Cloud – people can’t agree on exactly what it is, but everyone can agree that they want some piece of it. I have not talked to a single client who isn’t doing something proactively to pursue cloud in some form or fashion. This cloud-obsession was really evident in our 2011 technology tweet jam as well, which is why this year’s business technology and technology trends reports cover cloud extensively. Our research further supports this – for example, 29% of infrastructure and operations executives surveyed stated that building a private cloud was a critical priority for 2011, while 28% plan to use public offerings, and these numbers are rising every year.

So what should EAs think about cloud? My suggestion is that you think about how your current IT strategy supports taking advantage of what cloud is offering (and what it’s not). Here are our cloud-related technology trends along with some food for thought:

  • The next phase of IT industrialization begins. This trend points out how unprepared our current IT delivery model is for the coming pace of technology change, which is why cloud is appealing. It offers potentially faster ways to acquire technology services. Ask yourself – is my firm’s current IT model and strategy good enough to meet technology demands of the future?
  • The cloud applies pressure to IT economics. This trend points out the nuances of cloud economics. Pay-per-use is not always cheaper. EAs must understand application characteristics and consider the total cost of a cloud-based solution. Ask yourself – does my firm’s business case methodology consider cloud options, and if so, are costs realistically accounted for?
  • Elastic application platforms emerge to handle variable scale and portfolio balancing. This trend identifies an emerging “cloud-optimized” architecture that is built to scale out and in as needed. Ask yourself – are your future applications being built to take advantage of pay-per-use and elastic scale? They need to be if they are going to run efficiently in the cloud.
  • Platform-as-a-service crosses the chasm. PaaS is one way cloud is expediting developing elastic, cloud-scale applications; however, many firms are still on the fence about it. Ask yourself – are you planning on leveraging PaaS? Do you understand it?
  • Improved virtualization sets the stage for private cloud. This trend calls out the need for most firms to improve their virtualization practices before tackling a real private cloud. Ask yourself – are you really ready for private cloud from an I&O process and virtualization maturity perspective?
  • Network architecture evolves to meet cloud demands. In this trend, we call out a change that is happening in the bowels of our infrastructure – network architecture is flattening and going virtual because it must to support demand for cloud-like service levels. Ask yourself – how ready is your infrastructure to meet the demands that private cloud you are thinking about will bring?

If you are like most clients I talk to, your existing IT delivery model and strategy doesn’t answer many of the questions raised. How will your applications evolve to be cloud-efficient? How will you make good business cases for cloud cost and benefit? How will your existing IO processes and practices evolve to capture cloud benefits? Finally, what kind of IT organization does your firm need if it is highly cloud optimized? You might find that IT becomes less of a service delivery organization and more of a broker.