Cloud services have become very popular in recent years. However, when TechSoup surveyed NGOs around the world in 2012, we found that many NGOs didn't know much about cloud services. As a result, many NGOs we surveyed didn't use cloud services
What should NGOs know about "cloud computing" before they decide to use these types of services? How do NGO staff members determine whether cloud services are right for their organization? We'll introduce some basic cloud computing terminology and outline some of the advantages and disadvantages to cloud computing.
What Is the Difference Between Cloud-Based and Traditional Software?
Traditional software that you install on a computer does everything on that computer. With cloud-based software, a large datacenter that is outside your organization does most of the work. You simply see the results of it on your own screen.
"Cloud computing" usually refers to an Internet-based alternative to something that organizations would traditionally manage themselves. For example, a webmail service is an online alternative to hosting your own email server.
Most cloud computing services are accessed through a web browser like Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome. You can also use certain cloud services via a dedicated mobile app or through a browser on a smartphone or tablet. Cloud services don't require you to have sophisticated computers that can run specialized software.
Three Basic Types of Cloud: Infrastructure, Platform, and Software
Cloud computing can be categorized into three main types. They are generally known as "infrastructure as a service," "platform as a service," and "software as a service."
If your organization doesn't write or customize its own software, then your interest in cloud computing will mostly be in software as a service (SaaS).
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
"Infrastructure as a service" (IaaS) includes services like storage, backup, and security. An example is Amazon Web Services, which includes database, storage, virtual private server, and support services. Many SaaS applications rely on Amazon Web Services or other IaaS providers.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone service is another example of IaaS.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS is the next category. The vendors of platforms as a service (PaaS) provide a certain framework and a basic set of functions that customers can customize and use to develop their own applications. Examples of PaaS services include Google App Engine, Force.com from Salesforce, and Microsoft Azure.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS includes any Internet-based software or service that you subscribe to, usually on a per-user, per-month basis. It is the most common type of cloud service that small offices use. Some SaaS applications are highly customizable, and you may even need a consultant to help set them up. However, they usually don't require specialized knowledge for everyday use. Examples of SaaS include Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps, and Salesforce.
What to Know as You Consider Whether You Should Use Cloud Services
Cloud services have many advantages, but they are not right for every NGO. Before you decide to use cloud services, you should consider the following advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Cloud Computing
- Reduced support and hardware needs: Cloud computing usually requires a smaller IT staff than a traditional IT setup does because your organization will no longer need to manage the software. Because cloud services don't require high-powered computers, you may not need to upgrade your computers as often.
- Anywhere, anytime collaboration: Cloud software can make it easier for your staff members to work from home. In addition, cloud tools can make it easier to work with others who are outside your NGO.
- A green choice: Although huge datacenters require a lot of electricity, they are more efficient than thousands of powerful desktop computers.
Disadvantages of Cloud Computing
Security and availability: You may have heard about security breaches of cloud services. You definitely should think about the implications of a breach in your NGO's data. However, with both cloud-based and on-premises software, remember that most security breaches are caused by human error. That is one reason why TechSoup published its 12 Tips to Being Safer Online.
NGO staffers might also worry about the availability of cloud services. However, fears about availability are sometimes based on a utopian vision of an organization's current situation. In reality, an organization's on-premises systems might not always work perfectly, and it might not have staff resources dedicated to IT management. In the cloud, security and management are in the hands of trained, dedicated experts.
- Cloud vendors could go out of business: There's always the chance that a new company might go out of business or change its service. When you evaluate cloud providers, find out how you can get your data back if you ever decide to discontinue use of a service. The best services allow you to download your data in a standard,nonproprietary format.
- The need for reliable Internet service: Organizations will need more bandwidth and a more reliable Internet connection to use cloud tools. If consistent Internet access, connection speed, or bandwidth are problems for your organization, cloud services may not be right for you at this time.
Cloud computing will continue to be an important area of technology for NGOs. But which elements of your IT infrastructure you should move into the cloud — and when — will vary a lot from organization to organization.
Technology changes constantly, so you will need to evaluate cloud services more than once. You should reconsider your technology on an ongoing basis. New cloud tools are developed all the time. So even if you're not quite ready for the cloud right now, you may find a good cloud service at a later time.
Improve your organization's security and privacy with TechSoup's 12 Tips to Being Safer Online.
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