Martin Campbell won't forget December 26, 2004. The UK managing director of cloud computing outfit Convio was all set to enjoy Boxing Day when word came that a massive tsunami had devastated coastal areas across South East Asia.
As details of one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history began to unfold, Campbell, who at the time was in charge of a hosted website platform for the British Red Cross, battled for two days to bring new servers online in time to deal with a flood of donations.
He succeeded in keeping the website up, partly thanks to the presence of some servers which had not yet been taken down from a previous campaign, and in doing so ensured a "phenomenal amount" was raised toward the relief effort.
It is not an experience he would want to repeat, though. And it doesn't look like he'll have to, as the Internet and the networks that drive campaign work like Campbell's evolve into cloud environments.
Charities can rely on companies like Convio to boost their online muscle at the flick of a switch, bringing on stream new virtual cloud-based servers as needed to cope with peaks in traffic and then decommissioning them just as easily in between campaigns.
It is important to state that charities in the United States have been doing this for nearly a decade and a half, using application service provider models at a time when the term ‘cloud' had just entered use in computing.
American charities have long had to rely on hosted computing services because of the sheer volume of responses they get from nationwide appeals, Campbell says. "Americans give the most of any donors worldwide, and the question of scale is much more of an issue," he notes.
What has changed is that the commoditization of cloud computing has made it much more of an attractive proposition for charities of any size, anywhere, because it gives them a cost-effective way of gaining access to infrastructure that they can dress up in their own colors.
In the U.K., for example, charities that could not traditionally afford a major web presence have previously had to rely on online fundraising service providers such as JustGiving. These are credited with having transformed online donation, but only give charities limited brand exposure.
U.S. charitable organizations have usually eschewed such third-party services precisely because of the value they place on building relationships directly with donors, Campbell explains.
Cloud-based computing now gives any charity in the U.K. or elsewhere the opportunity to build similarly close links with donors, using white-label services from the cloud. In fact, says Campbell, charities can use cloud services in three ways:
- For fundraising, including communicating campaigns and processing donations.
- For creating donor-sponsored events such as the Relay for Life events organized by Cancer Research UK, the world's largest independent cancer research charity, which uses Convio's TeamRaiser platform.
- For behind-the-scenes number crunching to improve the customer relationship management information that is the lifeblood of most charities.
Nevertheless, Campbell adds, charities outside of the United States still have a way to go in terms of cloud adoption. "I would say we are at the early adopter stage," he says.
"Charities have gone through the same cycle of adopting technologies that have been adopted by the commercial sector, but about five to 10 years behind it."
If that is true, then many more charities are about to benefit from cloud computing. That potentially means a lot more money getting through to charitable causes. And fewer ruined holidays for charity IT managers.
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