Cloud computing will change the traditional role of IT and cement IT’s leadership role in business, making IT the most flexible and manageable part of business costs.  “Cloud” is not simply a description of where data and code are located.  Cloud describes a profound change in architecture.  Clouds surround and penetrate the organization, radically changing what processes can be measured and managed.  IT professionals can reshape their companies by capturing more information about the business, the market and from deep customer engagement through Web services.

Companies and users of cloud computing are literally swimming in data, exposed everywhere to connectivity, which can be marshaled by IT for competitive advantage.  Ubiquitous connectivity requires all the control, policies and security that have defined corporate computing, but the cloud puts IT Pros in a new role as architects of value mined from the company’s data about itself.  Cloud encompasses the consumerization of IT, as well, so IT Pros will also need to manage computational devices on every desktop and in homes to help users blend work and life with greater ease.

From the beginning, the cloud will require IT Pros expand their planning, management and monitoring expertise.  But the cloud’s most significant feature is its ability to evolve rapidly, at a pace previously unseen in the software industry or business.  The cloud represents a vast opportunity for increasing the importance of the IT Pro within their organizations and to make IT a highly influential contributor to business performance.

What is “the Cloud?”

So, just what is the cloud? Let’s start with some basic concepts. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) draft definition of cloud computing puts it most plainly:

"Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction"

Within that umbrella description, there are three distinct flavors of cloud services that are available today for organizations considering cloud options:

SaaSSoftware-as-a-Service involves the delivery via the network of application software that has traditionally been sold in shrink-wrapped packages. Microsoft Office, for example, will be available as a SaaS offering called Office 365 soon. These services are typically referred to as part of the “public cloud.”

PaaSPlatform-as-a-Service encompasses all the development, service hosting and service management environments needed to operate, for example, a custom .NET-enabled, PHP, JavaScript, C++ or other application at scale, using on-demand compute and storage capacity, network bandwidth and databases managed by a cloud provider. In Microsoft’s cloud portfolio, Windows Azure, SQL Azure fill the PaaS role. PaaS services are generally part of the public cloud and, through management tools like System Center, can be extended into the private cloud that operates behind a company’s firewall.

IaaSInfrastructure-as-a-Service provides raw computer and storage capacity with management tools, in Microsoft’s case, the System Center suite of products and Hyper-V Cloud server environment, in a company’s datacenter or on a hosted basis. Private cloud services are the typical home for IaaS, but some cloud providers, including some implementations using Microsoft Azure, can be characterized as IaaS.

Elasticity is the most notable feature of cloud computing, whether in a private cloud or public cloud. Services can be provisioned based on actual demand and scale up quickly to meet increased demand or release hardware resources that are going unused, turning the fixed costs of over-provisioning that was necessary in the datacenter into lower variable costs.

Flexibility of resources provides savings, because the same hardware can be deployed at different times of the day to handle different workloads. Virtualization of servers in the cloud, whether in an on-premise datacenter or on a hosted platform, allow the hardware that was once dedicated to a single workload—often leaving CPUs idle when they could be used elsewhere—to be used at full capacity. The savings created by a flexible infrastructure can be substantial.