Let’s start with the basics. “Cloud computing” isn’t really a cloud. It’s a bunch of servers in a far-off, climate-controlled locked room, watched over by some serious techies. It’s just not your own server in your own room with your own techie. And the server holds your information right next to information from a whole lot of other people.
The cloud is often described as a “utility based” service. Like electricity, water, or gas, you pay for what you use and can increase the amount you use as needed. Also like utilities, it’s a lot cheaper to use Con Edison than it is to buy and maintain your own generator and meters.
Cloud computing is really a boon to startups — both nonprofit and businesses — because it significantly reduces upfront costs. The cloud is great for growing enterprises because it allows quick expansion of both capacity and applications.
You already use the cloud. That’s where your website lives, along with your Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail account.
Does the Amazon cloud service’s recent outage mean that the cloud is for the birds? No, it doesn’t. All computer systems crash. Hasn’t yours? Nothing is perfect.
What you need to assess is what will work best, be most secure, most affordable, most flexible, and most sustainable for your organization, then arrange back up.
Many small businesses and nonprofits are at the point where they need to upgrade hardware, according to Jason Hutchins, president of Nonprofit Solutions Network. When you’re thinking about new hardware, it’s a good time to look at the cloud for savings. It’s not all or nothing, he emphasizes. You have options:
- Some of your needs can migrate to the cloud while others stay on-site;
- Back up data in the cloud while using your on-site hardware for day-to-day operations;
- Move some applications, such as phone service, to the cloud. (Cloud phones allow you to expand or move without buying new hardware);
- Make the Big Move to all cloud, all the time.
Why the cloud?
The cloud is about much more than websites and email, as we’ve demonstrated before. With it, you can collaborate on documents, spreadsheet, and presentations. You can also use it for storage; customer relationship management (CRM); conferencing; project management; and surveys. And all of these things can be accessed by any staff member from any computer.
- Maintenance, updating, and security of cloud servers are more rigorous and regular than the tech support in most small businesses and nonprofits. How’s your encryption? How’s the building security? The office security? Fireproofing? Are there back-up generators? For a cloud server, all those things are basic to its business plan.
- Backups are made regularly; redundancy built in. Who checks that your backups are taking place and haven’t had a glitch?
- Data can be accessed by employees from home, on the road or in their office. Depending on the type of work you do, this could be invaluable.
- Backing up local files in the cloud means you can recover from a disaster in your office (fire, flood)
- The tech knowledge of server staff is high and problems are attacked vigorously, as if their business depends on it (it does!).
- It’s easier and less costly to grow, to add new applications or staff.
- If you do need to downsize, you’re not stuck with excess capacity and unused hardware.
- The system is portable. No hardware to move to your new office, no downtime while you reconnect.
Why NOT the cloud?
- You cannot access data in the cloud if your Internet service goes down or if the cloud server has a problem.
- Once your data is uploaded to a particular service, it becomes difficult to move to a new provider if you decide you want a change.
- Hackers are more likely to target big servers than your little office server.
- You may still need hardware on site to back up the cloud.
- On-site technical support is reduced but not eliminated. You’ll still need to train staff as people come and go and set up and maintain their work stations.
- You lose some control over your data.
The cloud is your future. When you get there is up to you. Next week, I’ll talk about what to look for in cloud services and how to choose among them.
What has been your experience with the cloud, good or bad? What’s stopping you from making the change?