"App performance matters," DiMemmo said. Companies are beginning to look harder at the ability of the cloud to support business critical elements and achieve desired latency. A couple of years ago, companies were implementing centralized cloud deployments, trying to pack as many servers and storage devices as possible into a small set of data centers, he said. But with a growing focus on app performance, some are starting to shift to distributed platforms where they can run applications on infrastructure closer to end users in order to improve performance for users.
Equinix hopes to help customers in this regard, using its 100 data centers around the globe.
In fact, poor app performance may be driving some businesses to switch from public clouds to private clouds, said Joshua McKenty, CEO of Piston Cloud, a company developing an OpenStack distribution designed for businesses to use to build private clouds. "We will continue to see problematic issues with public cloud bandwidth limitations, which are going to send organizations running back to the safety of private clouds in 2012," he said.
Service providers are starting to offer features that can help. "A lot of customers grapple with the fact that networks work differently because you are inherently on shared infrastructure," Engates said. Customers with hybrid clouds can use RackConnect, a product that helps businesses connect their internal clouds with Rackspace and isolates the user's traffic from that of other cloud users. That can help improve connectivity, he said.
Looking to 2012, experts see a few trends that companies should look out for as they make decisions about moving to the cloud. With many independent, relatively young companies offering services, businesses would do well to examine the health of the service provider before moving critical applications to their platforms.
"Betting your business on a venture-funded entrepreneurial shop can be risky," Forrester wrote.
But even well-established vendors might not be the best bet. Many of the traditional enterprise IT vendors like Dell, HP, Oracle and Microsoft have either announced plans to launch or already have launched cloud services. But few of them are "robust" or are true clouds, Forrester wrote.
Those vendors are likely to rapidly mature, however, in some cases through acquiring some of the independent service providers. Piston's McKenty expects to see "massive cloud computing company takeouts" in the coming year. That could include acquisitions of dying companies for their talent as well as innovation buys, he said.
Still, some segments of these cloud services are growing increasingly stable. "2012 feels like the year when the cloud is maturing," Engates said. "Companies are starting to figure out what they want to do beyond the obvious test and dev."
IaaS services, which Rackspace offers, in particular are maturing, he said. Forrester agrees, noting that IaaS is on the "fast track to maturity." That compares to PaaS, which Forrester said is less mature because most of the services are narrowly focused and lock users in.
Lock-in will continue to be a concern for businesses using these cloud services but 2012 may see more progress toward a de facto standard. Rackspace, Piston and others are betting on OpenStack. "The mindshare around it is huge," Engates said. In the coming year, big players like HP, Dell and Rackspace itself should launch their OpenStack-based cloud services. He also expects a number of enterprises to start talking about their use of OpenStack on internal clouds.