very little need for us to raise tickets with GCP because the platform is battle-tested and performing as the Good Friday Appeal requires,” says Mawer. “The speed with which we can stand up a new application and scale it to very high levels with only one or two developers and no infrastructure or devops team is why we use GCP every time.”

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