Monthly Archives: September 2012

  • 7 September 2012
Cloud Computing for Nonprofits; Are You on Cloud Nine? (Part 1 of 2)

Cloud Computing for Nonprofits; Are You on Cloud Nine? (Part 1 of 2)

Cloud computing image

Do you use Cloud Computing?

What if someone were to ask you whether you are tech savvy and are using cloud computing? If you said no (because isn’t cloud computing all about storing files on someone else’s computer/server? I already have all my files on my desktop pc), think again. If you’ve ever used Yahoo Mail, Gmail or Hotmail, then you’re already in the world of cloud computing! According to Joseph Scarano (CEO of Araize-providers of software solutions to nonprofits):

 ‘Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and info are provided to computers and other devices over a network, typically the internet’.

So by this definition, using Gmail or any other email service counts as cloud computing because we just sign up for the mail accounts and access them through the browser without having to maintain an in-house email exchange server. In part 1 of this 2-series blog, we will be talking about how nonprofits can use cloud computing in their day-to-day activities. Part 2 will outline some useful cloud resources and the pros and cons of cloud technology. In addition to email, here are some other ways that nonprofits can use cloud computing: 1. Storage This is the most well-known use of the cloud technology and one that works really well for small nonprofits that do not have a lot of office space. A good example of a storage service is the one provided by Dropbox which allows users to create special folders on each of their computers and synchronize them into one folder so that they are available to be viewed as one folder regardless of which computer the user is on. Dropbox is free to use up to 18GB but upgrades of up to 500GB are possible starting at $9.99 per month. For businesses, Dropbox has its Teams service which has plans starting at approximately $13.25 per team member per month for a team of 5 members and a storage capacity of 1000GB. Each additional team member will be billed at $10.41 per month and an additional 200 GB will be part of the package. Considering the amount of work that is done remotely, this feature would be beneficial to non-profits who have their team members located in different geographic regions but working on the same project. 2. Backup Did you know that World Backup Day is on March 31st? Just one day before April Fool’s Day? We think there is an implied meaning right there; back up or else risk ending up being fooled after all your data is lost! Jokes aside, backup is really very important to save us a lot of anxiety so much so that we feel backup should be done almost everyday and not just once a year. It is very common to use external hard drives as backup in case of system failure or hard disk crashes. However, the possibility of losing the external drive or physically damaging it still exists. Moreover, the act of having to physically save all files onto an external drive may not be very effective since we might forget to backup our files and only think of them when we lose them! This is where the cloud comes in handy. Having an online backup for your files securely stores your files in an offsite server and thus reduces the risk of losing the files through hard drive loss. In addition, most providers nowadays have automatic backup thus saving the user the hassle of clicking ‘save’ every time the file is modified. There are a number of cloud backup services in the market today with slightly different plans. Some have pricing plans that bill the user per computer while others bill per GB used. For instance, AVG LiveKive offers unlimited storage on an unlimited number of devices for for $79.99/year while BackBlaze offers unlimited storage for $60/year/computer. Comodo Backup and IDrive offer 5GB of online backup storage for free which is not a lot but gives you a chance to test the service before buying it. The decision to go for one backup service and not the other is dependent upon the needs of your organization and personal preferences of the people using the service. However, there are some key points to keep in mind when selecting a backup service provider: Cloud button a) Is unlimited storage really unlimited? Some service providers have been known to offer ‘unlimited’ storage space but in reality, they refer to 500GB of space as ‘unlimited’ and any extra space used in excess of the 500GB will be billed separately. Usually such details are not displayed prominently and therefore, you should always read the fine print (such as the Terms of Use) before signing up. b) Security encryption level: some backup services have military grade encryption while  others have the 448 bit encryption (better than that of a bank). These levels simply outline  how secure the service is and how hard it is for a hacker to ‘crack’ the password key and obtain access to your data. Having either of the two levels ensures that the backup service is equipped with strong passwords to ensure your data does not fall into the wrong hands. c) Accessibility: Will you be accessing your information from a Windows PC? a Mac? a  mobile device? This is an important consideration because not all cloud service providers offer services that are compatible with all devices. 3. Software applications As we all know, software does not come cheap; licenses need to be bought and frequent upgrades may be necessary as and when a new version of the software is released. Some types of software such as Accounting applications can get really expensive and in this case, the cloud comes in pretty handy. According to ZDNet, “the software runs (or is hosted) on the provider’s premises, not the customers’, and payment is by subscription spread over the term of the contract rather than an upfront license fee.” As such, availability, operation, and maintenance of the software are the responsibility of the cloud provider. This tends to make things easier; sort of like subscribing to the newspaper; pay the monthly fee and receive the newspaper every single day. Simple, right? Lynnea Bylund, a board member of The Gandhi Worldwide Institute, a 501(c) charitable organization has the following testimonial advocating the use of Cloud9 Real Time (a cloud provider offering its software services as a subscription) for their accounting purposes:
Cloud9 helped to reduce the total cost of our accounting system by at least 40%, on an annual basis, while reducing stress and increasing access.  At important moments myself, the organization’s chairman and our CFO can all assess a real-time accounting picture, each of us from different locations in the world.”
As is the case with every technology, there are some pros and cons to using the cloud which will be covered in part 2 of this blog series so be sure to come back and read our next blog where we’ll have more insightful information and resources! ~Ramya