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Microsoft is to donate $1bn worth of cloud computing resources to 70,000 non-profit and non-government organisations (NGOs) in the next three years for the “public good”.
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The initiative, to be run by the newly established Microsoft Philanthropies division, is part of the company’s efforts to “reinvent” corporate philanthropy and expand use of the cloud.
The cloud computing donation builds on existing software donations and cloud support programmes and will boost cloud support to universities by 50% to help 900 research projects.
NGOs selected for the programme will get access to:
- Microsoft Azure to develop and run their applications
- Enterprise Mobility Suite to manage devices, applications and data
- CRM Online to manage relationships with donors and beneficiaries
- Office 365, including Microsoft’s Power BI for business intelligence and data analytics
The initiative is also aimed at reaching new communities in developing countries with last-mile connectivity and cloud services.
“Cloud computing makes it possible to reason over quantities of data to produce specific insights and intelligence,” Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said in a blog post announcing the move. “It converts guesswork and speculation into predictive and analytical power.”
Public cloud for public good
In a related blog post, Microsoft’s chief legal officer Brad Smith said cloud computing has emerged as a vital resource for addressing the world’s problems.
“Cloud services can unlock the secrets held by data in ways that create new insights and lead to breakthroughs, not just for science and technology, but for addressing the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services,” he wrote.
Smith said cloud services can also improve communications and problem-solving, and help organisations work in a more productive and efficient manner.
“If we’re going to realise Microsoft’s mission of empowering every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more, we need to reach those that the market is not yet reaching,” he wrote.
Smith said Microsoft believes the initiative will ensure that non-profit organisations and university researchers around the world obtain the cloud access they need to “pursue cutting-edge solutions to the world’s most pressing problems”.
However, the announcement has met with criticism from those who see the move as just another attempt by Microsoft to expand and entrench its brand and services rather than an altruistic initiative.
Some have pointed out that Microsoft is likely to benefit in the long term because the initiative will help the company to win new customers for its cloud platform.
Nadella said he is attending the World Economic Forum, being held from 20 to 23 January in Davos, Switzerland, to join other leaders in focusing on digital transformation brought about by ubiquitous, powerful, mobile and networked technologies.
“Among the questions being asked in Davos are these: If cloud computing is one of the most important transformations of our time, how do we ensure that its benefits are universally accessible? What if only wealthy societies have access to the data, intelligence, analytics and insights that come from the power of mobile and cloud computing?” Nadella wrote.
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The Microsoft chief said there are several examples of how the public cloud can be used for the public good.
He cited the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India, which has treated 20 million patients with cataracts. “Through digitisation of medical records and other socio-economic data, doctors now can pinpoint the procedures needed to prevent and treat visual impairments,” he wrote.
And in Nepal, Nadella said that after the devastating earthquake in April 2015 UN relief workers had used the public cloud to collect and analyse massive amounts of data about schools, hospitals and homes to speed up access to compensatory entitlements, relief packages and other assistance.