Is 2011 the year of the cloud?

These businesses, too, face growing competition from lean start ups that have avoided "legacy" IT, and are running a large proportion in some cases all their business critical systems in the cloud. Those businesses might look around for newer, cheaper or better cloud providers, but it seems highly unlikely that they will start building data centres and investing in their own tin.

Then there are the mandates such as that imposed by the US government that departments should think "cloud first" for new projects, as set out in the plan for reform of Federal IT issued in December. This can only add to the momentum behind the cloud.

Not all new

The other factor that makes the future of the cloud slightly hard to call is that the cloud is not all new. Rather, it consists of a mix of new technologies and existing IT products and services that have been repackaged.

Although it is easy to criticise vendors for putting the cloud label on their older offerings, it does mean that cloud computing is more evolutionary than some of its critics, as well as its proponents, suggest.

Some elements of today's cloud computing landscape, such as email or web hosting, are already well-established markets in their own right. "If you look at our large hosting customers, they are all moving to a virtualised environment that is more and more cloudy'," says Martin Saunders, director at managed services provider Claranet. "That can bring fantastic savings in electricity costs and machine costs."