Computing giant Microsoft has pledged to provide $1bn-worth (£700m) of cloud computing resources to organisations it deems to be working for the “public good”.
The resources will be shared out over the next three years to about 70,000 non-profits and 900 university research projects.
In simplest terms, cloud computing is the term given to storing data on the internet, rather than on a local computer.
As well as making data more easily accessible, the added promise for non-profits is that the resources will provide vast amounts of computing power that would ordinarily be out of reach for all but the biggest businesses.
In a blog post explaining the initiative, Microsoft’s chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote: “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.”
The crunching of so-called “big data” is seen as a major opportunity for non-profits dealing in social issues that pose a cumbersome problem without the kind of processing power cloud computing can provide.
In that respect, Microsoft’s pledge isn’t for a tangible product, or cash, but instead access to servers and services that normal businesses would need to pay considerable fees for.
The money will also be spent on improving “last mile” internet connectivity – the hope is countries that are under connected will begin to enjoy some of the luxuries more developed internet nations have – such as broadband at home.
Other companies, particularly Facebook, have pursued similar goals.
Facebook’s Internet.org project is investing in connectivity technologies – such as drones – to fill that last mile, helping what founder Mark Zuckerberg refers to as the “next billion” people to access the web.
However, initiatives such as this aren’t always so well received. Facebook’s Free Basics scheme, in which certain mobile sites were accessible for free, has caused uproar in India, where local businesses say Facebook is giving itself an unfair advantage over local competitors.
Microsoft will invariably be hit with the same accusation – that a donation over three years will be made in the hope that organisations will become ingrained in the Microsoft cloud ecosystem for many more years to come.
That said, Microsoft boss Satya Nadella has gained considerable applause for his continually expressed desire to use Microsoft’s immense size and wealth in developing countries, including his native India.
As well as being a guest of Michelle Obama at the recent State of the Union address, the 48-year-old is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, seeking to stress Microsoft’s potential to provide computing power for initiatives beyond big business.
In a blog post published on Wednesday, he wrote: “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?”