Amnesty NZ finds simplicity in the cloud

If IT budget is tight, cloud could be a good option advises Vivian Chandra, Amnesty NZ IT manager.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

As a charity, Amnesty New Zealand relies totally on fundraising to finance its operations. As a matter of policy, even government funding is not accepted.

Naturally, the not-for-profit spends its cash carefully and that is evident in its IT strategy. Amnesty began shifting its operations to the cloud in 2008 in a search for simplicity and lower costs.

First was the website. Originally this was hosted in-house and run on Lotus Notes. In 2008 it was moved to Drupal on Amazon Web Services. That, says IT and database manager Vivian Chandra, was “a no-brainer”.

“Nobody really hosts their websites internally any more,” says Chandra.

“Nobody really hosts their websites internally any more,” says Amnesty NZ's IT and database manager Vivian Chandra

Amnesty’s next cloud move was more daring, shifting to Google Apps for email and desktop tools such as word processing and spreadsheeting.

Email had been running on an Exchange server, but the server was struggling, Chandra says. A week after the shift, the strategy paid off when a truck took out the telecommunications pole outside of Amnesty’s office.

That would have cut the email server off, but with Google Apps, staff could go home, log on and continue working.

Chandra say Amnesty could have shifted to Microsoft’s Office 365, but Google made its Apps available for free on its education plan. That was hard to beat, she says.

Microsoft Office and other local applications are still being used, however, Amnesty uses a prescribed font in its materials and that requires an offline word processor. Amnesty also retained Adobe applications for desktop publishing.

Some high-end users also simply didn’t like Google’s spreadsheet.

Amnesty also uses the cloud for online backups of its file system and domain controller. The charity had been backing up to tape with a staff member taking the tape home, but shifting to the cloud both automated the process and ensured it actually happened.

Chandra says slowly more and more processes are being moved to Google, money is being saved and processes and IT support simplified. The charity’s 10 to 15 full-time users are also happy, especially with the increased ability to collaborate.

Her advice to anyone contemplating a similar move: forget the technology and focus on what you're trying to achieve.

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