Cloud Computing for Small Museums

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Cloud Computing for Small Museums

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | December 28, 2011

The majority of museums and local historical socities around the Minnesota are small organizations which, if not all volunteer, employ between 1-5 people. However they are the most vulnerable and are often run by people with limited resources and skills to be able to reap the benefits of available information technologies (IT). When they do adopt IT strategies, their potential to survive and grow increases since they are then able to participate in a larger global environment. The challenge lies with these organizations adopting the appropriate IT solution that fits their needs. Often the tools available are either too expensive or require more resources than readily available. Cloud computing offers an opportunity to support the growth of local historical societies by enabling low cost IT solutions.

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud-computing services require no software to purchase and install. Cloud computing applications reside on external servers and are accessed through internet or mobile network connections. This reduces the cost of paying for IT infrastructure and applying it to suit the organization's needs. Cloud computing is a recent term that refers to both the applications delivered as services over the internet and the hardware/software in data centers in which a pool of virtualized, dynamically- scalable computing power, storage, platforms and services are delivered on demand.

Cloud-based services can be categorized into three models:

  1. Software as Service (SaS): service providers make available applications for personal and business use.

  2. Infrastructure as Service (IaS): offers hardware services which may include virtual and physical servers.

  3. Platform as Service (PaS): provides a framework and tools for developers to build their own applications.

Although cloud computing is not without concerns about security, stability, and data ownership, for small museums, cloud computing hits a particular sweet spot. With cloud services, small organizations enjoy the benefits of not having to deploy physical infrastructure like file and e-mail servers, storage systems or shrink-wrapped software. Plus, the "anywhere, anytime" availability of these solutions, means hassle-free collaboration between volunteers and employees by simply using a browser. Another feature of cloud computing is that it's easily scalable. Many of these solutions can work for a business with 2 employees or 2,000.

One of the greatest advantages is that the user is no longer tied to a traditional computer to use an application, or has to buy a version specifically configured for a phone, PDA or other device. (In theory) any device that can access the Internet will be able to run a cloud-based application.

Regardless of the device being used, there may be fewer maintenance issues. Users will not have to worry about storage capacity, compatibility or other matters.

Cloud-computing fees  are typically subscription-based. The vendors usually charge on a month-to-month or annual basis.

Pooling resources into large clouds cuts costs and increases utilization by delivering resources only for as long as those resources are needed. Cloud computing is particularly beneficial for small and medium organizations, where effective and affordable IT tools are critical for helping them become more productive without spending a great deal of money on in-house resources and technical equipment.

PROS of Cloud Computing

  • Fast Deployment

  • Lower cost/No Capital Expense

  • Reduced IT maintenance

  • Elastic and Unlimited Scalability

  • Energy Efficiency

  • Reliability (service & data)

  • Better Resource Utilization

CONS of Cloud Computing

  • Information Security

  • Physical Security

  • Long Term Offline Storage

  • Bandwidth Bottleneck

  • Potential Vendor Lock-in

  • Lack of control during downtime

Free or low cost Cloud Services

Here are some suggestions for you. Feel free to add to the list in your comments below.

Web Site Services

Looking for a free web site or time to up date that old site then look at these options...

Free|Basic services
If you are a beginner and hate the idea of getting technical, then go with Weebly. Their drag and drop system makes it amazingly simple to get started.
Free|Basic services
If you are looking for a web site with scalability as your web presence grows, then go with  It utilizes the same WordPress software that anyone can download from  With, the hosting and managing of the software is taken care of. In the future you could move your web site with ease to another hosting service if you wanted more control - something not done as easily with Weebly.

Google Sites
The ease of use in Google sites and collaboration abilities make it suitable for team work and collaboration; Its easy setup and limited design makes it suitable for small personal sites or group participation like club sites.

Free (limited service for Non-profits)
Do you want more control of your web site, are more advanced, want to customize your site? You might want to consider signing up on Dreamhost which offers free web hosting to 501c3 non-profits.

Other Services

Mail Chimp
Free|Basic services

MailChimp has a lot of great features, however, most of these great features come at an extra charge to the regular cost of service. Their general pricing structure can works great for small businesses but can get pricey for larger organizations or larger mailing lists.

Google Docs
The most widely-used cloud-based productivity suite, Google Docs is efficient, provides document collaboration and tight integration with other Google functions. Plus it's more compatible with Microsoft documents than other online services of its kind.

Google Apps
$50 per user per year (A free version of Google Apps for Nonprofits is available)
If you want to integrate Google Docs into a collaborative workspace, complete with email and calendaring, Google Apps is the way to go.

$4.99 - $49.00 Direct
Dropbox is a file synchronization and sharing solution that can also function as an online backup service. It works by letting the user simply drag and drop their files and folders into a Dropbox folder.

Free|Basic services
LogMeIn Free offers free remote access to your desktop so you can open files, check your email, run programs and stay productive from yourmobile device or any computer over the Internet and it's user-friendly enough for non-techies.
Free|Basic services is an online accounting service that fits light accounting needs, such as tracking income expenses and tax obligations. However, it is new and lacks features like invoicing, credit card payments (with a merchant account), account management, and check writing that are available in other cloud based accounting services.