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5 ways your church can benefit from cloud computing

"Cloud"  once simply meant a fluffy mass of vapor particles. Now, the word has new meaning in the world of technology. Cloud computing is computer software accessible through the Internet rather than through a physical server.

Your church can benefit from several free and low-cost ways to use cloud technology, which allows you to access, and often edit, pictures, music, video and documents anytime, anywhere.

1. Photo storage/editing
Have you ever wanted to show someone the pictures from your latest church picnic or add a photo to your church's newsletter as you're working from home? Several cloud-based photo storage and editing services meet these (and other) needs. Photobucket is a free site that allows users to store, share and edit photos, and provides unlimited uploading. Users also can create slideshows and collages. Shutterfly also provides free, unlimited photo storage, organization and editing options. Both Photobucket and Shutterfly have options to receive prints of your photos via mail or to pick them up at a local store.

2. Music storage
Placing your music on the cloud is perfect for churches still using CDs, cassette tapes and albums. It eliminates the need to store the music and provides access to all music files in one area. (If you have those "hard" copies of the music, you'll need to digitize them before heading to the cloud.) Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player allow you to store and play your music library, providing five gigabytes of storage free or 20 gigabytes for $20 annually. In addition, Amazon MP3 purchases are stored free, and don't count against your Amazon Cloud Drive storage space. Google Music allows users to upload up to 20,000 songs free, although they cannot download them to another computer unless they have purchased the music through Google Music. It automatically backs up iTunes and many other music files.

3. Video storage/editing
While the benefits are similar to the picture and music options, cloud video storage also eliminates the need to store large video files on DVDs or prevents them from taking up too much space on your desktop computer. WeVideo, a cloud service specifically for video uploading and editing, allows users to upload files shot on a mobile phone or video camera, and to add music, animation, effects and more. The free plan includes one gigabyte of storage. Plans with more storage and features start at $6.99 a month. YouTube, the popular site that allows users to upload, store and share videos, also offers the YouTube Video Editor, which permits users to enhance their videos by adding music, trimming clips, inserting transitions and more.

4. General storage
While you can find a variety of specialty cloud services, many others allow you to store all types of files. These are perfect for the church that needs easy or multiple-user access. Dropbox, for example, is a free service that allows users to store and share many different files types, including documents, photos and videos, up to two gigabytes, at no charge. It offers expanded storage options starting at $9.99 a month. IDrive, another free service, offers five gigabytes of storage free and automatically backs up your files. Plans providing additional storage start at $4.95 a month.

5. Word processing
Those who want to upload, download, work on and share their church's documents, spreadsheets, reports and more have several options. One is Zoho, which is free for personal use and has many affordably priced plans depending on the features you use. In addition to allowing users to create and edit documents and reports, Zoho offers calendars, chat options, meeting organizers and more. Google also offers Google Docs, which allows users to upload, access, edit and share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, forms and more.

Whatever options you choose, cloud computing can help your church stay organized and allow multiple users to access items whether they are at church, work, home or on the go.