Nonprofits Investigate Cloud Computing at Rackspace

Rackspace Chairman and Co-Founder Graham Weston talking to the Nonprofit Technology Summit at Rackspace. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Area Foundation

Years ago, companies operated their own power plants to ensure they would have electricity.
Today, they simply plug into the local utility.
That’s the trend happening with nonprofit organizations and cloud computing. Instead of running their own servers at their offices, nonprofit organizations are hosting their e-mail, software, hardware and other applications in the cloud, said Graham Weston, co-founder and Chairman of Rackspace Hosting in San Antonio.
“Our goal is to help charitable organizations here in town utilize the cloud and lower their costs,” Weston said. “There’s so much money wasted on IT every year.”
The cloud is the ability to buy software and storage on the Web, Weston said.
“Computing is about power. It’s like electricity. Computing is turning into a utility,” Weston said. “There’s really an opportunity for your IT folks to add a lot more value. IT goes from something slow to the ability to do things in seconds.”
Weston delivered the opening speech at the third annual Nonprofit Technology Summit on Friday at Rackspace’s headquarters. Rackspace and the San Antonio Area Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Support sponsored the event, which attracted a few hundred nonprofit officials.
Some of the nonprofit organizations attending the day-long event included Family Services Association, Accion Texas, South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, SAMMinistries, San Antonio Children’s Museum and Communities in Schools.
The hour-long sessions included advice on leveraging the Cloud, building culture, project management, tips for building an effective website, marketing and social media tips and resources for nonprofit agencies.
“This is about modernizing IT infrastructure to keep pace with change today,” Weston said.
In the past, to send out e-mail to 1,000 people, a nonprofit agency had to buy a mail server and get an IT person to get it up and keep it running, Weston said. But today, in the cloud world, nonprofit organizations can pay for e-mail service and an e-mail newsletter by the month.
The “pay as you go” software as a service model and cloud computing services and hosting that can ramp up to meet the demands of a growing nonprofit organization has made life easier for nonprofit agencies, Weston said.
“All of the things that the IT department had to do for you in the last 20 years are really low value stuff,” Weston said.
By putting services into the cloud, a nonprofit agency can then focus on what they do that matters, Weston said.
“It’s so you can do valuable stuff,” he said. “No donor cares about your IT stuff…..Because what you do is really important.”
Everyone has IT problems and Rackspace has built its business on solving them, Weston said. The company has grown so rapidly to become the largest Web hosting company in the world hosting more than 1 in 100 sites online, he said.
“In a decade, there will be no one using their own server,” Weston said. “It’s a transformation in the way IT is done.”
Weston also gave the nonprofit leaders some background on how Rackspace has transformed itself from a startup company with just a handful of employees 13 years ago into San Antonio’s largest technology company with 4,500 employees and $1 billion in annual revenue.
In 2005, Rackspace made the decision to expand into the Windsor Park Mall in Windcrest, on the Northeast side.
“It was a mall. It went downhill and now it’s an office building,” Weston said. “It’s the biggest recycling project in town.”
Rackspace transformed a run-down mall into a vibrant tech campus and donated more than 1,100 tons of steel to Habitat for Humanity and other goods like old toilets, shelving and fixtures, in the process.
“We’re also recycling this entire part of town,” he said.
In 2005, Rackspace had to decide whether to build a new building that wouldn’t be ready for years, expand in Raleigh, North Carolina, or refurbish the old mall. Despite initial opposition within Rackspace, the company decided to move into the mall.
“We were ready to come out of the garage. We had been running the place like a startup,” Weston said. “We needed a place we could go where the furniture worked.”
Every Racker, as Rackspace employees call themselves, wanted the future headquarters to be a place of pride, Weston said.
But many Rackers felt they deserved to “be somewhere better than an old mall on the NE side,” Weston said. “There was really violent opposition to coming over here.”
Safety was one of the concerns. And the site developer quoted Weston a price of $4 million to $5 million to build a fence around the property to secure it. Instead, Weston put that money into a Rack-Gives-Back Foundation.
“We wanted to embrace the community rather than fencing ourselves off from it,” he said. “By being here, maybe we can make it better than it is.”
The area has improved since Rackspace moved in. Starbucks put a coffee shop right across the street, which Weston says is the second busiest in town behind the one at USAA. And the YMCA moved into an old abandoned Target store. Rackspace also works with all the schools in the area.
“Any Racker you talk to today will have tremendous pride” Weston said. “This became an inspiring mission. Instead of a negative today it is positive.
And Rackspace’s motto is to make sure that Rackers feel like they are “valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission,” Weston said.
Following the day of seminars, Rackspace provided a tour of its headquarters for the nonprofit agencies including trips down its circular slide.
Monica Vasquez, operations manager for the San Antonio Children’s Museum, attended the summit to learn about the latest technology offerings and how they can enhance the museum’s early childhood development efforts.
“We’re like many other nonprofits that have technology that’s old and needs to be refurbished,” Vasquez said.
The museum wants to incorporate new technology into its exhibits when it moves from Houston Street downtown to Broadway across from Lion’s Park by 2015. It wants to explore technology interfaces like touch screens and interactive displays that can help a child learn ABCs, Vasquez said.
“How can technology be an additional component to enhance the tools we already have,” she said.
During the session on Rackspace’s cloud services, Jason Mata, IT infrastructure manager for the San Antonio Area Foundation, told the crowd that his foundation has already switched from managed servers to the private cloud at Rackspace.
“Literally Rackspace is my IT team,” Mata said.
Rackspace’s customer service is worth the price, he said. Someone at the foundation lost a file and 20 minutes later Rackspace found it and restored it, Mata said.
One person can’t handle software, hardware, network computing and more for a huge nonprofit organization, he said.
“I can’t be an expert at everything,” Mata said.
But because of Rackspace’s customer service, the foundation’s website is always up and programs are up to date, he said.

Comments

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