Agile & innovative: How secure computing helps Kiva change lives
Security is always a top priority for IT teams in any organization, but it’s mission-critical for organizations in the financial services arena. And when you’re an international nonprofit with a mission to alleviate poverty through lending, like San Francisco-based Kiva.org, you need to combine that need for security with a healthy love for innovation and not a small amount of agility.
Kiva started as a pioneer in crowdfunding in 2005, and is constantly innovating to meet people’s diverse lending needs—over 2.4 million borrowers in 82 countries, to be exact, who have received $967.7M in loans from 1.6 million lenders.
The need for control to reduce liability
According to Marc Dantona, Kiva’s Senior Engineering Manager for IT and Technical Operations, one of the organization’s biggest challenges was security related to employee devices. Kiva staff includes unpaid interns who had been using their personal computers to perform work... which presented several problems for Marc and his team.
“We have corporate data about users, borrowers, and lenders that we want to control and keep secure. With the interns, it was a potential liability issue—there were cases where we just couldn’t allow access to data on these uncontrolled machines.”
“When you have a workforce using their own devices, which may not be secure, or could be left at a Starbucks, you have no control whatsoever. There was no way for us to make sure those machines even had the latest security patches,” Dantona explained. “We have corporate data about users, borrowers, and lenders that we want to control and keep secure. With the interns, it was a potential liability issue—there were cases where we just couldn’t allow access to data on these uncontrolled machines.”
Another related challenge for the nonprofit was the resources necessary to support those interns. “In many cases, these were computers that they used throughout college, and there would be productivity problems because the machines would break,” said Dantona. “We were asking them to do work for free on their clunky machines, but we couldn’t offer IT support due to limited support resources.”
The move to a modern OS
Dantona had been tracking the evolution of Google’s Chrome OS for a few years and knew he wanted to move the entire organization in that direction, rationalizing that Chrome OS would have frequently updated, and much easier, light-touch management for him and for his employees.
Kiva also had a cache of five year-old Lenovo laptops on hand that were sitting unused. Discovering CloudReady, then, was a fortunate happenstance.
“When we learned about CloudReady and that it’s built on Chromium, we knew we’d get a modern OS where we don’t have to worry about security patches,” said Dantona. “We could use CloudReady on those Lenovos, which were previously Windows machines, and we could provide support while giving computers to our volunteer interns.”
Dantona continued, “If someone accidentally pours their latte on a computer, our investment was the cost of CloudReady and the Google management fee. So for under $60, and dusting off a machine, we were able to solve two problems.”
“Thanks to CloudReady, we could solve two big problems and prove that we could do our business on this platform. It’s a great tool that costs me very little and is super easy to support.”
So what did the original interns think about using CloudReady?
“The interns just went right to work,” Dantona laughed. “Overall, the biggest impact was on the employees who managed the interns, and they thought it was great. They were all very happy that interns could take computers home if they wanted. I didn’t have to worry about it. We were able to do that, and afford to do it with a tiny staff, because CloudReady is what it is.”
Looking ahead: Chrome and the enterprise
Originally, the perception within Kiva was that Chrome simply wasn’t a viable option for everyone to use, with some people advocating for a move to Macs under the assumption that they’d be easier to manage than Windows devices.
“Chrome is easier to manage than Macs,” Dantona said bluntly. “CloudReady gave us the ability to prove that in a real business case.”
The solution, Dantona thinks, is in socializing the idea within the organization that this is a different kind of OS that people can use to get their jobs done.
“The thing about Kiva is that we try to deal with facts,” Dantona explained. “And now I can say that you may think you need a MacBook Pro, but you don’t. Just today, our senior project manager walked over and said, ‘Hey, I want one of those Chromebooks.’ He was excited about using it because he doesn’t need anything else but a web browser. This is lighter in software and lighter physically.”
Dantona summarized his experience working with Neverware thusly: “Thanks to CloudReady, we could solve two big problems and prove that we could do our business on this platform. It’s a great tool that costs me very little and is super easy to support.”
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