May 24, 2012

Have Your Feet On The Ground When Looking At The Cloud

As I said in The Cloud: Not As Airy As You Thought, cloud computing is a boon to startup nonprofits and businesses as well as those that are growing.

Here’s a case study, from Jason Hutchins, president of Nonprofit Solutions Network. A small nonprofit, with a staff of seven. Server is maxed out, ready to be replaced. Question: New in-house server or move into the cloud? Answer: The cloud.

  • Result: Saved the capital investment cost of the server (about $8,000).
  • Monthly cost of cloud service and support is about $50, compared to $150 to $200 for maintenance, electrical costs, and support of on-site server.
  • Bonus #1: Phone system also moved to the cloud, knocking about 35 percent off the monthly phone bill.
  • Bonus #2: With the money saved by not buying a server, the organization bought new laptops for all staff members, making them more productive and more mobile.

Hutchins is quick to point out that one size does not fit all. For some organizations, the cloud isn’t the answer. For others, a mixture of cloud and non-cloud services is best.

How do you decide?
Chances are, you’ll need to hire a consultant who knows what’s available and what you need. Make sure the consultant or vendor doesn’t have a vested interest in keeping you based in-house. In other words, the guy who has the monthly contract to maintain and upgrade your system may lose money if he recommends a cloud system. Other things to note about consultants:

  • Do they have other customers using cloud technology?
  • Is the consultant up-to-date on cloud options? They’re multiplying!
  • Will they give you a variety of options, both cloud and non-cloud, with pricing and support laid out?
  • How is backup handled in each plan?
  • What reasons do they give for their recommendations?
  • Will the consultant do a site survey of your existing hardware and talk with staff about how they use data and what features they might need?
  • Is your consultant taking into account future plans: New locations, more staff, more customers/clients?

Questions to ask
Choose your cloud service provider very carefully. Look at:

  • Service: Will you be able to contact a real person who has the ability to ask and answer real questions. In other words, is tech support robotic, scripted or live?
  • Security: How often are files backed up and is that back up held in a different location from the main servers? What is the security for the servers?
  • How do you get access to your data when either the cloud server is down or your Internet access is out?
  • Can you work on your computer and have the data sync to the cloud?
  • Where and how often should you back up your own data? What will that cost?
  • How locked in will you be to that provider? How hard will it be to move your data?
  • How much will expansion of service cost?
  • How much will it cost to maintain on-site hardware and train staff when turnover takes place?

As your hardware grows old or you want more from your software, look into the cloud. It may save a lot of money and give your organization room to grow.

What do you do in the cloud? How has it helped your business or nonprofit?

This article was orginially published at and is reprinted with permission.


Like what you're reading?
Sign up to receive the latest articles and updates on nonprofit tech from NTEN and its community of experts.


Geri Stengel
Geri Stengel is founder and president of, which connects nonprofit execs, social entrepreneurs, and socially responsible small business owners with the knowledge they need to make the world a better place and to thrive as sustainable organizations. Her blog, Vistas,, provides insights, strategies, techniques, and solutions that help values-driven businesses realize their social-change missions. Her use of social media to build Ventureneer's audience has been so successful that it was noted in two books and on the,,, and, among others.
Interest Categories: Cloud
Tags: Cloud, tech management, technology planning