How The American Red Cross’ IT Infrastructure Helps Save Lives

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood.

The American Red Cross provides around 40 percent of the nation’s blood and blood components — entirely from volunteer donors. While one donation can save up to three lives, less than 38 percent of the population is eligible to give blood or platelets.

That means it’s mission critical to offer opportunities to those who can donate, particularly online. Even the smallest amount of downtime or interruption could turn potential donors away.

The American Red Cross powered two of its sites, Redcross.org and Redcrossblood.org, via a web commerce solution for several years. As that relationship came to an end, the organization quickly found itself in need of a microservices architecture. Knowing how important a reliable IT infrastructure is, the American Red Cross turned to Rackspace.

An expansive IT solution

Rackspace powers the infrastructure and online scheduling capabilities of the Redcross.org website, which includes an autoscaling component that allows the non-profit to handle spikes in traffic during campaigns like Missing Types.

When first launched, this campaign, which advertises the need for blood donations by removing the letters “A,” “B,” and “O” from sentences and images, caused a surge in website traffic. With auto-scaling in place, the American Red Cross was well-prepared, with greater uptime and more availability for unpredictable workloads.

This is particularly important during disaster response events, which it classifies as “Grey Sky” or “Black Sky,” depending on the scope. These events can increase typical daily site volume by 30 times the normal level with extremely short notice for IT operations. People want to know how they can get involved, whether scheduling an appointment online or setting up a virtual blood drive.

Initially, the American Red Cross deployed its application as one large Java Enterprise Application aRchive, or EAR, file. By using the EAR file, it often had to schedule site outages when new deployments occurred. Additionally, the all-or-nothing deployment caused complexity and entanglements across business units.

Just a few months after moving to a microservices architecture, the American Red Cross has already experienced a significant decrease in CPU and memory utilization. The disaster response team is also thrilled that they experienced no outages during Hurricanes Florence and Michael, or the California wildfires.

“Among the benefits we’re already seeing with Rackspace is the ability to be much more nimble with our release management process,” said Matt Cascio, executive director, enterprise web systems for the American Red Cross. “We’ve also been able to restructure our human capital more efficiently — that’s lead to happier business partners and happier engineers alike.”

Planning for the future

Moving forward, the American Red Cross has some significant updates in store. It’s launching an improved blood drive coordinator portal, which will allow volunteers to easily organize blood drives and recruit donors. Additionally, it’s updating search services for site-wide search functionality across both Redcross.org and Redcrossblood.org, with a custom search service running on Rackspace infrastructure, making it easier than ever to donate or get information.

Whether it’s a regular day or a Grey or Black Sky event, the American Red Cross knows having the right infrastructure in place can bring valuable returns. There’s still work to be done, of course. The need for donors will never vanish. Visit Redcross.org to learn how you can help today and make a difference in someone’s life.

Brannon Lacey is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the growing portfolio of offerings in Rackspace Application Services. Prior to his current role, Brannon has led a variety of cross-platform product lines including Rackspace Managed Security, Cloud Office, Digital, Managed Pivotal Cloud Foundry and VMware. Before coming to Rackspace, Brannon was a Principal Investor with Samsung Ventures where he was responsible for global investments and portfolio management, focused mainly on mobile and Internet technologies. Brannon is an active member in the San Antonio community where he is a Board Member and Advisor for BuildSec Foundry and a Board Member for San Antonio Sports. He holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BSBA, Entrepreneurship, MIS from the University of Arizona’s Eller School of Management.

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