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Who’s Using the Cloud and How? Who Knows.

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Who is using the cloud, and how, has been a hot topic for some time, but getting any reliable numbers is no easy feat. That’s why I view the latest cloud computing adoption predictions by Forrester and Gartner with a skeptical eye.

The problem is that it all depends who you ask and what is being asked. According to a May 2009 report by Forrester’s Frank Gillett, about 25 percent of large companies already use or intend to use an external cloud service provider. However, Gartner’s Lydia Leong points out that Forrester might have included SaaS and hosting in its list of external services, both of which are established markets that have been wrapped with the cloud label. For its part, Gartner just released a survey finding even greater adoption rates in the next 24 months, with IaaS leading respondents’ cloud plans.

Assuming these results come out of the United States, the rest of the world provides a contradictory take on cloud excitement. According to a Forrester report released on July 7, while 14 percent of Latin American companies already use cloud computing or cloud hosting, 40 percent of firms in the same region are not interested in the technology. Twenty-three percent are unfamiliar with it – or at least too unfamiliar to know whether they are interested. Rewind six months, and you’ll find a Rackspace study in which only 27 percent of U.S. small businesses surveyed were even familiar with the term “cloud hosting,” but 38 percent either already were using or planning to use it. Those numbers don’t add up.

It doesn’t hurt to ask questions about cloud computing adoption, but it also doesn’t hurt to take the answers with a grain of salt. If more than a quarter of large companies already were using it or intending to use it in the near-term, with 38 percent of small businesses and 69 percent of mid-sized businesses in the same boat (regarding “cloud hosting,” at least), cloud computing would be a bona fide enterprise success. But these numbers tell only half the story, and the still high (sometimes contradictorily so) numbers of uninterested or – somehow – unaware should serve as a check on hyper-optimism.

At this point in the development of cloud computing, definitions vary, hype is high, and interest can be fleeting (perhaps corresponding with high-profile outages). Getting an accurate read on the market appears far easier said than done.

Question of the week

How reliable are cloud adoption surveys?