The steady drumbeat of cloud computing continues to echo around the IT industry, leaving little doubt that it will soon show up at an enterprise near you. The question remains, though, what role will it play? Or more precisely, what applications will be most suited to the cloud?
Most of the top cloud vendors are talking enterprise quality at this point. Amazon's Elastic Computer Cloud (EC2) service offers up 1.7 GB of memory, 160 GB of long-term storage and 32-bit processing for about 10 cents per hour. And IBM is about to kick its Blue Cloud program up a notch, calling it the New Enterprise Data Center platform with an eye toward blending large-scale infrastructure support and large user volumes with mission-critical processing and data integrity.
Microsoft is ramping up its offering as well in the hopes that the cloud can be merged with another growing industry trend: mobile computing. The company recently launched its Microsoft Online Services (MOS) program that delivers Web-based versions of Exchange and SharePoint to BlackBerries and other devices. Both of these "deskless" applications come with features found in traditional licenses, such as e-mail, calendar and virus/spam tools of Exchange's Outlook module, and search and portal/team site functionality found in SharePoint.
Even cloud stalwart Google is finding it hard to keep up with demand for its App Engine application development environment. The company is fielding numerous requests to remove resource ceilings and add support for additional languages like Python from resource-hungry clients.
But all of these applications could pale in comparison to the coming cloud-based e-mail onslaught, according to new research from Gartner. The company is predicting that the cloud will hold upwards of 20 percent of commercial mailboxes by 2012, from less than 1 percent today. Once e-mail is an established cloud service, other applications will follow, including instant messaging, social networking and Web and podcasts.
So to answer our initial question, it looks like the cloud is ready to take on just about any application or service that's currently housed in your data center, and probably for less money too. Can the cloud live up to its promise of equal reliability and security? That remains to be seen. The capability is certainly there. All that remains is the execution.