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Cloud Computing for Not-for-Profits

“What is the cloud?”   "Where is the cloud?" "Are we in the cloud now?!" The term "cloud computing" is everywhere, but what exactly does it mean?

We all know that technology transforms how we are doing business on a daily basis, and cloud computing is helping organizations re-imagine their operational structures.  In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer's hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the internet. Whether you think of it as offering the ability to break down market and geographical hurdles, or just providing you with the capability to unlock yourself from your office computer, there is just no denying the opportunities that are available to us with the cloud. Cloud integration provides a foundation for information, hardware and services sharing for organizations of all sizes.

Cloud computing has nothing to do with your hard drive. It gives you access to your data or your programs over the internet (or at the very least synchronized data). With an online connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, anytime.  There are three categories of cloud computing:

Software as a Service or “SaaS” – arguably the most common – is a software delivery model in which applications are hosted (usually by a provider) and made available to customers over a network connection. Many people make use of SaaS without realizing it as many web applications are delivered in this way: Gmail, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook are all popular examples of SaaS. Enterprise users also frequently make use of SaaS with many popular accounting, invoicing, sales, and communications systems being delivered this way.

 Infrastructure as a Service or “IaaS”specifically deals with hardware – or computing infrastructure – delivered as a service. Offerings include virtualized server space, storage space, network connections and IP addresses. The resource is pulled from a pool of servers distributed across data centers under the provider’s control; the user is then granted access to this resource in order to build their own IT platforms. IaaS can provide enterprises with great business benefits.

Platform as a Service or “PaaS” is an extension of the Infrastructure model and provides developers with environments in which to build applications, over the Internet. In addition to the fundamental computing resource supplied by the hardware in an IaaS offering, platform models also include the software and configuration (often known as the solution stack) required to create the platform on which clients can create their applications. PaaS packages can be tailored to meet individual user needs. PaaS provides a number of benefits to enterprises, including simplifying the development process for geographically split development teams.
 
Cloud computing can be deployed in many different ways depending upon many factors, such as:

  • Where the cloud services are hosted
  • Security requirements
  • Desire to share cloud services
  • Ability to manage some or all of the services
  • Customization capabilities

There are four common deployment models for cloud services loosely determined by who has access to the cloud services:

Public: defined by services and infrastructure which are hosted off-site by a cloud provider, shared across their client base and accessed by clients via public networks such as the internet. Public clouds offer great economies of scale and redundancy but are more vulnerable than private cloud setups due their high levels of accessibility.

Private: uses pooled services and infrastructure stored and maintained on a private network – whether physical or virtual – and accessible to only one client. The obvious benefits to this are greater levels of security and control.  Cost benefits must be sacrificed to some extent though, as the enterprise in question will have to purchase/rent and maintain all the necessary software and hardware.

Hybrid: allows a company to maximize their efficiencies. By utilizing the public cloud for non-sensitive operations while using a private setup for sensitive or mission critical operations, companies can ensure that their computing setup is ideal without paying any more than is necessary.

Community: a collaborative effort in which infrastructure is shared between several organizations from a specific community with common concerns (security, compliance, jurisdiction, etc.), whether managed internally or by a third-party and hosted internally or externally. The costs are spread over fewer users than a public cloud (but more than a private cloud), so only some of the cost savings potential of cloud computing are realized.

The cloud will increasingly become the standard for all applications. Companies are increasingly deploying new applications with a cloud-first mentality.  As a not-for-profit organization, the flexibility and cost savings of cloud computing makes sense in the long run, so now is the time to prepare for converting your processes.

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