Autumn saw a cloud computing conference in London every month - October, November and December. I again see the risk of a lot of over-enthusiastic hype endangering an emerging transformational development of great potential. Little wonder that, as an industry, we fail the ‘Radio 4 Today Programme Test' so frequently - our reputation is of endlessly over-promising, combined with a repeated failure to deliver.

So here are two real-life developments that relate to the cloud which I will use to test aspects of hype versus actual practice.

CSC has announced that it has signed an agreement with the UK's Royal Mail Group to provide "cloud computing IT services". The 23 November press release reports that "the new agreement expands the company's current contract signed with Royal Mail Group in 2003 to maintain its desktop computers and manage and develop its servers, mainframes and IT processes. CSC will provide Royal Mail Group's 30,000 employees with access to new IT services using Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), part of Microsoft Online Services".

Is it, I wonder, genuinely ‘cloud' or a classic facilities management outsourcing deal where CSC will apply effective virtualisation to the Royal Mail Group's outsourced computing resources, thus sharply reducing costs through much improved asset utilisation?

Gartner's Paul Bittman identifies four fundamental attributes that he posits differentiate a genuine on-premise private cloud from a well-run in-house IT organisation or outsourced FM deal:

1. Services-oriented. The in-house IT or outsourced FM teams sell services, and the customer only deals with IT through self-service sourcing of the service offerings.

2. Variable pricing, based on usage. The in-house IT organisation or outsourced FM team maximizes technology sharing and automation for efficiency.

3. Elasticity. Customers deploy/grow/shrink/retire services quickly. IT ensures fluid scaling ‘on-demand'.

4. Independence. The in-house IT or outsourced FM team could move a service to the public cloud by flipping a switch.