Cloud computing is exploding and growing faster than a swirling funnel crossing the Oklahoma plains. The next generation of computing lowers information technology costs while increasing corporate profits at the same time. And what's not to like about that?
That one-two punch was revealed in a study obtained by USA TODAY conducted by England's Manchester Business School. The study, which was commissioned by San Antonio-based hosting company Rackspace, is expected to be released Wednesday.
The Manchester study indicates that cloud computing allows U.S. businesses to slash information technology costs by about 26 percent. What's more, 62 percent of those same American companies say that deploying in the cloud improved their bottom lines.
"The results are finally showing what we've known all along," says Rackspace Chief Technology Officer John Engates. "It's not just about moving workloads from your data center to our data center."
The rise of cloud computing has much bigger ramifications. It's a tectonic shift in how we work, live and play. ITunes is in the cloud. Ford's cars are connected to the cloud. Google's Gmail is based in the cloud. But those are largely consumer examples; now corporate computing is also shifting to the cloud.
"The move to the cloud can't happen fast enough for some companies," says Engates, who has been on the ground floor of the cloud-computing movement.
Cloud computing has myriad definitions, but in the most general sense it means devices linked to data centers located just about anywhere over a combination of wireless and wired networks. There are "private clouds," where companies own and control the data centers, which are usually centrally located in lower-cost geographies. And then there are "public clouds," in which companies use computing power delivered from servers they don't own, which are usually shared with other corporate customers.
Big companies tend to use a combination of private and public clouds, reserving their high-security functions and digital record keeping for the data centers they control. But the growing acceptance of public clouds foreshadows a trend in which computing power will be delivered similarly to the way electricity is distributed by utility companies. In fact, tech geeks refer to the long-term public cloud concept as "utility computing."
We are a long way from when most companies no longer own servers, or operate so-called on-premise data centers, and rely solely on public clouds. There are a number of reasons, including security concerns, control and reliability. But the Manchester survey suggests that enterprise computer customers are embracing the shift enthusiasti-cally.
In addition to the cost-efficiency of cloud computing, the study found that 68 percent of U.S. firms are plowing the cash they saved back into their businesses. They are using the cost savings to improve and expand product lines, services and other offerings. More than 60 percent of the companies surveyed say they are using the money to hire new employees, give raises and offer bonuses. Employment at the American companies surveyed increased 28 percent.
While existing companies are transitioning to cloud computing at their own pace, start-ups unsurprisingly are totally embracing the change -- especially software and social-media concerns and online retail outfits.
More than half of the start-ups surveyed said they wouldn't have been able to afford on-premise data centers at the time of their launch.
Of course, it is self-serving for a cloud-service provider to hire a study that supports its case, but the numbers are the numbers, and Manchester interviewed some 1,300 compa-nies in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Intel's general manager of cloud computing, Jason Waxman, isn't surprised by the findings. Server, storage and networking sales have been booming at the chip giant in recent years. Intel pegs the compounded growth rate for servers at about 25 percent to 30 percent a year based largely on expansion of private and public clouds.
"The more companies can save on computer infrastructure, the more they can spend on infrastructure," Waxman says. "All of these new opportunities represent a huge build-out."
Waxman thinks that public cloud providers, including Rackspace, Seattle-based Amazon.com (yes, that Amazon) and San Francisco-based GoGrid, could grow as much as 70 percent a year.
Gartner, the industry research consultant, predicts that the total public cloud market could swell to more than $206 billion in 2016, roughly double what it is now.
Says Intel's Waxman, "It's an astronomical opportunity."
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