2011: the cloud has landed

Cloud became mainstream in 2011. Looking back, it's extraordinary to see how far we've come in the year.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

Looking back on 2011, what stands out most of all is that the cloud became mainstream. Cloud computing even got its own Gartner hype cycle, and while some aspects of the technology are still deemed to be in the early wave of the cycle, others are far beyond any hype. Indeed, SaaS is so well established today that Gartner positions it firmly on the 'slope of enlightment', well on the way to achieving productive enterprise adoption. No wonder Oracle rushed to purchase RightNow as the year drew to a close, swiftly followed by SAP's acquisition of Successfactors.

It's extraordinary to look back at the predictions I made at the turn of the year to see just how far we've come. With hindsight, it seems self-evident that mobile and social would become core to enterprise software strategies, and yet a year ago, it was still a novelty to suggest either. The need to serve itinerant clients and tap into social information and activity streams has only served to reinforce the need for highly connected, cloud-centric computing stacks that are transforming the nature of enterprise software. It's all part of what I'm now calling the move from fixed to frictionless enterprise — the cloud in its widest sense is becoming a platform for the evolution of new, highly interactive, hyper-connected business models.

Many enterprises struggle with this new need to operate in a connected world, and so it's no surprise there have been many instances of cloud failure during the year. I predicted that many of these failures would be down to enterprises implementing the cloud badly, and there have certainly been few better illustrations of how not to run a cloud service than the example set by Sony. What has become obvious in the course of the year is that every enterprise has to be a public cloud provider in its dealings with customers, partners and employees (and indeed that Every SaaS provider runs a private cloud). If an enterprise is not prepared to rely on third-party infrastructure, then it has to invest in the skills and resources to do it well for itself.

There was a time when people used the term private cloud to describe IT infrastructure that follows cloud principles but is isolated from connections to the public Web. I believe that idea has been thoroughly discredited by now. As we learned earlier this year when it became known that RSA's security keys were thought to have been compromised, the security of what's inside your firewall is dependent on what goes on inside other people's firewalls. We are all interdependent, and it's not an option to cut yourself off entirely, because how then are you going to do business? The world is connected and burrowing through those connections comes software, as Marc Andreessen succinctly puts it, eating the world. If you're not connected, you're history.

As we move forward into 2012, that recognition of the pervasive nature of cloud technologies will engender a more mature attitude to cloud in the enterprise, one that aims to harness and manage both private and public cloud resources within a hybrid environment that leverages the best strengths of both. Cloud is no longer something ethereal and remote, but instead it touches and envelops every existing IT asset. Cloud has landed and must interact effectively with what's on the ground — and vice-versa.

Which brings me to the one unfulfilled prediction I made last year, that 'IT management gets wired to the cloud'. If enterprises are to adopt cloud successfully, then having reliable tools for cloud governance is essential.

Here are my ten must-read posts from the year:

Editorial standards