Is the future of enterprise computing to be found in the cloud? That's the conclusion many vendors and service providers have reached, judging by the rapid pace of cloud-based developments so far this year.
But cooler heads are urging caution on this one, with the general consensus being that cloud-based computing certainly has the potential to live up to its promises, after overcoming a few barriers first.
One of the more definitive examinations of the current state of the cloud came from Forrester Research's James Staten, who turned the common question, "Is the enterprise ready for cloud computing?" on its head by asking instead "Is cloud computing ready for the enterprise?" He concludes that current offerings are better suited to small businesses and start-ups but aren't quite ready to meet the QoS levels required by large enterprises. Still, with Microsoft, Google, IBM and other heavy hitters gearing up cloud services, it might not be long before both the cost and reliability of clouds starts to out-perform in-house enterprises. You can get a copy of the full report here.
But how will we ever know whether cloud services are performing as they should?, asks Janice McGinn on CIO.com. Without a clear definition of what cloud computing is, any service will lack transparency, making it nearly impossible to establish test metrics and measurement benchmarks. Before you start undoing years, if not decades, of technology infrastructure and business processes, it might be wise to wait until you know exactly what you'll get in return.
Nevertheless, the fact is that cloud services are in high demand. Amazon reports that the majority of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud customers are large financial, pharmaceutical and other firms that test out the service on a limited basis and then get hooked. GigaSpaces quietly offered some of its middleware products on Amazon's Elastic Compute Clout (EC2) service and is already courting more than a dozen clients, without even formally launching a service.
But even though cloud computing seems simple on paper, in practice it can be rather complicated. That's why many enterprises are turning to middlemen to smooth over the rough spots. Firms like RightScale are doing a brisk business offering software packages designed to quickly shift applications and resources over to the major cloud platforms. Among the key benefits are simplified management of the cloud and the ability to test out new platforms without setting up and tearing down numerous machines.
Like most new technologies, there is a tendency to view the cloud as an all-or-nothing proposition: Either it will take over the IT industry or fizzle into obscurity. While the latter happens quite often, the former is exceedingly rare. At the moment, at least, it seems the cloud will serve as one of many options as the enterprise searches for new ways of doing business.