Virtualization. We’ve heard it called by many different names over the years – utility computing, grid computing, virtual machines, autonomic computing. The list goes on an on, but the concept doesn’t really change. It’s all about maximizing the technology resources you have at hand to create a whole that is significantly more powerful than its individual parts – and is infinitely scalable.

And there is a parallel in the nonprofit sector as well. All nonprofit organizations have limited resources and are looking to do the absolute most toward fulfilling their mission in the most efficient way possible.

Jana Eggers, senior vice president of products and marketing here at Blackbaud, makes the analogy of turning daisies into sunflowers. Many organizations are like daisies, bogged down with large petals of technology responsibilities – from implementation to system maintenance – while the small center of the delicate flower represents the amount of time nonprofits can spend on their mission.

Conversely, hardy sunflowers have a much bigger center (focus on the mission) with shorter “technology” petals.

Virtualization is central to the vision at Blackbaud, as it can help accelerate the “daisies to sunflowers” transition, as well as level the playing field for nonprofits that could not otherwise afford proprietary technologies or expensive hardware. And while virtualization has been around for many years, we are now seeing a maturity in the technologies used to make virtualization possible.

So, what are some areas where virtualization might pay off for nonprofit organizations?

  • Cloud Computing: Cloud computing can be a boon to many nonprofit organizations from a scalability, pricing and hardware outsourcing perspective. Bo Crader recently penned a piece about navigating the move to a cloud infrastructure that’s well worth a read. Within cloud computing, there are a number of permutations that could truly benefit nonprofits, from email hosting services to storage services and everything in between.
  • Server Virtualization: Jake Marcinko wrote about virtual machines and why now might be a great time for nonprofits to consider server virtualization since costs continue to plummet. Server virtualization can help streamline administration of network resources to be used in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible with the less dedicated technology expertise.
  • Big Data and Analytics: From a nonprofit’s point of view, data is the lifeblood of an organization. Who’s making donations? Who are our volunteers? Where do our supporters live? What do they like to do? How do they like to interact with us? Big Data provides the next step in the equation by helping organizations make sense of all the data to see the emerging trends and patterns when it comes to engaging supporters. And data virtualization promises to provide nonprofits access to affordable options to consolidate data from multiple sources to achieve new insights into their supporters.

Virtualizing the IT environment won’t be the right move for every nonprofit, but the vast improvements we’ve seen in virtualization technologies and the decrease in costs for access to those technologies will truly benefit a number of nonprofit organizations that could previously only dream of being sunflowers in an otherwise daisy-filled world.

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