We have now reached that time of year when the great and the good partake in the festive tradition of crystal ball gazing, as they predict the IT industry’s future trends for the next twelve months.

Over the next three weeks or so we will be deluged with various top tens, who will move, who will shake, who’ll hit tech heaven with the next iPad and who will reach tech hell with the next Sega Dreamcast.

It was about this time last year that seemingly every list published featured cloud computing as the number one game changer, the one trend that would have the greatest impact on the delivery of IT services. Some went as far as to predict that cloud should be viewed as the single most evolutionary computing development since the web itself was established. Not many argued against the list compilers rankings, but many viewed the prediction with a healthy pinch of cynicism.

It was Winston Churchill who once famously stated that “It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”

We find ourselves one year on, with all of us haing been bestowed with that marvellous gift of hindsight, and are now in a position to judge whether the soothsayers were on the money or whether Churchill’s cautionary note rings true.

So in 2010, did we reach for the cloud? The answer has to be a resounding yes, with the reality matching, and quite possibly exceeding, the hype.

Earlier this week, Angus MacSween, industry veteran and CEO of the UK’s iomart group plc told Dow Jones “I have never seen something happen quite as quickly as this. Six months ago around one-fifth to one-tenth of enquiries from potential customers related to cloud computing; now it is roughly nine out of ten.” He also stated that the attitude of firms’ IT departments has changed. “Whereas once they were reluctant to cede control of new projects, now they look to outsource to the cloud from the word go. We are witnessing a paradigm shift away from traditional on-premise models to the cloud”.

And yesterday, the respected analyst TechMarketView released a forecast that predicted that the UK cloud computing market will double and grow to an annual worth of more than £10bn over the next four years, coming to represent a quarter of all IT software and services spending, with cloud computing set to enjoy compound annual growth of 26 per cent.

The two views, one from an Industry leader actively involved in marketing and providing cloud services and one from a respected analyst, not usually given to rash predictions, appear to add credence to the cloud substance over hype.

So what is driving this phenomenal growth? It is very hard to determine one single factor, but it is probably fair to state that it is a combination of the following:

  • Avoiding Capital Costs
  • Access to capabilities that are not internally available
  • Ability to flex & scale IT resources
  • The need for real business continuity & disaster recovery plans
  • Removal of economic/expertise barriers
  • Reduction of carbon footprint/legislation

Pretty broad brush, but we shouldn’t over look that simple fact that businesses buy IT services to improve either their bottom line or their day to day core operations. The cloud may be ‘revolutionary’ but its benefits are as old as the hills.

So what of my top ten cloud predictions for 2011?

  1. The commercial battle for the cloud will be won on service and the strength of Service Level Guarantees (SLAs).
  2. Cloud Computing can be ‘sliced and diced’ on so many levels or ‘layers’ guaranteeing that no single company will successfully ‘own’ or dominate every layer (despite the M&A deals that are currently dominating the headlines.)
  3. Customers will buy as their computing requirements from every layer within the Cloud, be it the infrastructure layer, the hosting layer, the development layer or the apps layer, as and when they are needed.
  4. No ‘killer’ app has been identified, and probably will never materialise, so basic hosting, email, back up, data storage and archiving will drive the market past the early adopter stage.
  5. Vendor Lock in will be rebuffed – customers will demand the flexibility to switch from Xen to VMware etc at their requirements demand. We will see a rise in the number of calls for standards and certifications – but they won’t arrive sometime soon.
  6. Data Protection and Compliance will become a more prevalent issue for cloud service providers. Exact geographical/territorial location of the cloud will be a key selling point.
  7. Hybrid and Private clouds will be the flavours of choice for the corporate market, with hosted private clouds outnumbering internal ones.
  8. The hype will die down, cloud definitions will crystalise and we will (hopefully) witness the death throes of the ‘As as Service’ descriptor.
  9. The Community Cloud will start to gather momentum.
  10. The myth that the cloud is insecure will be put to the sword.

Whether my top 10 proves ‘prophetic or pathetic’ is quite irrelevant, but what is absolutely certain is that the Cloud is not going away and will feature in the annual top 10 predictions for many years to come.