Cloud computing is in a period of strong growth, but the technology is still in its infancy and will take another seven years to fully mature, according to Gartner.
The analyst firm's Cloud Application Infrastructure Technology Needs Seven Years to Mature report highlights three phases which will occur in the development of what it calls service-enabled application platforms (SEAPs) into a mainstream IT solution.
"SEAPs are the foundation on which software-as-a-service solutions are built, " said Mark Driver, research vice president at Gartner.
"As SEAP technologies mature during the next several years, Gartner foresees three distinct, but slightly overlapping, phases of evolution. The first phase, through 2011, will be that of the pioneers and trailblazers; the second, from 2010 through 2013, will be all about market consolidation; while the third, from 2012 through 2015, will see mainstream critical mass and commoditisation."
Following much the same development curve of any emerging technology, Driver believes that the first phase will be dominated by a select group of vendors, predominately technologically aggressive application development organisations.
This will largely be a market development phase, during which most SEAP adopters should focus on opportunistic applications, in particular those than can be up and running in a short space of time.
The second phase will see a surge of new vendors and subsequent consolidation as cloud computing becomes appealing to more mainstream developer houses. The report predicts that the SEAP market will become flooded by 2012, leaving weaker players to be acquired or simply driven out of the market.
This consolidation and integration will broaden the appeal of cloud computing as trust grows and people become increasingly comfortable with offloading large portions of their IT infrastructure to third parties. As a result, Gartner foresees return-on-investment timeframes being extended from tactical short-term opportunities, to longer and more strategic periods of three to five years.
There will be increasing levels of standardisation over the next few years, and SEAP systems will become the mainstream norm in the majority of application development projects by 2015.
During the intervening years, it is expected that a widely supported fabric of 'intracloud' application programming interfaces will develop to link cloud-based systems across vendor platforms. This will be driven by demands for interoperability and integration, as well as a fear of lock-in.
Gartner's findings were reinforced by a recent survey commissioned by hosting firm Rackspace, which found that 57 per cent of UK and US businesses are in danger of missing out on the benefits of cloud computing because they do not fully grasp the concept.
Rackspace said that many businesses think of cloud hosting as "applications via the internet", while around 14 per cent think of it as synonymous with virtualisation and eight per cent associate it with online storage. A third of US businesses and 27 per cent of UK organisations said that they simply "don't know how they would use cloud hosting as part of their IT mix".
"Cloud technology is ideal for the current economic climate, but it is vital that businesses understand how it can best serve their organisation," said Lew Moorman, chief strategy officer at Rackspace Hosting.
"At Rackspace we want to provide clearer guidelines on how they can get the most out of this technology as a matter of urgency. Cloud is going to be the hot business topic for 2009, and it is not just IT folk that will need to understand the benefits it brings, but people across the business."
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