There’s never a good time for your technology to fail, but Rebecca Helps still regrets that her database system crashed during the Green Party of British Columbia’s annual general meeting.
The executive director of the provincial party had been relying on open-source CiviCRM, software designed for non-profit groups when it crashed in May. It also triggered a Web site crash as the database was tied to the Green Party’s online donation system. The party’s Web host was able to recover the site, but it crashed again two hours later. It had become unstable.
“There’s nothing wrong with it [CiviCRM],” Helps says. “But for an organization our size having open source software without an IT team that could take care of it proved to be disastrous. So we decided to find a new system.”
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After touring some IT trade shows looking for a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution and not finding what she needed, Helps took her search to Google. That’s how the former business systems analyst connected with Toronto-based Atum Corp., a virtual private server provider.
The Green Party doesn’t have a traditional office set-up that allowed for easy installation of client-side software and maintenance of a server.
With two full-time staff, two part-time staff and about 20-30 active volunteers they don’t exactly have a standardized IT policy.
“We’re basically an office without computers,” Helps says. “We don’t have any IT hardware backbone to our office.”
Atum provided that IT backbone for the Green Party by installing is new Fundraiser CRM (customer relationship management) software on a server in its Toronto datacentre. They allow Green Party users to connect to the Windows Server 2008 64-bit box with a virtual private network (VPN). So although they work in B.C., the users are relying on a computer sitting in Toronto.
The system allows users to log-in and work regardless of their operating system or Web browser, explains John Posan, business development director at Atum.
“Anyone could log in from a computer with the Internet,” he says. The custom-developed VPN appliance pushes server through a Web browser using remote desktop protocol or a Java application. The user selects an option that best suits their needs. “They just simply click on PC or Mac and then a Web window is launched.”
That suits the Green Party’s needs well, Helps says. It has bought two concurrent licences to use the system for $125 each. It also pays $155 per month for the hosted server, and that comes with basic support and one backup of the server per day.
Green Party staff access their virtual desktops from the office and at home. Its even allows for volunteers to help out, since they don’t need to install software on their computers.
“It’s been working great,” Helps says. “It gives us a secure server and I have confident in Atum for providing it to us and keeping it up and running.”
Atum prides itself on being a environmentally-friendly IT provider, Posan says. It has been recognized for its green efforts with awards, including a bronze in the Greenest Solution Provider category at the CDN Channel Elite Awards.
“Most hosting companies will just sell their hardware off, or if it’s too old to sell, they just throw it in the garbage,” Posan says. “We recycle all of our old equipment so they can be turned into something else.”
Atum’s main market are small to mid-sized businesses and their clients share the resources of a large physical server. But each client gets a dedicated virtual server, meaning the hardware resources set aside for their use won’t be used by any other company’s applications.
“Each customer is paying for and using only exactly what they need,” Posan says. “We can customize to the megabyte of ram or megabyte of hard disk space.”
The Green Party’s virtual server resides on a IBM X36-M2 server.
The political group of environmental advocates appreciates its IT provider is aware of green issues and makes an effort to reduce its ecological footprint.
Although it wasn’t the main reason the Green Party choose Atum, Helps says. One of the major factors was the company’s Canadian location.
“Due to Canadian privacy laws, we’d have to inform all our supporters and donors that their data was being stored in the U.S.,” she explains. “We didn’t want to have to do that.”
Helps adds that she doesn’t want to scare other small organizations away from using open source software – it can often work out well and save money. It just didn’t work out so well for her.