Cloud computing has unquestionably been the most discussed topic in the IT sector during the past few years.
By the start of 2011, IT professionals were beginning to wonder where the concrete
examples of cloud’s supposed benefits were. Unfortunately, cloud computing is such a vague term that covers such a broad range of services and systems that satisfactorily tracking adoption can be difficult.
The analyst companies all continued to predict steep adoption curves in future. In May, for example, Forrester Research predicted that the global cloud computing market will grow from an estimated $40.7 billion in 2011 to $241 billion in 2020.
In compiling those figures, Forrester adopted a broad definition of cloud computing that included any system of IT delivery that helps organisations convert capital expenditure into operational spend.
Market watcher IDC, meanwhile, took a narrower view of cloud computing for its forecasts in June. It predicted that the market for public cloud-based servers would grow at a compound annual growth rate of 22.4% until reaching $3.6 billion by 2015.
Investment in private cloud market infrastructure will reach $5.8 billion by then, it predicted.
The discrepancy between the two reveals how the definitional problems that blighted discussions of cloud computing in 2008 and 2009 were never really resolved – the industry just got tired of rehashing them.
Two surveys published in September found roughly similar patterns of cloud adoption. The surveys, by security vendor Symantec and professional services firm KPMG respectively, each polled hundreds of organisations in various locations and industries.
They both found that around a fifth have adopted cloud computing in some form or other; about half have trialled or partially adopted cloud computing services; another fifth are evaluating cloud computing, and between 10% and 20% have no plans to adopt cloud.
Somehow, However, each company interpreted these results very differently. For Symantec, the figures were evidence that “with cloud, there is more talk than action”.
“About two-thirds [of respondents] are still in early discussions, trials or not considering a move to the cloud at all,” the company said. “While organisations are excited about cloud, discussing all forms of cloud, most are stalled at the discussion/trial phase.”
KPMG, meanwhile, says cloud computing is set to skyrocket. “According to the report, 81% of businesses are either planning, are in early or advanced stages of experimentation or already have full-on cloud implementations,” it said in a statement.
“Cloud adoption is quickly shifting from a competitive advantage to an operational necessity, enabling innovation that can create new business models and will impact the long-term growth opportunities and competitiveness of businesses,” said KPMG’s head of technology, Tudor Aw.
Information Age’s 2012 reader survey provided some more detail on the relative adoption of the various forms of cloud. It found that 49% of organisations have adopted software as a service, and 14% plan to do so in the coming year. Slightly fewer (31.5%) have adopted infrastructure or platform as a service, but more intend to do this year (17.5%). Private cloud, defined as automatically scalable, virtualised, internal IT infrastructure has been adopted by 35.5% of respondents so far while 23.5% plan to do so in 2012.
These figures show that the appetite for cloud computing is real and the adoption curve is certainly growing. At the same time, it seems that 2011 was not quite the watershed year for cloud computing that many had hoped it would be.
Whatever the pace of adoption, there are certainly plenty of examples of organisations that had successfully adopted cloud computing.
There was independent energy provider Haven Power, which used Amazon Web Services to provide the disaster recovery infrastructure for its data centre at the start of 2011. The company chose a cloud-based solution because it could not predict the resources it was going to need in future.
“We are going to grow significantly in the next few years and we’re not really sure what our estate needs to look like,” business systems manager Paul Armstrong told Information Agein October. “Cloud computing gives me options.”
Similarly, insurance industry IT specialist TriSystems could not predict how popular its new online document sharing exchange, Lime-St.com, was going to be, so it hosted the service on Colt’s enterprise cloud platform.
As TriSystems’ business development manager, Jeff Ward, told Information Age’s Cloud Security conference in October, the system turned out to be surprisingly popular. “We thought it was going to be quite a struggle to convince people to use the service, but it was actually relatively easy,” he said. This might have been a problem for the company had it not chosen a cloud hosting option.
Examples of private cloud deployments typically came from larger organisations. Power infrastructure operator National Grid, for example, chose this option when procuring IT infrastructure for OnStream, the metering division it has since sold off.
OnStream is in the running for various state-mandated smart meter contracts, but it cannot predict how many it is likely to win. It therefore chose to commission Wipro to build a private cloud, hosted by the Indian IT provider on dedicated infrastructure. OnStream pays a base rate, on top of which it can commission as much IT infrastructure as it may need to support the smart meter systems on a monthly basis.
At the same time, however, there was certainly a number of dissatisfied cloud computing customers, after some of the sector’s biggest suffered unplanned outages.
In April, a number of websites including location-based social network Foursquare were taken offline temporarily following a ‘network event’ at the North Virginia data centre of cloud market leader Amazon.com.
The company was recovering customer systems for three days following the outage, and a small number of customers were told that their data would never be recovered.
In August, European users of both Amazon.com and Microsoft’s cloud services suffered unplanned disruption following power outages in Dublin, where both their European data centres are located.
And in September, users of Microsoft’s hosted productivity suite, Office365, suffered outages for around three hours after what the company described as a “domain name systems (DNS) issue”.
Most IT departments would be happy to have achieved the same level of uptime as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. Nevertheless, it is episodes like this that give companies that are wary of the cloud reason to resist adoption.