There's enough momentum behind the cloud to ensure a healthy deployment trajectory for some time to come. But that doesn't mean anything and everything on the cloud is guaranteed to turn to gold.
While low-level applications like backup and recovery have gained a strong following, higher-order functions like infrastructure as a service (IaaS) have a tougher row to hoe. It seems that while the concept of unlimited infrastructure for all manner of development and operational needs is intriguing, practical considerations make it very difficult for enterprises to pull the trigger on IaaS for anything other than sandbox environments.
According to Informationweek's annual cloud computing survey, planned deployment of IaaS is lower now than it was a year ago. This is particularly true for established organizations whose business models are not as data-driven as the Googles and Facebooks of the world and are not in a mad rush to find the absolute cheapest and most malleable computing resources available. In fact, these cloud laggards represent nearly two-thirds of the IT market, and growing numbers of them are indicating they see no need for top-end environments like IaaS at all.
Of course, this flies in the face of the image presented by many IaaS vendors, who argue that the number of success stories for the still-young industry is growing. Preferred Hotel Group, which provides guest services and other functions for Trump and other large chains, transferred its entire co-located server fleet in the Chicago area - 50 machines in all - to Terremark's Enterprise Cloud platform back in 2008, where it not only has greater flexibility when it comes to virtual machine deployment than SaaS or PaaS offerings but provides smoother migration between new generations of operating environments and middleware platforms. The company also reports better uptime than under traditional infrastructure architectures, so much so that it has just signed a new three-year contract with Terremark.
Small, independent IaaS providers like Terremark abound, but the fact is that the vast majority of infrastructure services are provided by two dominant companies: Amazon and VMware. Usually, this kind of market dominance does not bode well for both pricing and innovation, although IaaS is such a new phenomenon that there should be ample opportunity to tweak the prevailing formulae in the quest for mainstream acceptance.
At the same time, however, the push for an open-source IaaS solution is in turmoil following Citrix' decision to release its CloudStack solution under the Apache Foundation rather than the OpenStack project backed by HP and Rackspace. That means any IaaS platform purporting to be "open" for the time being will likely face API-compatibility issues depending on which format it adheres to.
Still, it's in times of great turmoil that profound innovation often takes place. So it could very well be that true IaaS has yet to show itself. Handing over infrastructure responsibility is a scary thing, but the fact is that the cloud is proving to be more resilient than many long-standing enterprise environments. And as demand for flexible data services start to come in from a wider variety of users and client devices, IaaS's ability to quickly reinvent itself may prove to be the winner after all.