Clouds against blue skies

Cloud computing is over head. No longer just on the horizon, exciting analysts and marketing people, but a looming presence.

This can be read as a Microsoft versus Google showdown. We care little for that. It is good that Google, with its cloud-based applications, its browser, and its new operating system, has acted as a catalyst for Microsoft and others.

Microsoft has announced the pricing and service level agreement details for Azure, the hosted processing, data storage and network offering due from the company in November. Also of interest is the browserisation of MS Office.

The company’s moves are not without risk. Will Microsoft be able to make money from Azure fast enough to compensate what it will lose in licensed software? Will its role as IT hegemon – at long last – start to crumble? Has it invested in a trend for cloud computing that will disappear in a puff of smoke?

Cloud computing is still not generally cost-effective for large enterprise IT. But it is attractive for small to medium sized organisations, who can get much of their data processing, storage and networking on a pay as you go basis. It also offers the capability to scale up and down in line with changes in the economic environment.

Cambridge-based start ups are among those to benefit from the cloud computing paradigm, which lowers barriers to entry for companies such as the trio we feature in this issue.

And the promise of low-cost, pay per use services cannot but be compelling for large organisation CIOs. The dark side of the cloud is, as ever, security. As ever the solution to that will be found eventually. Virtualisation company VMware has introduced an operating system for the cloud that putatively deals with security concerns, vSphere 4.

For sure, Microsoft’s partial entry into the cloud computing market, with Azure and the Windows Live version of Office 2010, will nudge cloud computing into the mainstream of user organisations

In a sense cloud is a species of outsourcing and, like that often controversial practice is an index of a maturing industry.