You probably heard a lot of hype about the cloud in 2010, but that will be nothing compared to the cacophony of the next few years as on-demand moves from a much-hyped technology to a business necessity.

Just 3% of CIOs currently have most of their IT running in the cloud, according to Gartner. But the analyst suggests CIOs view the cloud as their top technology priority for 2011 and it expects the number of firms using on-demand computing to rise to 43% within four years.

That is a tremendous level of growth, but how can your business cope? Should your organisation move to on-demand and how can you introduce this new style of technology procurement?

Being able to burst capacity on-demand through the cloud is commonly seen as a flexible, efficient and cheaper way to procure IT. That, of course, is not necessarily the case. Implementing the cloud because you think it will be cheaper is not an end in itself.

Cost decreases will be irrelevant if wider business objectives are not met. Work backwards – first establish your desired business outcome and then identify a potential technology solution, including the cloud.

That route might include an aim to reduce complexity, allowing business executives to just purchase resources for a particular project. However, such flexibility can only occur if the right framework is in place. And adding another external provider is not necessarily a means to simplicity.

Complexity can also be a concern when you aim to leave a particular cloud provider. Continually monitor your provider and be prepared to think of other options if on-demand is not working as anticipated.

Such decisions will require you to establish a contract with tightly defined service level agreements and, most crucially, the knowledge that you will be able to get hold of your data easily if you move out of the cloud.

Inevitably, choices over the cloud will come down to the propensity of your business to absorb risk. Working on-demand can raise considerable information security concerns and your priority must be a partner that can provide a transparent service with high quality support.