Comic Relief has implemented a new payments system from Braintree, replacing an old makeshift solution which was unable to keep up with the charity's demands.
Comic Relief has raised over £1bn for a variety of charities over its 30-year existence. A substantial part of its annual donations are made during a few weeks of intense campaigning every year, culminating in Red Nose Day and Sport Relief.
And until fairly recently, these donations were processed over a creaking, jury-rigged platform which was struggling to manage the weight of transactions required.
The man tasked with bringing the system into the 21st century is Comic Relief's chief technology officer, Zenon Hannick, who told V3 how the previous makeshift system came together.
"For the 2011 Red Nose Day we had an old Java-based platform which was put together by various suppliers," he said.
"Various companies had lent us servers. We had them shipped to our data centre in London, then about a dozen of our partners came together and assembled it all. It was a proper snowflake."
Comic Relief had on average been doubling the amount of donations received in every campaign at that point, and 2011 was no exception. The volume of payments came very close to breaking the platform and flooding the charity's internal network.
"I knew that if we experienced the same increase in 2012 we basically wouldn't be able to take the money," Hannick admitted.
So Comic Relief decided to rebuild the platform, aiming for multiple cloud services and redundancy at every layer, including at the cloud provider and service provider levels.
"We'd been with WorldPay for around 10 years at that point, and we wanted to look around the industry," he said.
"We ended up approaching 25 to 30 payment providers, but many of them said they couldn't cope with the level of donations. We need to process around 500 donations a second in real time."
Being such a high-profile event, many providers didn't want to take the risk of failing and making the wrong sort of headlines the next day.
Requirements were further complicated by Hannick's insistence that donations are processed synchronously all the way to the banks and back so that givers can know that their attempt had succeeded or failed.
"On the old platform someone would enter their credit card details, and that would be held in the platform then dripped through to the service provider, which could take up to eight hours to reach us," he explained.
This was a particular problem for Comic Relief, since the BBC expected to be able to announce live totals regularly throughout the various event broadcasts.
"We have to tell the BBC the totals we're raising, and we used to do it based on money we didn't quite have yet, and we had to be very careful about compliance," said Hannick, stressing that the charity has been compliant with the BBC throughout its life. "Some providers said they could work with that requirement, so we did a lot of testing with them," said Hannick.
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