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What Is The Cloud Anyway?

Lori Halley 07 June 2012 0 comments

In early April, we reported on the release of the NTEN “The State of the Nonprofit Cloud” report in our post – Is Your Non-profit in the Cloud?  But since then I’ve seen a number of posts on the LinkedIn Nonprofit Professionals Forum with questions about “the Cloud” so I thought I’d offer some clarification on the term.  

What does “the Cloud” mean? 

While cloud images were traditionally used in diagrams by network engineers to depict server locations, as an InfoWorld post - What Cloud Computing Really Means - suggests, the term “the cloud” has become “the phrase du jour.” But what does it really mean? The posts authors, Knorr and Gruman, offer some clarification:

“Cloud computing comes into focus only when you think about what IT always needs: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT's existing capabilities.”

So while we used to think of “software” as something that comes in a shrink-wrapped box of CD’s to be installed on a computer, today’s “cloud-based” software or systems can include any applications (software/systems) that you access through the Internet with a web browser or mobile app, and data is stored on servers at a remote location (rather than being stored on your computer’s hard drive).

Examples of Cloud Systems or Solutions:

One of the interesting things that the NTEN research found was that “the vast majority [91%] of nonprofits surveyed were using hosted software, but …many didn’t even realize those systems could be considered hosted or “cloud” solutions.”  So what types of systems or software are floating on the cloud? A key example would be SaaS (software as service) solutions, such as Association Management Systems (AMS)  or Membership Management Systems or Software (such as Wild Apricot) for which you pay a monthly or yearly service fee. Another example would be Google Docs  – a web-based office suite and data storage service that you can “access anywhere” and use to “upload your files from your desktop;” “share your work.”  

Benefits of Moving to the Cloud: 

In a post, - Moving to the Cloud:  Pros and Cons - in the Chronicle of Philanthropy,  Cody Switzer suggests a number of benefits for moving to the cloud, including:

  • Limiting downtime:  [The system is housed on virtual servers by outside experts who can quickly manage and minimize service disruptions.]
  • Ease of expansion and predictability: [You pay a monthly or yearly service fee that includes any service upgrades instead of having to pay for newer versions.]
  • Security expertise: [Cloud services may be more secure than in-house managed systems and few nonprofits have a security expert on staff to ensure data remains safe.]
  • Saving time: [With cloud services, your IT staff can spend less time dealing with hardware and more time working on your software and processes.]

In a post on TechSoup a while back - Why Should Nonprofits Care About Cloud Computing? - Anna Jaeger suggested a couple of other benefits of cloud computing:

  • Rapid deployment: Often, accounts can be set up in minutes. More complicated pieces of software (CRM, accounting packages, donor management software) still require more set up and probably training of your staff.
  • Convenience: Staff and volunteers can access your applications from almost any Internet connection with their login information. No more setting up VPNs or systems to allow remote access to your servers.

Moving to the Cloud? 

So now that you have a little more information on cloud computing, will you consider moving your association or non-profit to “the Cloud?” 

If you do, you might want to check out our Software Selection Guide  that we designed to help non-profits, associations, clubs and other membership-based organizations choose the best software for their individual needs.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 07 June 2012 at 8:34 AM
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