Ultimately, IT's mission is to deliver applications -- either bought or built for the business. In the long run, the cloud that really simplifies IT will largely be composed of SaaS and PaaS (platform as a service). Slowly, haltingly, Microsoft is moving in that direction with Office 365 and Azure. Salesforce lives there and its newly acquired PaaS play Heroku now goes beyond Ruby to support Node.js, Java, and Python. And of course, there's Google Apps and Google App Engine.
Those are just a few big names amid hundreds of SaaS and PaaS players. But it's still too early for any but the smallest startup to consider going without local infrastructure at all. Instead, we're entering a long hybrid cloud period, with a chunk of pubic cloud infrastructure over here, some SaaS apps over there, and a local data center that -- through Herculean efforts to overcome complexity -- will be somewhat easier to manage thanks to private cloud software.
All that will need to be integrated together. Gaurav Dhillon, CEO of cloud integration startup SnapLogic, wants to supply that connective tissue between cloud services and on-premise applications -- as do several other public cloud integration services, including Boomi, acquired by Dell a little over a year ago.
Dhillon recently told me "2012 is the year the enterprise cloud...the first time enterprises use the public cloud in a big way." Maybe so, although it will still be a small slice of the enterprise IT spend. I have little doubt the cloud will triumph in the end -- the economies of scale are just too compelling. But we're at the beginning of a very long ascent skyward, with many convoluted twists and turns along the way.