Inside next week’s Cloud Computing Conference in Toronto

We’ve published so much about how (and whether) to do cloud computing that it should have been easier to show the IT community who among them is doing it.

Next week I’ll be helping moderate a panel discussion on early adopters of cloud technology at Canada’s first-ever, taking place all day Feb. 11 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. When I was asked about offering up some users, I thought it would be easy. I did a search in our archives, and found loads of articles about the potential pros and cons, the plethora of cloud providers and tip sheets. What I didn’t find where any real Canadian case studies. It was only by reaching out to my Twitter friends that I managed to scrape up an Amazon loyalist who I profiled in the first of a series we’re trying at ComputerWorld Canada called “My Best Practices.”

The challenge of finding Canadian cloud customers makes next week’s conference all the more important, and timely. If this event had been held last summer, it would have been easy to ride off the hype around this technology and the desperation with which vendors were trying to retool (or in some cases rebrand) their service offerings. Now, amid the downturn, it’s time to see the much-vaunted operational and cost benefits of cloud computing put to the test, and whether Canadian firms are willing to take a risk in a volatile market and do something radical with how they run their businesses.

Besides my panel, the conference will include keynotes from Microsoft and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, data centre strategy from IBM and several others. I think the one I’m most interested in is a look at how cloud computing energizes Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

That’s not to say everyone should immediately embrace cloud computing. Instead, the conference should be a place for IT executives to explore the options and determine whether there’s a fit with their strategy. In many cases I think there will, but almost no one is advocating an all-cloud approach. Concerns around data protection, about whether cloud contracts expose firms to vendor lock-in and faith in available providers are all obstacles. To me, this kind of conference is not unlike the early events we saw around e-business and open source, disruptive technologies that also needed time to become something we now take for granted in enterprise IT shops. There may not be a Cloud Computing Conference five years from now, but attending this year’s sessions may be a crucial opportunity for fact-finding.

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