Sport Relief

Carrenza managed highly unpredictable donation and payment applications in the cloud for UK charity Sport Relief

Carrenza manages highly unpredictable donation and payment applications in the cloud for UK charity Sport Relief, using VMware vSphere for virtualisation of the underlying cloud platform. The sheer number of credit card payments processed over the Carrenza cloud platform for the seven hour live event makes it one of the busiest transactional platforms in Europe, and the consequence is a period of unpredictable web and payment traf c that must be handled with 100 percent reliability, or precious donations will be lost.

The ‘elasticity’ of the Carrenza Cloud, based on VMware vSphere, allows Carrenza to scale up the system by
a factor of 400 during Sport Relief’s weekend event, which in 2012 attracted an extraordinary number of online donations, over three hundred thousand were processed during the seven

hours of the Sport Relief TV event on Friday 23rd March, with a peak of 149 donations per second. On the whole the website peaked at more than 500,000 unique visitors a day and in total attracted over three million unique visits during the entire campaign.

The challenge was set to process

  • 149 donations per second
  • 500,000 unique visits a day
  • 3 million unique visits in total

The second challenge

Sport Relief runs over a single weekend in March, which means that donations and payments are both of an extremely high volume during this time. Traf c to the Sport Relief website is unpredictable and dependent on media coverage of speci c events. For example, a single lm clip can have a particular effect on the British public and can send donations through the roof. It is therefore impossible to plan in any great detail for exact traf c patterns during the Sport Relief weekend, or indeed in its aftermath.

A second challenge is that the platform to support donations to Sport Relief must be 100% robust and available. Any downtime could mean a dip in donations, or even payments being lost altogether.

In its early days, Sport Relief managed donations and payments using an in-house system built on donated servers by parent organisation Comic Relief.

But Sport Relief recognised that it did not need to maintain the same peak level of IT availability outside its main spikes
of activity. Its system was dif cult to scale and needlessly expensive to maintain.


Established in 2002, Sport Relief is one of the UK’s biggest fund- raising events and has raised £180 million to help disadvantaged people in the UK and across the world’s poorest countries. It is held once every two years and encourages thousands of people, including high pro le celebrities, to get active and raise cash.


The solution

In 2008, Comic Relief brought in technical consultancy and enterprise hosting services specialist Carrenza to develop an alternative IT platform. The speci cation for the new platform was that it should be highly resilient, scalable to unpredictable and wildly uctuating levels, 100% available and capable of capturing payments from a variety of channels, including online, TV ‘red button’ and via contact centres.

Carrenza recommended that Comic Relief switched from an in-house, static platform to a cloud-based virtual system hosted externally and based on VMware vSphere. Carrenza was one of VMware’s rst vCloud partners in Europe and all Carrenza clients can control the services they use themselves, adding and removing resources and benefitting from billing by the hour on relevant service contracts.

Caroline Lien, Strategy Director at Comic Relief, said: “Carrenza offered what must have been one of the UK’s first enterprise cloud solutions, at exactly the right moment. With the explosive growth of the internet, the advice and service provided by Carrenza has rapidly proved to be absolutely correct.”

Carrenza now operates and manages two core cloud platforms for Comic Relief, a bespoke donation platform and a core websites platform.

The highly tuned donation platform is built in Java and backed by a stretched Oracle Real Application Clusters environment that runs across two data centres to guarantee availability.

The core websites platform supports all Comic Relief websites including Sport Relief. The websites are built using the open source CMS Drupal on a scalable Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) technology stack. Sport Relief’s website supports FROST, Sport Relief’s event registration, management and fundraising system, which allows people to either create their own events or search for local events by postcode.

Both platforms use VMware vSphere for virtualisation and run on HP Proliant blade servers with HP 3PAR T-Class Storage Systems. These are virtualised, multi- tenant storage arrays built for public

and private cloud computing that provide agile and ef cient storage.

Cisco 6500 -series networking (including ACE and FWSM modules) and Riverbed provide security, switching and smooth traf c management at the front-end while PayPal and WorldPay provide secure payment processing at the back-end.

The platform is delivered by Carrenzato Sport Relief as a contracted service, providing capacity as a service level rather than as a speci c set of hardware resources. It is Carrenza’s responsibility to deliver the service and ensure that suf cient processor power, storage and bandwidth is available, alongside the resilience needed to ensure that the website and donations platforms are always online.

The platform is proven to handle extraordinary volumes of transactions. In 2012, the platform processed over three hundred thousand donations over seven hours during the Sport Relief TV event on March 23, with a peak of 149 donations per second, representing a four-fold increase in traffic since the 2008 Sport Relief event.

The platform makes it possible to collect millions of pounds donated by the public via web and call centres in just a few hours.

“The night of television can put a very large and sudden load on the web services,” says Caroline Lien, “Carrenza was able to ramp up capacity to meet these demand peaks ensuring an uninterrupted night of donations.”

Carrenza provides the ability to scale up the system by a factor of 400, scaling down to tick-over mode during non-event months and ramping up in the months preceding Sport Relief. This means that the system is able to deal with highly unpredictable traf c that increases when people are prompted to make a donation.

This scalability is made possible by VMware vSphere, which allows organisations to build hybrid public/ private cloud infrastructures quickly and easily. VMware vSphere ensures high application availability using its built-in business continuity features.

“The VMware based Carrenza Cloud is the right solution for Comic Relief, providing the exibility and scalability
we need to support our complex payments platform” Caroline Lien, Strategy Director, Comic Relief. 

Why Sport Relief chose Carrenza

Comic Relief chose to work with Carrenza because it was the only company that could propose a suitable solution for
their – and Sport Relief’s – specific needs. There was nothing on the market that would give it the functionality it needed

to cope with such extraordinary events, unpredictable traf c and intense, high loads of donations and payments.

Carrenza was able to propose a technical solution based on world class technology provided by VMware, Oracle, Cisco and HP.

Caroline Lien concluded: “Our technology partners have played a crucial role in making thousands of online donations possible, and we’re hugely grateful for their support.”

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