2012: Cloud computing hits adolescence for better or worse

In 2012, cloud computing will be old enough to do some great things — and to get into trouble.

By next year, more businesses will  know a good bit about the notion of cloud computing — even if they themselves haven’t put corporate applications or data onto public or private cloud infrastructure. C-level executives and their operational troops have at least read up on the subject and faced enough sales pitches that they can differentiate the real from the bogus. And I would bet they all have a passing knowledge of the potential benefits (moving budget from capital expenditure to operational expenditure, the pay-as-you go model, etc.) from the pitfalls (IT cedes control of infrastructure to an outsider) of cloud computing.

In his top 10 cloud predictions for 2012, Forrester Research (s forr) analyst James Staten said the upcoming year marks the beginning of cloud computing’s “awkward teenage years.” That means there will be some real maturation — and some embarrassing slip ups.

On the plus side, he agrees cloud-savvy customers will mean an end to annoying “cloud washing.” That’s the practice in which a marketer cloaks his or her company in the mantle of cloud computing whether it’s applicable or not.

Also good news is that cloud IT posers will be discovered and shunted aside as more people get trained and gain real experience on cloud deployments. IBM(s IBM), Hewlett-Packard(s HPQ), EMC (s EMC) and others are all stepping up here. There are more openings for cloud experts than cloud experts to fill them, but new training and certification will address that imbalance: all good things.

Not so good is the prospect of cloud failures. The message here is: Things break; get used to it. “Your company will survive a major cloud outage,” Staten states.  “The sooner you learn to deal with [that] the better off you will be.”

Also scary: There are some ugly regulatory issues on the horizon. Much as parents try to rein in unruly teenagers, governments will try to control the spread of cloud computing. Just as the U.S. Patriot Act gave international companies pause before deploying cloud assets in the U.S., other attempts to regulate, ban or spy on cloud computing assets will constrain growth.  A few months ago, for example, a Deutsche Telekom exec proposed a German cloud that would be safe from U.S. snooping. This attempted imposition of national or other borders on cloud computing could kill off this adolescent before it’s old enough to vote. Bottom line, says Staten: “The Internet knows no bounds and neither should the cloud.”

And as often happens even with well-intentioned “good” teenagers, some executive in the cloud universe will overstep the rules, trying to test compliance regulations in the cloud and will end up in court (or worse) or at least unemployed.

Finally, a topic close to my heart, Staten reiterates the mantra that IT channel players — the companies that sell software, hardware and services to business customers — that haven’t evolved to embrace the cloud better do so now. Or else.  It’ s not a new message, but it still rings true: “For the channel to survive it must add value around cloud services and there’s plenty of opportunity to go around.”

Just as human beings are made stronger by the trials and tribulations they faced as pimply-faced teens, the hope here is that cloud computing will face and survive these challenges, and come out on the other side stronger and more capable.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user GorupKa