The Flavors of the Cloud
The term "The Cloud" is used frequently to represent some form of Internet provided service. But what really is "The Cloud" and how does it apply to you? That depends on what you need.
Software As A Service (SAAS) This isn't a new phenomenon. This form of "Cloud Computing" actually started back in the late 60's with the advent of Service Bureaus. Salesforce.com and Microsoft's CRM are examples of 'cloud' applications that are really no different than the Service Bureaus of old. They provide the applications and store data. Like Henry Ford's Model T, the applications are standardized with some reporting customizations, but you can't make any program changes to the application.
App Hosting: This allows your company to run it's owned or licensed software on a remote server or servers that are managed by a third party provider. The value proposition is that someone else has the responsibility to manage and maintain the equipment and operating system. This frees up staffing at your company as well as the physical needs of the equipment. Don't just think about the cost of the servers and licensing, think about the power, air conditioning requirements and the rent costs for the equipment. Since these are your applications, alterations and functional changes are possible depending on your licensing / ownership rights.
Hosted Storage: One thing is consistent in the world of information technology, the growth of data that needs to be stored and accessed is growing at an unprecedented rate. Storing and accessing data requires more and more storage solutions that invariably require more and more physical space. Then there's the concern about backing up that data. This is where Hosted Storage can play a pivital role. Clearly, backing up your local data into a secure cloud service gives you peace of mind in case of anything going wrong at your local facility (think fire, theft, etc.). Also, keep in mind that historical data that is needed for planning and analysis doesn't have to be stored locally, thus freeing up local storage needs.