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How Cloudy is Your Business?

My latest post is up over at The Huffington Post.

It’s a simple idea. Rather than building and running proprietary information technology, it is available on demand — through the economical and always-on networks often drawn as “clouds.” For some, the entire business application — like customer relationship management — is already available in the same way from companies like Salesforce.com.

For those who aren’t familiar, “the cloud” or cloud computing, is a computing model that enables convenient, on-demand access to a shared pool of data, software and configurable computing resources that can be rapidly accessed and/or provisioned.

When 300 Chief Information Officers (CIOs) attended our recent CIO summits in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. and discussed the future of technology, they all agreed that cloud computing is here and it’s here to stay. The conversations we had with these top tech executives made it clear that businesses today are embracing varying degrees of “cloudiness.”

For some, the path to the cloud is straightforward — they have the people, processes, and technology already in place. For others, defining their journey to the cloud is much more complicated due to regulation and geography. Four clear categories of cloud adoption emerged from our discussions.

1.The Cloud Leaders. They’re blazing the path to the cloud. To call them early adopters would mask the fact that some are the largest enterprises on earth. These aren’t tech-enthusiasts rushing out to buy the latest gadget. They are massive enterprises moving or creating some of the largest infrastructures on earth into the “cloud” in all its forms. For many in this set, people and processes are the only things holding them back. How do you find system admins ready to run 6,000 servers at a time rather than the average of 300? How do you seamlessly deploy 10,000 servers — sometimes more — every month?

2.The Cloud Adopters. These are closely behind the Leaders, extending their virtual infrastructure into the “cloud.” Some have adopted cloud apps like Salesforce.com. Others have or are moving workloads onto Amazon EC3 or Microsoft Azure. They aren’t quite ready to go all in, but they are on that path. Their path to the “cloud” requires that critical questions be answered first — such as: “How do I migrate critical applications to the Cloud without compromising availability or security?” “Who do I trust with my critical data?” “How do I manage government and financial regulation related to data?”

3.In the distance, Cloud Followers are ready to embrace elements of the “cloud” once fundamental enterprise infrastructure concerns are addressed. Bandwidth, costs, security, identity management, and more — are all critical.

4.Finally, there are the Cloud Opponents. Present a year ago in our meetings, they viewed the “cloud” as nothing but hype. This year they were all but absent. In fact, Frank Gens of industry analyst firm IDC, recently underscored what we heard from customers commenting, “With 27% growth, we are ‘crossing the chasm’ with public IT cloud services, moving from just early adopters to early mainstream organizations. This makes 2010 and 2011 a critical time for CIOs and IT vendors to define their strategies and stake out early advantages for their organizations.”

What has caused the dwindling Cloud Opponents to move forward on cloud computing? It’s not the technology. It’s the businesses demanding more than ever before of IT — more agility, more innovation, more cost-cutting. Preserving a status quo in which 80% of IT budgets are allocated to “keeping the lights on” is simply not an option anymore.

The growing popularity of cloud technology also reflects a more fundamental shift in business IT. It’s becoming less about running infrastructure and more about managing information through services to the business. Something perfectly suited to the “cloud.”

The move to the “cloud” is primed to accelerate over the coming year, with more companies set to join the ranks of Cloud Leaders than ever before. It’s a journey that we as an industry have to be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with them on as they navigate a new frontier of IT that will change the way technology is purchased, accessed, and utilized. This means giving customers standards-based IT infrastructure that can scale quickly to meet dynamic business demands and maximize utilization. It also means providing a comprehensive “as-a-service” delivery model for software, platform and infrastructure to ensure companies can easily access resources on demand.

Cloud computing has arrived and it’s clear this cloud has one serious silver lining.

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