David Chappell, Principal of Chappell & Associates:

In the early days of electrification, every factory had to run its own generator to produce electric power. Over time, it became clear that running generators in shared power plants made a lot more sense. Doing this was cheaper, since it allowed economies of scale, and it also let the factory’s managers focus on their core business instead of worrying about generators. Over time, most factories stopped running their own generators and instead relied on a shared utility to provide electricity.

Something similar is happening right now with information technology. The rise of cloud platforms such as Microsoft’s Windows Azure is turning computing into a utility. Rather than running your own datacenter, your business can instead rely on specialists to provide large-scale, low-cost IT from shared datacenters. You get what you really want—the value provided by your applications and data—while letting somebody else handle the details.

This process won’t happen overnight, of course. In fact, the whole idea might seem a little scary. Can you really trust somebody else to store your sensitive information in some faraway datacenter? Will they be able to provide you with the applications you need when you need them? And will the data privacy laws you must follow allow this?

All of these things will take time to work out. Still, many organizations around the world are already using cloud platforms to save money, get computing resources faster, and avoid tying up their capital in more datacenters. Rather than relying solely on their own generators, they’re beginning to take advantage of a shared public utility.

Moving all of your applications and data to the cloud tomorrow probably doesn’t make sense. But dipping your toes in the water of cloud platforms certainly does.

Cloud computing is the future. To be ready, you need to start now.