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Cloud computing: Does IT scalability translate into business agility?

I was talking to an analyst recently about how to improve IT responsiveness when the subject of cloud computing came up.

The cloud lets IT scale out servers and entire platforms pretty quickly, which to me translates into better IT response times and, in turn, increased business agility.

A standard example is a marketing team’s request for IT’s help in launching a new campaign. IT calls their cloud computing partner and, voila, all the servers and storage that campaign needs are up in a day. And the infrastructure can be torn down just as quickly when the campaign has run its course.

Then there are enterprises testing applications in the cloud to avoid building out testing infrastructures of their own and to prevent business projects from backing up in a queue.

Those scenarios seem like steps in the right direction to achieving agile IT and business processes, but something is missing.

George Spalding, executive vice president at IT management consulting firm Pink Elephant, pointed out that the cloud’s ability to help a business scale, and in turn be agile, has its limitations.

“I can add a terabyte of storage and not even make a phone call,” Spalding said. “That’s fantastic, but whether that is really agile, I’m not 100% sold on that.” As it stands now, cloud computing platforms are pretty cookie-cutter, and it is the business that has to adjust to a cloud provider’s platforms and configurations, he explained, which doesn’t exactly help with the cloud-equals-business-agility argument.

Limited platforms and a limited number of cloud providers could lead to vendor lock-in — also not exactly a boost for agile business processes or projects.

Spalding’s observation made me wonder if cloud computing providers will, over time, offer more platform choices, and if it is economically feasible for them to do so. Or maybe we’ll start to see providers that specialize by industry or introduce more configuration choices as demand grows.

But as it stands now, according to a recent IT purchasing intentions survey, cloud deployments are still far down on the list of IT investment priorities in 2010.

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