‘Cloud’ is a word that was heard many a time last year: Ash clouds, snow clouds, public clouds, private clouds, cloud computing. You couldn’t fail to notice it.

The cloud that I’m interested in is cloud computing and particularly the evolution of cloud computing. What we’re now starting to see is the cloud moving from a buzzword to a reality for public and private sector organizations worldwide. In fact, I’d go as far to say that adoption is becoming widespread. Why?  The cloud – SaaS in particular – is coming of age and perceptions in both the public and private sector are changing. So is this really the next stage in the evolution of cloud computing?

As with any new technology, there was some initial reluctance around SaaS due to concerns such as data security and regulatory issues. However, organizations’ fears are subsiding as they realize that the correct security measures, permission controls and service level agreements can be put in place. The fact that these initial concerns are being addressed and overcome is just one of the reasons that Gartner gives for SaaS revenue within the enterprise application software market hitting $9.2bn in 2010. Almost a 16 per cent increase on 2009.

The evolution of cloud computing has led uptake of cloud services by the UK government highlighting the fact that security and uptime concerns are becoming a thing of the past. In its report ‘2011 Trends to Watch: Government Technology’, analyst house Ovum predicts that UK government departments will offer more services via the cloud and turn to IT vendors for guidance on new technologies. The reasons for turning to the cloud include increased collaboration across firewalls, managing cross-departmental projects, more remote teams and the need to do more with less. Huddle solves all of these problems and already has more than 60 per cent penetration in UK government. Our customers include the Liberal Democrats, the Belgian Federal Public Service Social Security, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Moving on to the evolution of cloud computing selling processes, Gartner’s research director Sharon Mertz states:

“There is increasing involvement from executives in purchasing decisions, as well as greater participation from IT in the purchase process due to larger deals, the expanding footprint of SaaS in the enterprise, and a higher requirement for downstream integration as SaaS becomes incorporated in the enterprise business process.”

This change is key. In the past, SaaS tools and services have frequently been purchased by the end users. Frustrated with the complex systems provided by IT, people have taken the technology selection process into their own hands and chosen the simple, flexible tools they want to use to get a job done. With organizations increasingly faced with the challenge of communicating effectively across teams, departments and firewalls, IT departments are starting to realize that the traditional, inward-looking tools deployed to support collaboration are broken.

A number of cloud providers have already crossed the chasm and become an integral part of the enterprise. Perhaps the best example of this is Salesforce.com. Since launching in 1999, the company now boasts 87,200 customers, including enterprises such as Toyota, Toshiba, Google, Fujitsu and Starbucks.

The next big question for cloud computing is whether on-premise will disappear from all industries, even those with heavy legal and regulatory frameworks. According to a survey by IBM, more than 90 per cent of industry professionals expect cloud computing to overtake on-premise computing as the main way for businesses to acquire IT over the next five years. Alternatively, are hybrid public/private clouds (data stored on-premise, service provided as a cloud) going to be the future evolution of cloud computing?  We’ll find out in 2011.

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