Over the coming year, cloud computing will move out of its infancy and into adolescence. Indeed, as Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings mature and gain wider market acceptance, the topic of cloud will quickly capture the attention of CEOs and their boards, and eventually lead to an enterprise-wide transformation centred on cloud enablement.
Already, there are a number of very positive signs that many of the key issues traditionally associated with cloud are starting to clear. For one, some of the more established cloud service providers have started to think seriously about the security, regulation and controls of their environments.
Salesforce.com, a leading SaaS provider, has adopted ISO 27001 standards, and both they and Amazon Web Services (a leading Infrastructure as a Service – or IaaS – provider) have completed SAS 70 certification, reflecting a desire to address user concerns from both a policy and process perspective.
Other growing pains will also be laid to rest as cloud continues to mature and develop. The traditional software licensing models, for example, will undergo substantial change as software moves from physical assets, onto virtualisation platforms, and consumers increasingly demand models that reflect the new elasticity of cloud computing over ones that tie them to static seats.
But other key enablers of cloud services will require a broader agreement on standardisation. Here, too, we are seeing greater momentum. In late October, 70 global firms with a combined IT spend of £32bn, came together in a rare display of solidarity to demand unified standards for cloud computing technology. They are right to do so: the standardisation of both software and hardware protocols will be critical if cloud is to be widely adopted.
And while the road to standardisation will be marked with fierce competition and some false starts, the industry is already taking early steps towards building consensus and new operating models. The Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA), for example, recently demonstrated its first cloud standard aimed at enabling data management interfaces across cloud vendor platforms.
Simultaneously, the Open Grid Forum (OGF) showcased their Open Cloud Computing Interface, an open application to support cloud infrastructure interoperability. These developments will certainly reduce some of the concerns around vendor lock-in, but it may be some time before an obvious leader emerges from the pack.
'Private cloud' models will also continue to develop during the coming year, whether proprietary to one organisation or shared within an integrated industry model. Already, many organisations are leveraging core technologies (such as Cisco's UCS) within their in-house architecture to achieve some of the flexibility and elasticity of public cloud within a closed system.
When combined with in-house virtualisation trends, these models represent an exciting evolution of current service provision standards that will better enable the eventual adoption of the wider public cloud.
But it will be another five years or so before businesses begin to feel comfortable migrating their core services out to the cloud (even longer for highly regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare), and a further five before cloud becomes the driving force behind business transformation.
And whilst this may seem like a long way off, CIOs will need to start their journey to the cloud in earnest in 2011. There are a number of areas that will warrant particular attention over the coming year, including:
- The development of cloud-ready applications: Given the development life-cycle of the average business application, CIOs will need to re-develop current business applications to fully exploit the cloud environment (particularly in information architecture and resilience) and immediately start to integrate the principals of cloud computing into their existing application development pipeline.
- Creating a foundation based on the current IT environment and costs: Selecting the right combination of services and infrastructure to outsource will be critical for CIOs , and balancing cost with the need to invest in cloud will require a clear understanding of the current (and expected) IT environment, costs and service levels.
- Adapting to the changing needs of the end-user: User interfaces will require significant attention to create more intuitive GUIs and operating systems that enable business users to harness the full potential of the cloud information architecture across a wide variety of devices.
But CIOs shouldn't start planning cloud's 'coming of age' party just yet. Much like an infant moving into adolescence – cloud still requires further nurturing and influencing if it is to grow into the mature business solution that pundits expect and businesses demand.