Cloud computing has become an indispensable IT resource for many companies, enabling them to provide improved agility, efficiency and scalability.
Numerous organizations are either using cloud computing services or planning to deploy them. In fact, the cloud has moved well past the experimental stage to become a keystone of many IT strategies today.
"Both public and private clouds are becoming mainstream in the enterprise and will continue to do so because of the flexibility, ease of maintenance and cost controls," says Janel Garvin, CEO at research firm Evans Data Corp. in Santa Cruz, Calif.
"While we're seeing more enterprises embracing private clouds, there is a lot of interest in hybrid clouds, and we expect that to continue with enterprises keeping functions such as enterprise resource management, finance operations and customer data on private clouds, but making communications, e-commerce and other outward-facing operations on public clouds," Garvin says.
At Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., cloud computing has become an indispensable IT resource for students, faculty, staff, outside researchers and hosted clients of the college.
"If we had not built our cloud and still depended on distributed computing, we would not be able to provide many of the services we provide today," says Bill Thirsk, vice president of IT and CIO at Marist. "Like all organizations, budgets are stretched tight but demand is endless, so we rely on our cloud to quickly deploy appropriate resources such as specific processor, memory and storage to our users."
Marist recently built and delivered an education analytics cloud that provides students with a desktop image with their Microsoft applications, advanced open source tools, a big data engine and any needed middleware, without having to load any software onto their personal computing devices.
Thirsk thinks cloud-based services are still immature, and there are "broad and deep market opportunities for those companies that first look at their service provision through the return-on-assets model," he says. "Add some advanced engineering and software development energy and adaptability to market demands, and the service would be a market winner."
One application area where the cloud still falls short is enterprise resource planning (ERP) designed for higher education, Thirsk says. "We have not yet seen a really good, large niche application or industry ERP that is truly cloud-enabled," he says. "Most of these applications are simply single instances being hosted on behalf of the client."
Marist's experience has been that the large ERP vendors "have not yet moved from the one app/one box/one processor model for either their software development or their SaaS [software as a service] model," Thirsk says.
And while businesses are flocking to take advantage of low-cost software through the cloud, there are still questions about whether they will be able to pull back their data if the cloud provider fails in some way, says Thirsk.
UST Global, an Aliso Viejo, Calif., technology solutions provider, is moving into cloud computing in a big way in order to be more agile in a highly competitive market. The company is taking advantage of SaaS offerings wherever possible, and moving enterprise applications to a services-based delivery model is a top priority, says Tony Velleca, CIO.
For example, UST Global is using the customer relationship management (CRM) platform from Salesforce.com and human resources applications from SAP's SuccessFactors, among other cloud-based offerings.