What is "the cloud" and why should you care?

what is the cloud?

The first time I heard reference to "the cloud," I was immediately dismissive. It was, I guessed, just another marketing term, designed to make something technological sound like something magical ─ designed, in other words, to make me buy something.

Turns out I was wrong. At least partly. As "the cloud" slipped more and more into our collective consciousness, I decided I ought to try and understand it and how it might be used.

First off: definitions. According to the National Institute of Science and Technology (USA), "Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet)."

Still confused? Me too. But luckily, cloud computing (as it turns out) is nothing new, and there are a lot of online resources that explain it better. Take, for example, this video:

Now that you understand the basic concept, the next logical question should be about how you and your not-for-profit organization might use "the cloud." Again, luckily, I’m not the first person to consider this. Back in 2010, Anna Jaeger wrote a very useful GreenTech Initiative blog post entitled Why Should Nonprofits Care About Cloud Computing?

She opens with the line, "If you are a small to medium-sized nonprofit, why should you care about cloud computing? Because it can save you time, money and help spare the environment."

The entire article is worth reading, but the main point is this: not-for-profits should consider migrating SOME (not all) of their technological data (databases, websites, etc.) to a cloud hosting solution because it will save time and money. Says Jaeger, "Small to medium-sized nonprofits who have limited capital, limited space and limited technical staff can benefit financially and environmentally from using cloud computing. It saves energy, reduces the amount of hardware needed and is often technically easier to install and maintain than in-house applications. Not every IT function should be migrated to "the cloud," so you should discuss your situation with your IT staff or a consultant. The concept may be a bit scary for some, but once you get over that hurdle and realize that you are already using cloud computing, I think you will start seeing other ways you can use it to help your nonprofit get your work done efficiently."

Read Jaeger’s article in full to get a better handle on the concepts, and stay tuned. We’ll be posting more technological help for not-for-profits in the future. If you've had experience with cloud computing, drop me a line and let me know how you like it.

Header image by DarkMist09, SCX. Body image by Billy Frank Alexander Design, SXC.



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