This is the time when the trade press is awash with reviews of the past year and predictions for the next.
This year, it's almost impossible to miss the prognostications for cloud computing, with notable commentary ranging from "it's just a fad" to "it's a paradigm-shifting development."
But some of the more useful analyses are the ones that focus on what the cloud can and should do for the enterprise in the coming year, rather than what the cloud is or isn't.
That's why I like Phil Wainwright's most recent piece on ZDNet, in which he correctly points out that the cloud is not merely the latest tool to be deployed and exploited in the data center. Rather, it will be an ongoing process in 2010 and beyond that will finally rid the enterprise of the stagnant architectures and all their mind-numbing complexity. However, I do take issue with his contention that private clouds are a fool's game akin to enterprises trying to create their own internal Internet. The private cloud offers a number of advantages over current architectures, even if it doesn't represent the end-game of cloud technology.
Come to think of it, there's a very good chance that most of the cloud developments in the coming year will not be technological at all. The key supporting technology, virtualization, is rapidly approaching maturity, and all the top virtualization vendors have all introduced their cloud platforms for the coming year. So aside from the standard upgrades and enhancements, most of the action will be on pricing, performance matrices, interoperability and other competitive factors, according to PCworld's Patrick Thibodeau.
In that regard, one of the things we're likely to see is an industry shake-out, says News.com's Matt Asay. Many of the early cloud providers are running largely on venture capital handed out before the recession, meaning that many will find themselves in the hole unless they either get more backing or find a way to beat the already aggressive revenue stream projections being bandied about by industry analysts.
And that could be a tall order considering the customer base is still a little fuzzy on what the whole cloud computing concept means to them. Computerworld's latest survey of more than 300 IT executives revealed that only half had any plans to roll out cloud capabilities next year, with many fingering it as the most over-hyped technology of 2009. Perhaps that will change once the focus of cloud development shifts from infrastructure to the application layer, as software firm Alfresco's Asay predicts, since that will finally make it plain that the cloud is not just an abstract rearrangement of infrastructure but a tangible asset that can improve performance and lower costs.
So where does that leave us? Clearly, the IT industry is on the verge of some major changes. Whether it helps to lump all of the forces at play under the label of "cloud computing" or to view it as extension of virtualization, SaaS or whatever is really a matter of perception rather than a cold, hard reality.
All the cloud-building tools are ready for action. What you decide to do with them is entirely up to you.