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The IT forecast for 2009 is decidedly cloudy.
Cloud computing, fueled by software as a service, virtualization and managed
services, will become a bigger part of the business of IT solution providers.

As the economy continues to stall, the appeal
of pay-per-use IT services built around virtualization, managed services and
hosted software will grow.

Companies large and small will become more and
more dependent on cloud-based technology, eschewing servers within their
networks in favor of applications hosted at outside data centers. This is
already a fact of life at many small companies, and look for the practice to
extend to businesses with hundreds, even thousands, of employees.

But not all companies are just going to shut
off their servers and rely entirely on the cloud. Far from it. So there will be
plenty of integration work to meld disparate cloud applications with legacy
systems, posing a significant challenge for companies that embrace the cloud.
The same goes for securing the applications as they move around the cloud into
the private network.

These developments are pressuring solution
providers to quickly become conversant with integrating SAAS applications and
implementing stringent security policies to prevent breaches in their clients’

How safe is that data? Click here to read more about securing the cloud. 

For the channel, cloud computing is a threat
and an opportunity. Nothing new there, when you think about it. Every time a
new IT trend gains momentum, one of the common side effects is tension between
solution providers and vendors.

IT vendors tend to act in relation to market
trends the same way water acts in an enclosed area when it tries to find a way
out. The problem is that in their rush to capitalize on a trend, vendors often
create a bottleneck of confusion, forcing their channel partners and customers
to waste energy on separating marketing bombast from substance.

Ultimately, the vendors that perform best in
the cloud will be the ones that promote programs and services that empower
solution providers to make sense of it all for their customers. When you look
at the crowd of vendors vying for a piece of the cloud, including Microsoft,
Sun Microsystems, Google, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, it doesn’t take a
genius to figure out, based on their track records, which are more likely to
play nice with solution providers.

But just as solution providers face challenges
in seeking to capitalize on the cloud, so do vendors, including the most
channel-friendly among them. Vendors have culture to contend with: They have
infrastructures built around the traditional ways of delivering technology, and
management at large vendors tends to move with the speed of a turning aircraft
carrier in embracing new market trends.

So don’t be surprised if a scrappy new vendor
emerges as Cloud King. Most likely, leadership in cloud computing will come
from a services-centered company rather than a traditional vendor.

Integration expertise, of course, will be key,
and that puts companies such New York-based services provider Bluewolf in the
running. Another potential area in which a company could distinguish itself is
the platform-as-a-service trend, or PAAS. Here
already has an edge, but keep an eye on companies such as StrataScale, which is pushing the envelope by emphasizing speed and flexibility around software-on-demand deployments with its IronScale platform.

vendor grabs a leadership position in the cloud, it will need solution
providers to reach the myriad customers whose needs are best served by
providers that become intimate with their IT systems and business goals. Solution
providers that master the cloud can expect opportunity to rain on them even
through the ongoing rough economic ride.

is a contributing editor for Channel Insider.