4-page Partner Case Study
Posted: 11/21/2011
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Czech Red Cross Humanitarian Group Offers Timely Emergency Relief with Scalable, Hosted Private Cloud

Members of Czech Red Cross rely on timely information in order to provide humanitarian aid during emergencies. The nonprofit organization wanted to implement a solution that it could use to share information with volunteers over the Internet. However, it had neither the financial resources nor the personnel to build a robust server infrastructure to support an online communication solution. Czech Red Cross turned to Web4U, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, and took advantage of a hosted private cloud built on Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology and Microsoft System Center products. By using a private cloud, Czech Red Cross has achieved critical levels of infrastructure scalability to support its relief efforts. At the same time, it has created an IT infrastructure that can be easily managed by its volunteer staff.

Situation
Czech Red Cross is a humanitarian nonprofit organization that provides healthcare, social care, and rescue services, along with relief during disasters and other emergencies. It is also the only recognized auxiliary organization for the military health service. Czech Red Cross has more than 57,000 members and volunteers who are active in 1,399 local groups and 78 regional associations.

Providing timely humanitarian relief, the top priority for Czech Red Cross, requires significant coordination efforts. Each of the regional associations, humanitarian units, and volunteers needs to be notified and provided with critical information in order to respond as quickly as possible. In the case of large-scale natural disasters or other emergencies, the coordination efforts include sending out large volumes of information: relief instructions, maps and photos of the areas affected, and other documents.

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* The demands we place on servers during emergencies can increase by several orders of magnitude. With a private cloud built on Microsoft technologies, however, we can easily accommodate those levels. *

Marek Jukl
President, Czech Red Cross

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Prior to 2002, Czech Red Cross used primarily paper-based communication processes to send information to members. Any attempts at online communication were hampered not only because of slow—yet expensive—Internet connections in Czech Republic, but also because the organization did not have an IT infrastructure to support online communication. At the same time, manual processes for sharing information were both slow and unreliable in extreme emergencies, such as when the transportation infrastructure in an affected area was damaged or disabled.

When asymmetrical digital subscriber lines (ADSL) became available on a widespread basis and as the cost of high-speed Internet access in Czech Republic became more reasonable, Czech Red Cross wanted to move to an online communication model. Specifically, it wanted an intranet that responders and Red Cross members could use to access critical information on both a day-to-day basis and during emergencies.

In 2002, the organization worked with Web4U, a hosting provider and a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to host the Czech Red Cross intranet and website, which were developed using PHP. Czech Red Cross hosted the sites on servers running Linux, which was the only hosting environment that Web4U offered at the time.

Although Czech Red Cross had an online communication solution hosted on Linux-based servers at Web4U, it still struggled to achieve the scalability it needed to accommodate large volumes of burst Internet traffic. In theory, the organization wanted enough server capacity to handle traffic in the event that its more than 57,000 members tried to access the intranet at the same time. However, as a cost-conscious nonprofit organization, Czech Red Cross did not have the financial resources to invest in a massive server infrastructure that would be used only on a temporary basis. A server infrastructure designed to handle a theoretical maximum number of users would remain unused, aside from times of emergency, for long periods of time—a potentially wasteful investment.

In addition, Czech Red Cross does not have a formal IT department. Its IT assets are maintained and managed by a staff of dedicated volunteers. “We rely on skilled volunteers who generously donate their time and expertise,” says Marek Jukl, President of Czech Red Cross. “Without full-time IT staff, we simply don’t have the personnel resources at our disposal to ensure around-the-clock availability of our infrastructure.”

Czech Red Cross was pleased with the progress it had made by building an intranet where members and staff could access key information during times of crisis and better provide humanitarian relief, but it still sought a cost-effective solution that would provide a scalable, highly available infrastructure. It also hoped to find a solution through its hosting provider. “Web4U has always been helpful and accommodating for our technical and price requirements, so we wanted to work with them on the next evolution of our intranet,” explains Jukl.

Solution
In 2009, Czech Red Cross saw changes at Web4U that indicated the solution it was looking for would soon be available. After almost a decade of offering only Linux-based server hosting, Web4U started offering server hosting solutions that were built on the Windows Server 2008 operating system. “We saw a boom of demand for the Windows platform in the web hosting market in the Czech Republic,” says Ivo Machulda, Consultant at Web4U. “It was clear that our customers wanted a choice in server platforms.” In fact, Web4U became one of the first managed hosting providers in Czech Republic to receive recognition in the Hyper-V Cloud Service Provider program.

By the end of 2009, Web4U offered hosting services, including virtual, dedicated servers that were built on Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology. After that, the company moved to a private cloud hosting model, providing infrastructure as a service that enables customers like Czech Red Cross to access and control dedicated, hosted server resources without investing in physical hardware.

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* By using a private cloud based on Hyper-V, we can communicate effectively with those who need information during an emergency. This is important in helping us to continue to promote humanitarian aid and help those in need. *

Marek Jukl
President, Czech Red Cross

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Web4U used the Microsoft Dynamic Data Center Toolkit, which provides hosting companies with detailed guidance and best practices for building a hosted private cloud service using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V technology and Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2. The hosting provider developed its own administration and deployment solutions for Hyper-V, enabling it to automate the deployment process for customers. It also developed a user interface, which connects to the private cloud using SOAP standards that customers can use to access and control their hosted infrastructure.

