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A Walk in the Cloud - Is Cloud Computing Right for You?

Intro to Cloud Computing

At the Canadian Council of Christian Charities’ annual conference I had the opportunity to share some thoughts on the trend towards cloud computing and what it means for Canadian nonprofits and churches. I shared some of the key ideas here: A Walk in the Cloud - Is Cloud Computing Right for You? on Prezi

The move towards the cloud holds a lot of exciting potential for nonprofits of all sizes. Not only are many organizations able to realize cost savings through not having to run and maintain their own server(s) (or pay a consultant to do so), many cloud tools enable new levels of sharing and collaboration which can transform how we work. We live in a world where our supporters are looking to us for greater transparency and there is an increasing need to partner with other organizations to achieve real impact. Using the right cloud tools can help us break down the barriers we currently face and be the more open, effective and resilient organizations that we need to be.

As with any new technology, there are always hard questions to ask before jumping in. In this case, some of the most important questions include:

  • Is the cloud secure?
  • Will the cloud cost more or less than what I have now?
  • What if I decide to stop using a cloud tool - can I get my data out?
  • Is the convenience of the cloud worth giving up control of many aspects of my system?

Unfortunately these questions have no easy answers - in every case it’s a matter of considering trade-offs and weighing the risks and benefits of each approach. The situation will be different in every organization and will depend on factors such as:

  • Organization size - small organizations with no infrastructure are great candidates for cloud tools. Medium-large organizations can also benefit significantly from a move to the cloud, however more thought must be given to analysing the costs of the cloud compared to current infrastructure, and how much it would cost to migrate.
  • Organization’s work/mission - organizations that do politically sensitive work will want to be especially careful about moving to the cloud. As well, organizations that work in areas without reliable high-speed Internet access need to think carefully about whether the cloud is the best option.

Throughout the talk I shared several great cloud tools that we use at TechSoup Canada:

  • Prezi - a tool for creating non-linear presentations. If you’re interested in cloud presentation tools but aren’t quite ready for Prezi, have a look at SlideRocket, which is more similar to PowerPoint.
  • Google Docs - for editing, sharing and collaborating on documents
  • Dropbox - an easy way to share documents without a file server
  • Smartsheet - like Excel on steroids, specializing in project management
  • Netvibes - allows you to create a dashboard of your favourite blogs
  • Diigo - a social bookmarking tool

If you are interested in exploring other cloud tools, I recommend Platformation for reviews of cloud tools and great webinars on how nonprofits can take advantage of them.