There is growing acceptance that the cloud is a legitimate alternative to the traditional on-premise IT model and that it has the potential to afford significant business benefits.

For midsized and small businesses the advantages include enhanced capability, fast deployment, reduced costs and scalability. However, even in eyes of the most forward thinking CIOs cloud computing is not a panacea; it comes with its own downsides and complications and factors such as security, compliance and integration remain challenges for all involved.

Generally built on virtualization and automation, cloud computing is split into two main alternatives – Public Cloud and Private Cloud. Public cloud has advantages for small and midsized businesses, including generally low upfront cost with practically infinite scalability; it covers infrastructure and platform-as-a-service such as Amazon’s EC2 through to software-as-a-service from the likes of and Google.

There continue to be real and perceived concerns about this model which generally centre on security but also include vendor accountability and the potential for vendor lock-in.

Whilst private cloud has downsides too, it allows businesses and service providers to most easily deploy ‘trusted cloud’ – a well-managed and secure cloud that affords many of the advantages of public cloud but retains a higher level of control, flexibility and transparency.

Built on virtualisation and automation the private cloud services may be managed by the internal IT team or, where IT resource is limited, by a service provider who can provide turnkey solutions that are designed to deliver real business outcomes.