Is 2011 the year of the cloud?

Cloud computing was one of the most hyped technologies of 2010. Will 2011 see the cloud move into the IT mainstream? Stephen Pritchard investigates.

Gartner, the IT industry analyst firm, has a neat tool for looking at technology trends. The firm's hype cycle measures interest in a technology its visibility against its usefulness, or maturity.

More or less any technology can be mapped against the Gartner hype cycle, and most seem to follow the model quite well: an initial technology trigger is followed by a build up of hype, which Gartner calls the "peak of inflated expectations" and followed by a steep decline into the "trough of disillusionment", as the new idea fails to live up to its early promise. Technologies that succeed then go on to a more sensible balance between hype and productivity, although some never make it that far.

So far, the Gartner hype cycle seems to have held true for the cloud. In a research note published last November, Gartner suggested that cloud computing was still at the peak of inflated expectations. This suggests a sharp decline in interest could affect the technology over the coming year, with IT departments finding early investment in cloud computing has not paid off.

Every now and again, though, a technology manages to break out of the hype cycle, and continues to grow apace; sometimes it follows the overall trend of the Gartner model but experiences only a shallow dip in interest.

There are two reasons this could be the case for the cloud. The first is that the technology's apparently rapid uptake is being driven by a wider set of economic factors, rather than simply its usefulness to IT. Companies that have suffered from, or even survived, the recession have held back on IT spending. They now have ageing IT systems that need to be replaced, yet access to capital funding remains expensive. A pay as you go model for IT is very appealing in such circumstances.

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