Over the last few years excitement around cloud computing has reached fever pitch with many providers seemingly trying to outdo each other with the level of rhetoric and hyperbole they can throw around. The development of the Cloud has been touted as everything from a revolution to the biggest disruption since the move from mainframe to client-server computing. Most recently Google’s Eric Schmidt called the adoption of cloud ‘inevitable’ – and while, to some extent, these ideas are true, the incessant hype and unending buzzwords surrounding the Cloud are in danger of obscuring the full extent of the business transformation on offer.

From the start one thing must be made clear: the Cloud is not the goal in itself. Just as an end-user doesn’t care about what model of server is hosting their business’ IT, cloud is simply a means towards a business outcome – it should be viewed as one cog within a larger machine.

IDC reiterated this point, noting that for the Cloud to have maximum impact within a business it cannot be held in isolation but must be integrated with existing IT. Too many organisations end up rushing towards the cloud, mistakenly believing that it is a panacea to all their infrastructure woes. This trend is being driven further by the easy access businesses have to the ‘plug and play’ model of IT services (as propagated by the likes of Amazon Web Services).

Ironically, this ease of adoption actually seems to be limiting the scope of the Cloud, not expanding it. Businesses are looking only at the immediate, short-term benefits and using these services to provide a new environment for old and outdated processes, settling for marginal improvements in cost and efficiency instead of using cloud to truly transform the business.

We shouldn’t dismiss the ‘plug and play’ model however, off-the-peg solutions like AWS will always have their place (most specifically among the testing and development community) but ultimately it can only address part of the solution.

It’s generally accepted that when it comes to IT, one size does not fit all. Similarly, within a business, not every application has the same infrastructure requirements. IT decisions are influenced by a number of different factors, whether it be the sensitivity of the data, the level of availability required or the need to scale computing power up and down. Businesses are complex entities and as result their infrastructure requirement is complex as well. Therefore a range of platforms are needed and the most efficient IT environments will be able to combine cloud services – whether they are public, private or multi-tenant hosted solutions – with traditional legacy systems, such as on-premise servers or co-location facilities.

When it comes to cloud computing there are two common pitfalls that businesses tend to fall into: over-estimating its power and under-estimating its potential effect. The former often leaves businesses under-provisioning for their infrastructure, trying to push their entire IT estate into a single platform rather than using cloud computing as part of the larger IT strategy. Meanwhile, many businesses also find themselves under-estimating the potential of the cloud. Merely lifting your IT environment into the cloud may offer some savings (in time or resource), but it’s not going to be the IT ‘revolution’ that many are expecting.

In short, it’s about picking the right platforms for the right applications – not trying to force square pegs into round holes. Organisations should be looking towards hybrid IT solutions and tailoring their cloud use to best suit the needs of their business, whether this is done alone or through a managed services technology partner. If the latter, it is essential that any partner is willing to take the necessary time to really understand what the business is trying to achieve and then use their expertise to create – and manage – the environments that offer the best strategic fit.

Essentially, what is needed is for businesses to recognise cloud computing, not as a technical achievement, but a tool to deliver a specific, individual business outcome. There is no doubt that cloud can be as important to your business as the hype suggests, but it requires a sensible and pragmatic approach to achieve the amazing transformation that has been promised.