IT infrastructure and services delivered over the cloud will be ubiquitous within five years, and vendors that ignore the shift from on-premises software to internet-delivered technology will be left in the dust.

That was the prediction of IDC analyst Frank Gens at the IDC Directions conference in Boston yesterday (17 March).

A common perception is that most customers embrace cloud services because of the cost. While that is certainly true, Gens said IDC surveys show the number one attribute driving people toward cloud services is the ease and speed of deployment.

Users are telling CIOs they want faster delivery of services, and the cloud helps achieve that goal.

"That alone guarantees that over the next several years the cloud model will be very important for CIOs," Gens said.

Other big selling points identified in user surveys include lessening the need for in-house IT staff, paying only for what you use and when you use it, the standardisation of IT systems, and access to the latest functionality.

The top concerns identified in IDC user surveys are security, performance, availability and barriers to integrating cloud services with in-house IT systems. "We're going to have to do a lot of work around service-level assurance to move this market into the mainstream," Gens said.

"If you are not thinking about and acting on delivering your own offerings through the cloud [within five years], you won't be in the mainstream anymore," Gens said. Avoiding the cloud "won't really be an option."

Gens defined cloud computing as "consumer and business products, services and solutions delivered and consumed in real time over the internet." More technically, Gens said the cloud is made up of shared services under virtualised management that are accessible to people and other services over the internet in a pay-per-use and self-service model.

An important distinguishing feature under the IDC cloud definition is the use of internet standards to connect cloud services to one another and to the systems within enterprise data centers, he said.

Cloud services break down into six main categories, according to Gens -- applications, collaboration tools, storage, servers and processing, IT management, and platforms.

IDC surveys show 26 per cent of businesses using the cloud for IT management, 15 per cent to bolster server and storage capacity, a quarter for collaboration and business applications, and 17 per cent for application development and deployment.