According to a recently published report by Forrester Research, cloud computing looks to be a "classic disruptive technology". The report indicates that for CIOs, cloud computing still poses some real risks, including an almost complete lack of service-level agreements and customer references, plus some genuine security and compliance concerns. But even so, organisations are tapping into cloud services for targeted projects: "There's a high likelihood that developers inside your company are experimenting with it right now," James Staten, senior analyst, writes in the report Is cloud computing ready for the Enterprise?

That analysis entwines fittingly with what our recent article "Cloud Computing: Tales From the Front". The cloud isn't new per se; enterprise IT has had access to the internet and software-as-a-service for years. The difference is that now, some vendors are giving enterprises the chance to run not only hosted applications, but also custom-developed applications in the cloud--with great flexibility to scale computing power on short notice, and to pay only for what computing power is used. Enterprise IT sees the promise and is experimenting, cautiously.

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Akamai, Amazon and Salesforce will be the most familiar names to enterprise IT. Akamai offers application performance services that speed up apps for users of cloud services, while Amazon offers the Amazon Elastic Compute Service (EC2) and storage in the cloud. Salesforce is pushing hosted apps and what it calls ‘Platform as a Service’, to help developers create new software in the cloud.

Terremark, Layered Technologies, XCalibre and startup Enki all play more behind the scenes roles in the hosting business that fuels and manages the cloud.

Which cloud computing vendors should be on your radar screen now? In its report, Forrester cites 11

1. Akamai
2. Amazon
3. Areti Internet
4. Enki
5. Fortress ITX
6. Joyent
7. Layered Technologies
8. Rackspace
10. Terremark
11. XCalibre

Also prominent at the moment is 3Tera, maker of AppLogic, which Forrester describes as "cloud computing infrastructure software" and a "grid engine." Basically, this is enabling software that lets a hosting provider put customer software in the cloud with a minimum of fuss. Forrester notes that among its many benefits AppLogic works on physical and virtualised servers, it enables cost-based reporting, and runs many applications "without redesign or reprogramming to a grid API".

No doubt, cloud computing -especially as Amazon envisions it- is in its early days, complete with hype and confusing jargon.

“Nonetheless, for IT execs, the sooner that you tune into how people in your enterprise are playing with the cloud, the better,” Staten says. "Even if IT can't justify leveraging clouds, your business units will," he notes in the report's conclusion. "Cloud is a compelling business proposition, infrastructure they can provision with a credit card, with low barriers to entry and to exit. Rather than block their efforts, learn from them."

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Cloud computing: Tales from the front