In 2010, Czech Red Cross was one of the first customers to take advantage of the hosted private cloud provided by Web4U. The organization started by using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional development system to convert its public-facing PHP-based website to Microsoft ASP.NET. It also created a new intranet for information-sharing and collaboration built on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

Czech Red Cross hosts its public-facing website and intranet on a network load-balancing Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V cluster that includes a multipath failover cluster for high availability. The organization uses a minimum of two physical servers running an average of 23 virtual servers, but it can quickly expand the cluster to accommodate peaks in demand. The physical server hardware is housed in two separate locations, helping to protect the infrastructure in the event of a local disaster—when the server resources are needed the most. It also uses Internet Information Services 7.0 web server software (part of Windows Server 2008 R2) to manage HTTP requests, caching, logging, and diagnostics for the sites.

Volunteer IT administrators for Czech Red Cross manage the hosted private cloud infrastructure by accessing Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal 2.0 through a URL provided by Web4U. By using Self-Service Portal, Czech Red Cross can monitor server performance, access virtual server templates, and quickly configure and deploy new virtual servers as traffic demands, in addition to decommissioning underutilized virtual servers during slower periods. Web4U also offers Czech Red Cross the option to connect through a remote desktop connection to the Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 console as a way to manage private cloud deployments.

By the end of 2010, Czech Red Cross had moved both its website and its SharePoint Server–based intranet to the hosted private cloud infrastructure. A team of volunteers also began work to transfer other applications to the private cloud infrastructure. Czech Red Cross also migrated a Red Cross affiliate’s website, Water Rescue Service Pastviny, to the private cloud infrastructure at Web4U.

Benefits
As a result of using a hosted private cloud from Web4U that utilizes Windows Server 2008 R2, Hyper-V technology, System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2, and Self-Service Portal 2.0, Czech Red Cross has achieved the critical levels of scalability that it needs to support a reliable communication platform during times of crisis and to provide timely humanitarian aid. By taking advantage of a hosted model, the nonprofit organization has the right size infrastructure for its needs and has made it possible for its all-volunteer staff to easily manage routine IT tasks.

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* The response time for adding server resources to scale up the elastic infrastructure is only a matter of minutes. *

Ivo Machulda
Consultant, Web4U

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Achieved Critical Levels of Scalability
By using a private cloud infrastructure, Czech Red Cross achieved the critical levels of infrastructure scalability that it needs to handle peak server loads. By taking advantage of the hosted private cloud infrastructure that Web4U offers, Czech Red Cross has an infrastructure that is the right size for its variable needs. “The demands we place on servers during emergencies can increase by several orders of magnitude,” explains Jukl. “With a private cloud built on Microsoft technologies, however, we can easily accommodate those levels. We can increase or redistribute our server capacity when we need to and then, just as easily, scale back to normal levels.”

For instance, Web4U set up each web server with a memory pool of 1 gigabyte, which is monitored by using Internet Information Services. As soon as the web servers reach 80 percent utilization, a new virtual web server is automatically added, so that Czech Red Cross can handle increased traffic to its online sites. “The response time for adding server resources to scale up the elastic infrastructure is only a matter of minutes,” explains Machulda.

Improved Ability to Provide Timely Aid
When its members have to respond to an emergency or natural disaster, Czech Red Cross now has a reliable infrastructure and the ability to provide concurrent access to its intranet for its more than 57,000 members. Responders and humanitarian units can quickly find critical instructions, maps, and other information that they need to provide timely relief. The organization has the same level of reliability for its publicly available website, which is often a vital information source for disaster victims. “By using a private cloud based on Hyper-V, we can communicate effectively with those who need information during an emergency,” says Jukl. “This is important in helping us to continue to promote humanitarian relief and help those in need.”

Simplified IT Administration for Volunteer Staff
By taking advantage of a hosted private cloud, Czech Red Cross not only has a cost-efficient, scalable infrastructure, but one that can be maintained by its volunteer IT administration personnel. “Because our environment is hosted, Web4U takes care of most of the infrastructure management for us,” explains Jukl. “However, our volunteers can access the web-based custom control panel that Web4U developed and the System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal, and use self-service capabilities to take care of some simpler tasks. For instance, it used to be a complex process to set up a new user account and took at least a day to complete, but now it only takes five clicks and only 10 minutes.”

Windows Server 2008 R2
Windows Server 2008 R2 is a multipurpose operating system designed to increase the reliability and flexibility of your server and private cloud infrastructure, helping you to save time and reduce costs. It provides you with powerful tools to react to business needs faster than ever before with greater control and confidence.

For more information, visit:
www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/windows-server

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Web4U products and services, call (420) 270 001 456 or visit the website at:
www.web4u.cz

For more information about Czech Red Cross products and services, call (420) 251 104 111 or visit the website at:
www.cck-cr.cz

Solution Overview




Business Situation

The organization relied on inefficient, paper-based communication processes that could potentially hamper the transmission of information during emergencies.


Solution

Working with Microsoft partner Web4U, Czech Red Cross developed a communication platform that it deployed to a hosted private cloud infrastructure built on Hyper-V technology.


Benefits

  • Achieved critical scalability
  • Improved timeliness of relief efforts
  • Simplified infrastructure maintenance


Hardware
  • Supermicro modular servers with 196 GB of RAM, 9.8 TB of storage


Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2
  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal 2.0
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft Internet Information Services 7.0
  • Microsoft ASP.NET

Vertical Industries
Nonprofit

Country/Region
Czech Republic

Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Cost Containment

IT Issue
  • Cloud Services
  • Private Cloud
  • Virtualization

Languages
English

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