The line between an over-hyped buzzword and an actual IT phenomenon is often a thin one.
For every person who touted SOA or SaaS or grid computing as the next phase of enterprise development, you usually had someone claiming these are just fancy new names for the same old technology. The cloud is no different.
Still, that hasn't stopped the train from rolling. As we see in the latest survey from Forrester, interest in cloud computing, both internal and external, is on the way up, despite the fact that no one has really nailed down a firm definition of what cloud computing is. Forrester puts to rest the theory that the cloud would appeal mostly to small organizations, noting that a quarter of larger firms are either already using third-party cloud services or are planning to do so in the near future. Of these early adopters, nearly a third are looking at full-blown Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) plans, while a quarter are eyeing private clouds.
For cloud supporters, this is powerful ammunition against those who continue to ask whether the enterprise is ready for the cloud. It seems there is clear demand for the kinds of promises that the cloud makes: lower costs, greater flexibility, improved performance.
Still, I can't help but wonder whether we are asking the wrong question here. Rather than, "Is the enterprise ready for the cloud?" I think the more immediate question is, "Is the cloud ready for the enterprise?"
Apparently, I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. Greg Ness, a director at InfoBlox, says the issue is coming up more and more in the trade show/discussion group circuit, mostly by people wondering whether the cloud can deliver the goods under the current state of network technology. Questions of security, compliance, provider lock-in and reliability continue to haunt the cloud as well.
Legal issues are also coming up, according to Cisco's James Urquhart. Legislative and regulatory standards were already lacking in the age of plain old Internet, so it's no surprise that the cloud is plowing new ground in terms of data ownership, privacy, disclosure and the like. With an absence of clear-cut laws, most of these issues are being addressed through private contracts between provider and customer, which may or may not provide adequate protection for either party.
And of course, I've been going on about the state of management technology, particularly when it comes to maintaining control of data as it flows from physical to virtual to cloud environments. Management firms swear they have a handle on it, but one of the biggest obstacles remains the lack of standards between the various platforms. Organizations like the Object Management Group (OMG) are trying to corral the industry, but until some real headway is made the possibility of vendor lock-in is still all too real.
None of these difficulties is a deal-breaker for the cloud, of course. Any technology you care to name has a down side. But in assessing whether the cloud is ready for enterprise demands, the trick is to gauge whether the positives outweigh the negatives. And it's still way to early in the game to make that call.