By themselves, these infrastructure components leave a lot to be desired. Yes, they save you the time and expense of capital equipment deployment, but you're stuck with the same configuration and integration chores as before. Worse, you have to perform these tasks remotely, and you carry the burden of bandwidth bottlenecks and strange new security risks. For steady-state workloads that can't take advantage of the cloud's rapid scaling capabilities, the effort hardly seems worth the trouble.
But the cloud value proposition changes dramatically when you factor in preinstalled, preconfigured virtual appliances, supplied by an army of third-party developers and conveniently delivered as ready-to-boot virtual disk images. We're not talking about major line-of-business applications such as CRM here, but IT-centric tools that frequently fall off the budget due to deployment costs. Help-desk ticketing, network management, vulnerability assessment, and enterprise knowledgebases are just a few of the applications you can spin up in the cloud in just minutes.
These applications fall into three broad categories: unsupported free open source software (FOSS), supported FOSS, and full commercial offerings. In the unsupported FOSS category are popular network administration tools such as Nagios, Cacti, and MediaWiki. Third-party cloud enablers such as JumpBox sell these same FOSS apps and dozens of others as support subscriptions for just a few hundred dollars a year. Virtual appliance migration tools such as Citrix's Kensho and RPath's rBuilder provide physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration engines that let you move most any FOSS appliance to an infrastructure service such as Amazon's EC2.
Not all of these applications benefit from offsite hosting, but some definitely need it. For example, Tenable Network Security's Nessus vulnerability assessment tool by definition resides outside your network, where it simulates hacker attacks to ferret out any border security weaknesses. But often the initial savings in time and labour are enough to justify even simple cloud-basing projects.
A number of hybrid service products are appearing as well -- a cross between FOSS and commercial software, offering both customer-managed cloud deployment and vendor-managed SaaS. Kayako offers its line of help-desk portal products as purchasable software -- including the source code -- and as a fully managed hosted service. Clients are free to move their data between items, and thus can start out with the managed service for less than $50 per month and migrate to a self-managed cloud deployment when their needs warrant.