Cloud services have another decade to go before they reach their potential, according to Gartner, and companies should be wary of rushing into the market.
The analyst firm estimates that around 75 per cent of companies will eventually use the cloud as a primary supplier of email and collaboration tools, but that this will not happen until at least 2020.
Early adopters are moving into the market, but cloud email will not attract large-scale support until as late as 2014, the report found.
The researchers noted that companies are enthusiastic about cloud email primarily for economic reasons. For example, most cloud email providers offer a minimum of 25GB of storage, compared to the 300MB to 400MB per user offered by most on-premise systems, and storage costs are rising to keep up with compliance rules.
"There are few things as big as the cloud," said Daryl Plummer, Gartner's chief of research for cloud computing.
However, there are hidden costs, and companies should be careful before making the move. Linking into additional services, like allowing voicemail to sync with email, could prove problematic with the switch to a cloud-based system.
Companies also need to have a clearer idea of the cost of current services before making any decisions, according to Matt Cain, lead email analyst at Gartner.
Security considerations are also a factor, and companies need to time any move to make sure they get the maximum return on their existing email infrastructure investment. Choice of supplier is also critical.
"Don't think about this just as email," said Cain. "The chances are if you go to a provider for email you're very likely to take other services from the same provider, so take a five-year outlook. Really chew on this decision."
Microsoft and Google still dominate the enterprise space, but IBM and Cisco are making large investments in the technology which will bear fruit in the fut ure, the report found.
Microsoft is lagging behind with its Exchange OnLine and Business Productivity Online Suite, and the company's poor support for large-scale multi-tenancy systems is hurting it in the wider marketplace.
Google's offering is changing constantly, the report noted, and the lack of a three-year roadmap to allow IT managers to plan and fund further changes worries Gartner and its clients.
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