What do IT shops really think about the cloud? Where will companies invest this year? Which tech areas will become the next big vendor battlegrounds? Technology evolves rapidly, and that evolution is driven by the market, which means a new product or platform will be successful only if the IT community fully recognizes and adopts it. There is a lot of buzz right now over cloud services adoption, platform vendor battles, and shifting technology investment strategies, but, what  happens in 2011 — and what doesn’t — will be determined by actual practices within the IT community. In-the-trenches IT practitioners surveyed at Quest Software’s The Experts Conference 2010 have provided insights into technology trends that appear likely to emerge this year. Here is a look at the top 10.

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1: Cloud computing adoption will accelerate, but half of all companies will avoid the cloud for at least five years

Adoption in cloud computing has lagged behind media predictions, but growth in cloud deployments is likely to accelerate this year. However, cloud computing is a major cultural switch for organizations used to developing and supporting their own business applications. So while there is genuine interest in the cloud, nearly 40 percent of survey respondents said their organizations had no plans to use cloud services. As a result, the adoption curve for cloud computing will not follow the bell curve typical of most new technologies. After an initial surge of adoption, growth will slow until cautious companies see proof of success from early adopters. Once a critical mass of users establishes success, competitive pressures will force the remaining companies to adopt cloud services.

2: There’s no go-to cloud platform provider, so the vendor wars will heat up this year

While the big players are competing for market dominance, there is not yet a clear leader. Just three percent of survey respondents selected a primary cloud platform, with their selections evenly split between Microsoft Azure Services Platform, Google App Engine, and Amazon Web Services. This indicates that the competition for market dominance is still wide open and likely will intensify. The stakes are high for the company able to achieve platform supremacy, given the projected size of the market as computing shifts to the cloud.

3: Organizations that adopt cloud computing will create new organizational structures to support the initiatives

New administrative teams dedicated to supporting cloud services are beginning to emerge within the organizational structures of companies shifting to the cloud. Although only 9 percent of survey respondents have established these teams, like the emergence of dedicated web development teams during the dawn of the Internet era, it is an indicator that leading-edge companies recognize that provisioning and support of cloud services will be fundamentally different from current application delivery models.

4: IT will adopt email cloud services first

Survey results showed people are most interested in email as a cloud service. Approximately 50 percent of the companies using, currently evaluating, or planning to deploy cloud services have or are considering email. This high level of interest indicates that email as a service is a culturally viable option for many companies. It also shows they are not completely satisfied with their current email system implementations, opening the door for a cloud-delivered alternative. Right now, though, much of the interest is in the initial stages; enterprises are waiting for email offerings to mature, which means truly widespread adoption is still likely years away.

5: Cloud decisions made outside of IT will lead to less vendor standardization and more “best-of-breed” purchases

Not all cloud service purchase decisions are made within IT. In fact, IT is often not involved in, and may not even be aware of, every cloud service used within their enterprises. The ease of use and scalability of many cloud solutions enables business area managers to choose their own platforms and applications rather than rely on centralized decisions by IT.

6: Inadequate cloud service contingency plans will cause high-profile trouble

Even as 34 percent of survey respondents cite cost reduction as the primary driver for considering cloud services, the newness of cloud service delivery models, coupled with this strong focus on cost reduction, means some IT organizations will underestimate the need for proper contingency planning for service outages. Lack of a proper contingency plan or too much reliance on cloud service providers for adequate backup is likely to result in some high-profile finger-pointing in the event of a significant outage.

7: Federation will become the standard for sharing identity information

Use of federation to share identity information across domains and enable business users to access multiple systems and services has grown steadily over the past several years and is likely to become a standard part of IT delivery. Twenty-four percent of survey respondents already deploy federation, and another 9 percent plan to deploy it within the next 12 months. The use of federation will both enable and be driven by increasing adoption of cloud services.

8: E-discovery, compliance, and security will drive increased Exchange support spending

More than 40 percent of survey respondents reported their resource requirements for e-discovery support and security increased over the past year, perhaps due to increasing regulatory oversight, litigation levels, or pressure to protect corporate information. Thirty-one percent saw growth in resources needed for compliance reporting and supporting audit requirements, and 70 percent were less than satisfied with their e-mail compliance processes. These pressures are likely to continue this year, with e-discovery, compliance, and security as the primary drivers of increases in Exchange support spending.

9: The server virtualization market is saturated, but vendors will battle for supremacy in the desktop and storage markets, which have yet to reach maturity

Virtually everyone is using virtualization — 91 percent of survey respondents already use virtualization in production, and most of the rest are either evaluating or planning to deploy within the next 12 months. Server virtualization is either in use or under evaluation by 94 percent of responding organizations, and that market has reached saturation. Desktop virtualization is currently used by 46 percent of survey respondents and storage virtualization is used by just 24 percent, so there still is room for growth in adoption in those markets.

10: Technology investment strategies will shift from cost-cutting purchases to opportunity-based investments

While many companies and government organizations still tightly control spending, responses on the TEC survey show promising signs of economic improvement. Only 9 percent of responding companies continue to cut back, while 54 percent are making investments, at least in targeted areas. As the economy continues to improve and companies seek to accelerate revenue growth, albeit slowly, there will be an increasing shift from cost-cutting purchases to more opportunity-based technology investments. This shift will help address not only a backlog of deferred projects, but also fund greater evaluation and faster adoption of potentially revolutionary areas within cloud services and virtualization.

Gil Kirkpatrick is a 30-year veteran of the commercial software business, having designed or developed dozens of successful commercial software products. In his current role as a chief architect at Quest Software, Gil consults on various security, identity, and marketing project, and speaks at technology seminars and conferences around the world. He has received the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award for his work in the technology community each year since 2005.