Let's be honest: "the cloud" began as little more than a buzzword people threw around when they wanted to sound smart. Fortunately, it has since become a new way of working. In the eyes of CIOs, it has evolved from a mere cost-saving tool and has slowly started to spread to many companies as a method to improve how we work, no matter where we are. Now the landscape is completely transforming to an SaaS marketplace, with vast integration among tools, enterprise collaboration and the ability to work cross-company with ease. It's been an interesting evolution. Let's take a look at how cloud computing started - and where it's going.

Early 2000s: Fear and Loathing

During this time frame I remember being asked to do research on the cloud and to give a presentation on its true business value. Most of the research that I was finding at the time said that the cloud was just a buzzword that everyone used and that there was no value. The belief was quite strong that the risk of moving to the cloud was not worth the benefit. I believe this was partially because it was a new concept and people are typically scared of change.

However, when I started to do research outside of journal articles written by technical people, the true business value started to become apparent. Business leaders during this time frame looked at the substantial cost savings that could come from removing servers, in-house applications, improving and providing cheaper support and - to be entirely fair - sometimes reducing headcount. The idea was that cloud computing had the potential to alleviate some of the IT headache every organization suffers, allowing it to concentrate on its core business values.

Mid 2000s: Acceptance and Integration

By the mid 2000s, the cloud was still in its toddler phase. Companies, and especially technical people, believed moving to the cloud was almost a precursor to outsourcing and layoffs. That was more of a fear than a reality. At this point, moving to the cloud had a value foundation around cost savings, but the awareness of work/life balance really started to come into focus. Companies started to look at the many different methods of giving employees more flexibility, and the cloud became a good starting point in many of those discussions.

Previous to this time, most people felt that work belonged at work and personal life belonged at home, with little crossover. But times were changing, and work and personal life were beginning to come together as companies scrambled accommodate their workers. Below are a few key benefits that started to gain popularity:
  • Intranet became available over the Internet
  • Mobile devices began to enter the workplace
  • Online document management emerged
  • Telepresence, video conferencing and chat became more accessible
  • Working from home became more common as technologies made it possible
Internet-enabled intranets started to pop up at this time. SharePoint was a pretty consistent landing spot for this functionality, and it permitted companies to allow a central location to get to most Web-based applications. BlackBerry was also popular at this time and it seemed like just about everyone had one. IPhones were starting to gain momentum, but would really come to fruition in the latest phase of the evolution. Overall, the ability to communicate with people at work while not physically located on premises exploded at this time and it made the concept of working from home a clear reality.

The Cloud Today: The Present and Future ... With Reservations

Today, the cloud is the present and the future. This would have been considered a bold statement a few years ago; now it just seems factually accurate. In fact, cloud platform providers have gotten so good that it's easy to wonder why there are still so many companies that aren't using the cloud (as of 2013, only 54 percent of organizations were using a public or private cloud). Many providers' systems are so well tuned that the cost savings are substantial. That alone makes the switch worthwhile for many companies, but it's the perks and features that come with being cloud enabled that set companies apart.

Historically, IT was the group that put up walls, slowed groups down or flat out put the brakes on cloud projects. Now it's this group that's becoming true business enablers. Previous to the cloud, when a business had an application or process that they wanted to implement, it would take weeks or months to get the infrastructure in place before development could even begin. Once development took place, there was always red tape or stoppages in work to follow risk-averse processes. Now with a truly cloud-enabled company, those risks no longer exist. The business can have an idea and potentially start working on it right away. Companies focused on speed to delivery or innovation love this work style, as it provides a real advantage over the competition.

But with all these advantages, there are still some reservations about cloud computing. Security is still a major sticking point for many executives. Performance, cost and compliance can also be concerns. Plus, there are still many decision makers who just aren't quite ready to embrace this technology.

The Cloud of the Future

Moving to the cloud truly enables workers and companies to be agile and adapt to what the work environment throws their way. Processes can be simplified, communication channels move away from solely email to better tools, data integration is now real time and the possibilities are endless. On top of those benefits is the fact that the way you work is catching up to the way you act at home. Tablets and mobile devices are now a norm at work, and for many people, they're just as able to work from their kitchen table as from the office. The cloud is still changing and it will be very interesting to see what new benefits appear in the coming years. I, for one, am also curious to see what will happen to the companies that continue to opt out.