Will the downturn accelerate cloud computing?

No one expects mass adoption, but analysts anticipate companies will take a much closer look at cloud computing services, thanks to the low cost of entry

Facing uncertain economic times, enterprises may be more likely to turn to cloud computing services -- such as SaaS (software as a service), Amazon-style utility computing, and managed service providers -- for the lower up-front costs, the faster time to market, and the ability to add capabilities quickly without investing in new hardware.

Analysts at Gartner and TABB Group, a research and advisory firm that focuses on financial markets, agree that the current economic downturn is already sparking interest in cloud computing both on Wall Street and elsewhere. "We expect examinations of various cloud services to accelerate," says Gartner fellow and vice president Ken McGee. "There will be a flight toward looking for lower-cost options."

SaaS offerings in particular are becoming more attractive. Whereas enterprises "initially took advantage of SaaS collaboration, sales, and marketing applications," explains Jeff Kaplan, managing director of ThinkStrategies, they "are now exploring SaaS solutions for back-office requirements like expense management, procurement, and supply-chain management."

Some SaaS vendors claim to be feeling positive effects already. "We see evidence that our sales pipeline is growing because of the recession, rather than in spite of it," says John Girard, CEO of Clickability, which provides content management as a service. "One of the great things about SaaS and cloud computing more generally is that they're pay-as-you-go."

Although companies won't "immediately move resources to the cloud," utility-style services from the likes of Amazon, IBM, GoGrid, and Google will follow the trail SaaS applications have blazed and get traction in business units, rather than as broad IT projects, says Robert Mahowold, IDC director of SaaS and on-demand research. "That's absolutely how SaaS caught on," Mahowald explains. "That's what could happen as part of the economic downturn."

Gearing up for greater demand

The biggest IT vendors and cloud providers appear to be gearing up to take advantage of enterprise interest moving forward. Amazon, IBM, Intel, Oracle, and Microsoft have all made waves recently in one way or another.

Last week IBM detailed four new cloud computing centers around the world that are part of its overall effort to help companies architect, design, and construct clouds, explains Dr. Willy Chiu, vice president of IBM high-performance on-demand solutions.

Oracle, at its OpenWorld conference, highlighted its own cloud computing intentions by announcing separate partnerships with Amazon and Intel. Oracle is making its 11g database, Fusion Middleware, and Enterprise Manager software available on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), and the company joined forces with Intel to "accelerate enterprise readiness of cloud computing," focusing on the key areas of software performance and power efficiency, improved virtual machine security, and standards for provisioning cloud services.

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