Cloud computing is poised to win the title of most popular, and populist, buzzword of 2009.
It certainly is gaining traction outside of IT. In fact, the idea of cloud computing has become so popular that executives and employees who don't even work in the IT department are starting to ask for it by name.
Budget-minded CEOs are telling IT managers to look into cloud computing to reduce the amount of expensive hardware running their data centers; CFOs are interested because they've heard the model can slash costs associated with new IT projects; tech-savvy employees are asking for it because they think it sounds cool.
To be clear, the actual number of corporations that have deployed cloud computing remains small; the Corporate Executive Board's Infrastructure Executive Council doesn't expect to see mainstream adoption -- meaning at least 50% of corporations have embraced cloud computing -- until 2012. And even then, they believe companies will only use some of the services that fall under the cloud computing umbrella.
Still, IT departments large and small feel obligated to at least look into cloud computing's potential to save money, reduce overhead and increase efficiency and flexibility.
What's more, those IT shops that drag their feet might find overeager users are beating them to the cloud, warns James Staten, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. For example, "application developers are using the cloud and not telling IT," he says. To avoid being caught unaware, IT should take the lead in deciding what goes into the cloud and determining how to get it there, says Staten.
But where to start? What's the best way for an IT manager to determine whether his company's corporate culture is suited for shipping computing tasks to Web-based third parties? What expectations should service providers be required to meet? How should the success -- or failure -- of a cloud computing project be measured?
These are not questions to be taken lightly, since the success or failure of a company's foray into the cloud will influence corporate perceptions of the model going forward. Computerworld gathered advice from tech execs, analysts and experts on how IT managers should go about determining which of their corporations' applications, tasks or services are best suited for the cloud.
Pick a project -- the right project
The Corporate Executive Board, a research and membership organization designed to support the functions surrounding CEOs, has studied corporate adoption of cloud computing through its Infrastructure Executive Council and its Data Center Operations Council, both of which are headed by practice manager Mark Tonsetic.
Tonsetic's advice to IT managers: Find a project that supports a business opportunity and could be easily moved into the cloud to save costs and resources -- but it should be something that doesn't involve core competencies, and moving it offsite shouldn't create a security risk. In other words, find a project where moving some or all functions to the cloud would improve the bottom line but the company wouldn't face disaster if security or availability was compromised.