Public discourse on “the cloud” may give the impression that it is some kind of ethereal vapor penetrating the far reaches and cyberspace. Reality is much less exotic, as former Royal Philips VP Alan Nance explained: “The first thing we need to understand about cloud is: there is no cloud. You’re really just using other people’s computers.” This more grounded definition reframes many cloud-related IT decisions. Nance continued, “The question you have to ask yourself is, how can I make the best use of other people’s computers?”

For some businesses, IT is the back office, and in many instances it simply needs to meet a functional performance standard. It may still be critical, but it’s not a competitive differentiator, and in these cases sometimes it’s fine to work with a minimal number of cloud vendors. For a rapidly growing number of companies, however, IT is the business, or at least the route to market. Financial services institutions in online trading, for instance, are in a perpetual IT “arm’s race”, where the competitiveness of the company directly mirrors the performance of IT. Airlines also fall into this category, in which IT is fully embedded in the company’s fabric. Such organizations must select from a pantheon of competing options to identify which cloud providers best serve various business functions. That’s no small task, admittedly. Click here for a few factors to consider.