Cloud Computing: Hope or Evolution?

Companies may be expecting too much from cloud computing, but other technologies such as video conferencing are starting to live up to their promises, according to a study released last week.

Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn. has published Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2008, which discusses a wide range of technologies and separates the gee-whiz factor from the reality. The report includes an analysis of cloud computing, social networking, green IT, microblogging and telepresence.

"You really need to know why you're adopting these technologies," said Jackie Fenn, the vice-president and Gartner Fellow who contributed to the report. "You can't just leap in every time a new things gets hyped.

She cited as an example the cloud computing paradigm, whereby companies like Google and Amazon are offering to store user's data on servers and some firms can provide IT more as a utility.

With cloud computing, Fenn said, users are expecting "very flexible access" to IT resources, with a view that "one day IT will be as simple to use as electricity and you just plug it in."

But she adds in reality, it's not that simple.

"A lot of the hype will be around the promise that has been held out for a very simple to use, flexible approach to information technology, and the reality of achieving that is going to be out of line," with expectations, she said. "Whenever you try to achieve one of these big dreams it's inevitably harder to get there than you think, and it takes longer to get there than people tend to think."

A technology that's a bit closer to reality is that of telepresence, according to the report. Gartner cites as examples HP, which makes the Halo system, plus Cisco Systems Inc. and Teliris.

In the past, many users weren't satisfied with the video quality of conference systems, Fenn said, adding Telepresence has better quality but some companies are put off by the price.

"I think the quality of the experience that these systems have brought is very attractive and it does start to introduce an element of feeling that you are at least partially there," she said. "That has been missing in previous generations of the technology."

The study also noted microblogging, whereby users post short blurbs about their current activities, has "caught on" in some communities.

For collaboration, companies are taking different approaches, depending on their needs.

Some firms, she said, want to wait for enterprise-grade collaboration tools that address issues of privacy and security. But others are more inclined to take advantage of existing Internet sites like Facebook now because they think it's valuable for their companies.

"They will go to the actual Facebook or Myspace route and say, 'Yep, we want to bring it in and we'll figure out what the problems are once we do that.' Others will say, 'No we want to wait until we have something that's industrial strength.'"

Those who are early adopters of social computing platforms are attracted to them because they allow a wider range of communication.

"You have this peripheral vision of what's happening around you, that a lot of the more point-to-point collaboration tools don't give you," she said. "They are willing to put up with the unknowns that you get when you get popular consumer technologies into the enterprise."

Another set of technologies that's benefit to companies now is green IT, which is valuable in more ways than one, Fenn said.

"The happy thing about green IT is that the greater good is aligned with the selfish benefit of saving money," she said.

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