While some experts claim cloud computing is the next disruptive technology, others suggest it to be the technology that diminishes the role of the traditional System Integrator. Whatever description is finalised for cloud computing this year, harvesting its benefits will require the guidance and direction of a new emerging breed of Systems Integrator – the Cloud Integrator.

Up until now, the primary focus of a System Integrator has been based around planning, optimising, integrating, and managing their customers’ IT environment. At times, Integrators also take on the responsibility of plugging the gaps between the customers IT needs and the IT infrastructure available to them.

However, emerging cloud computing vendors are proving to be yet another addition to the chain in a typical Integrator business model. The good news is that the availability of a public domain computing platform allows the traditional System Integrator to extend their platform. This is carried out through lease-type agreements as opposed to capital outlay or long-term fixed costs.

While certain organisations may be lured into the affordability and scalability that cloud computing offers, it is my view that only an experienced service provider with a strong cloud focus can ensure that their environment is architected in such a way as to provide clear business benefits without compromising on security.

For example, at the onset, the low cost and ready access on-demand computing offered through a cloud environment will cause businesses to rethink what is truly core to their business, and shift an increasing amount of non-core processing to a shared or cloud environment.

As a result, organisations will be well served to revisit the classification of each piece of information stored and assumed to be sensitive and critical to the business. However, before companies begin to develop their cloud infrastructure based on the strategy of their business, System Integrators will need to tackle a number of barriers to help hem configure their cloud environment.

Firstly, System Integrators will need to help provide organisations with a highly secure computing environment, where business critical tasks are processed and highly sensitive information is stored securely. If they fail to do this, competitive advantage and business critical information could be lost – which could prove to be catastrophic to the business if it leads to brand damage or their trust being compromised.

Furthermore, the private cloud, which is used for developing, enhancing, trailing and testing out mission critical systems as well as carrying out critical research and development work, will also run into security issues. As such, it also requires an environment that is highly secure. Built on the principles of virtualisation, System Integrators will need to ensure that the private cloud environment is readily scalable and sharable between IT systems and applications within the organisation.

In addition to the private cloud, the public cloud represents various types of external clouds such as Amazon Elastic Compute 2 and Simple Storage 3 that could prove to be of benefit to an organisation. For an organisation to benefit, a Cloud Integrator will need configure these clouds to enable them to operate as an extension to the internal computing platform of an organisation. Due to the open nature of the public cloud, an organisation must be able to shift desktop work into the external cloud without fear of exposing or losing critical information.

There is also the issue of handling a shared environment. A shared environment represents the need to run regularly scheduled applications such as facilities management, accounting, and payroll processing. As such, this activity should be carried out at an outsourcer’s facility where the computing platform may be dedicated for the business.

In summary, sceptics who believe cloud computing to be just another technology buzz-word should remember that just a decade ago, the concept of offshoring IT work also faced strong head winds from political, business, and social fronts. However, in a global economy, the benefits of offshoring in the form of reduced cost, high availability of quality resources, and faster response time due to around-the-clock operations caused most, if not all, businesses to move over to some form of an offshore-based model.

As the IT Outsourcing industry gets used to the benefits of cloud computing in 2011, businesses will depend upon the services of a skilled and trusted Cloud Integrator as a partner to help them configure the right combination of computing environment that addresses their business needs, in the most cost effective manner without compromising on performance and security.