Australian Red Cross lifts IT maturity through multi-cloud transition

The not-for-profit believes multicloud will put the organisation at the 'bleeding edge'.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Australian Red Cross is counting down to the end of June 2021, when it can finally say bon voyage to its last physical data centre.

Interim CIO Danijel Andric explained it is all part of the organisation's major plans to "leave infrastructure altogether" and instead aim to be at the "bleeding edge" by making sure "everything is going to be in the cloud".

"It's a relief because running hardware that's very old can be scary," Andric told ZDNet. "I like to give this example to my colleagues, especially executive and management, that it's like running an eight-year-old phone. When you usually say data centre, people don't know what you're talking about, but when you say imagine it's like running on an iPhone 4, they'll go, 'Oh, that's not right'."

For the last four years, the not-for-profit organisation has been migrating a number of its services into the cloud. But the organisation has not stuck to just one provider; rather, it has taken a multi-cloud approach.

"The simple reason is you don't want to put all the eggs in one basket," Andric said.

The first time the organisation made its move was when it turned on its first workload in Amazon Web Services (AWS). Following that, Andric said the Red Cross realised it was not built to be a scalable model.

"What we did in 2019 was we redesigned our AWS infrastructure from the ground up...so our underlying infrastructure is now fully scalable. If we need to build a data construct, we can because we've got that scalable model," he said.

"This is where the big challenge of cloud comes in. You really need to make it scalable; if you don't get scale in the DNA of what you design then you're shooting yourself in the foot, which is what we had done with the first incarnation."

Microsoft Office 365 is another cloud-platform that the Australian Red Cross has adopted, which has provided the organisation with access to basic tools such as larger mailboxes, as well as the ability to converse through video conferencing on Teams and Skype for Business.

"We have offices in Katherine, Alice Springs, and Darwin [in the Northern Territory]. What our team used to do is they used to get in the car, so those in Darwin, drive five hours down and drive five hours up…so imagine that. What we did was roll out Teams conferencing capabilities and because all those offices have fibre, you press a button…and it saves 10 hours of driving," Andric said.

In June, the Australian Red Cross decommissioned its on-premises telephony system, following the adoption of Genesys Cloud. Andric said the investment made in its now cloud-based call centre solution "paid its dividends handsomely" during the height of the coronavirus pandemic "because onboarding 200 people in two weeks in the old world would've been unheard of".

The Australian Red Cross has also adopted Microsoft Azure identity. Andric explained the appeal to leverage the platform was that it would introduce multi-factor authentication to the organisation's environment, something that the organisation recognised it needed.

In 2016, a 1.74GB MySQL database backup containing 1.3 million rows and 647 different tables from the Australian Red Cross was leaked. At the time, it was called the largest unintended release of personal data seen so far in Australia. Despite the incident, Red Cross Blood Services Australia executive director of Donor Services Janine Wilson revealed that those affected had, generally speaking, forgiven the organisation for the breach and that Red Cross was focused on never letting that happen again.

The other upside to working with major cloud providers is it confirms that the Red Cross is on the right track, Andric claimed.

"The bigger end of town, like the banking and finance sector, they use the same platform, so we are in the same league, which is such a relief for us," he said.

Andric added it also eases the pressure put on the internal IT team. 

"Somebody was talking about having issues with Teams or Skype, and I was very polite to say that's to do with Microsoft now. So, if there is a global issue, we all feel it, or it is to do with the computer or network issue."

He admitted that while cloud could present new challenges, moving away from on-premises infrastructure "forces you to be a lot more mature with what you're looking at, and it allows you to focus higher up on the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model".

Looking ahead, the Red Cross is looking forward to migrating its CRM and ERP platforms to the cloud, as well as establishing a data lake to eventually be able to visualise its data via Power BI. It also has plans to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to gain further insights.  

"The individuals we interact with may have many personas. They could be a member, volunteer, a client of ours, a staff, or somebody donating or purchasing on our e-portal. [The data lake] is about bringing all of that together, and naturally simplifying our understanding and relationship," Andric said.

The Australian Red Cross is also looking to exit from its Citrix environment, with Andric believing the organisation is "naturally constrained" by it.

"There are limitations on how many people we can have on a full Citrix desktop. It's a very old way of doing business. We have this initiative called the Workplace Transport, which is going to see everybody with a laptop and desktop," he said. 

Multi-cloud underpinning the hybrid IT shift 

Macquarie Data Centres group executive David Hirst believes the motivation behind the deployment of multi-cloud is due to the adoption of hybrid IT models.

According to Hirst, organisations are often driven to adopt a hybrid IT strategy to either enhance overall efficiency, or because an enterprise is constrained by latency, compliance, or potential risks but still want to reap the benefits of the cloud.

At the same time, Hirst believes enterprises often take into consideration previous investments that have been made in legacy technology that "they don't want to write-off".

"If you were to adopt a multi-cloud strategy, you might take some private cloud, you might take some public cloud, you might take some protected cloud…there are considerations like is it onshore? Is it with an Australian company, sovereignty consideration, and all of these things need to be looked out…so I think in a nutshell, hybrid IT is a megatrend and multi-cloud is something they consider because a large majority of companies are not transforming their applications," he said. 

Hirst added that most organisations that have adopted a multi-cloud architecture do not even realise it.

"They would typically be using some form of software-as-a-service and that would be sitting on a cloud, likely. Obviously, there would be other applications with a private cloud provider and [they] probably have some public cloud as well, and a lot of colocation either in their office or data centre facility," he said.

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