Cloud computing's murky future

A lack of interoperability means it is too early to wish on a cloud, says Stephen Pritchard.

There can be few, if any, enterprises that are not considering cloud computing if they are not using it already.

Cloud, after all, has the potential both to cut costs and to simplify IT. It also promises businesses greater flexibility and agility, because cloud computing providers can bring new services on stream far more quickly than most in-house IT shops.

Services such as Marc Benioff's Salesforce.com, for field sales automation, or Netsuite, a hosted suite of back office applications aimed mostly at smaller and mid-sized companies, have already gained substantial numbers of users.

Then there are services such as Microsoft's BPOS Business Productivity Online Suite and Google's Apps, Google's enterprise version of Google Docs.

Throw in platform as s service offerings from Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon (EC2) and there is certainly no shortage of choice. In fact, it is choice that is starting to cause some businesses considerable difficulties when it comes to moving IT services to the cloud.

A research paper by the IT team at PA Consulting highlights some of the problems. The greatest challenge, the authors suggest, is not security, but interoperability.

A lack of standards and the development of vendor-driven near standards is creating an environment where the business might demand services in the cloud, but the CIO is left to sort out the resulting mess.

PA predicts that common standards will prevail over time; it is plausible enough to assume that standards-based cloud services will win out over those that are closed and proprietary, at least for business customers.

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