Executive Summary: The idea of cloud computing brings up a host of issues for IT pros as they consider moving their mission-critical applications and information onto remote servers controlled by someone else.

The IT industry is infamous for its affection for buzzwords, and the recent flurry of activity around cloud computing only underscores that predilection. But like other buzzwords heralding new technologies that have come before it, the phrase “cloud computing” often generates more questions than answers.

The reality is that cloud computing is already being employed with great success in some quarters, including Google with Google Docs, Salesforce with its Salesforce.com offering, and a host of other Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors. Amazon has also been a pioneer in this segment, offering an assortment of services for developers in the cloud, ranging from Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) to Amazon CloudFront, a new web-based platform that allows content to be delivered to users through a web browser. (You can read more about the early successes Google, Amazon, and Salesforce.com have had with their cloud computing efforts in this month’s Everything But Microsoft column.)

While a bit late to the party, Microsoft has recently unveiled a host of services and online offerings that reside in cloud space. Windows Azure provides a framework for .NET developers to create web-centric applications, and a new range of Software Plus Services (S+S) products promise to bridge the gap between the web and your existing apps. Microsoft’s new hosted Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) includes SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Windows Live Meeting, and is offered as a subscription service starting at $15 per user per month.

Despite Microsoft’s overdue entry into the cloud computing arena, a host of issues are still on the minds of IT pros considering moving their mission-critical apps and information onto remote servers controlled by someone else. With the current alphabet soup of corporate governance laws that many IT pros must abide by— including Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)—how can they truly keep tabs on who accesses their critical data in the cloud? And if other people access that data, what security measures and guidelines are in place to ensure that only the people required to view that data do so?

For example, Microsoft’s S+S approach could easily result in important data being spread between both on-premise and offpremise storage. If you’re an IT manager for a large enterprise with geographically disparate office locations, having a well-thought-out set of policies that keeps data simultaneously accessible and secure for end users while preserving compliance with important corporate, local, state, and federal guidelines can be a feat of epic, if not ulcer-inducing, proportions.

Before making too much of the challenges and obstacles that cloud computing presents, it’s important to remember that the industry is already moving in this direction, and the aforementioned flies in the ointment will be addressed over time.

Cloud Computing: What’s Your Take?
So what do you think about cloud computing? We’re always interested in hearing from IT pros, and we’d love to get your take on the debate over the benefits (and current drawbacks) of cloud computing from an IT perspective. Are you already using cloud-based solutions such as hosted services, Google Docs, or Saleforce.com in your own organization? Feel free to send me a letter, drop me an email, or give me a call directly at 970-203-2775 and let me know what you think.