Which U.S. cities are the most cloud-friendly?

Boston comes out on top in Microsoft-funded research into business attitudes toward cloud computing in the U.S.

Boston is the cloud-friendliest U.S. city for enterprise organizations, while Washington D.C. tops the list for small and midsized companies. Such are the findings of a recent study [DOC] funded by Microsoft and conducted by 7th Sense Research, aimed at gauging IT decision makers' opinions and attitudes about cloud-based services throughout 10 major metropolitan areas in the United States.

Beyond where the cloud is gaining traction, the report identifies what types of cloud services are cropping up in enterprise companies, as well as small to midsized organizations. Big winners include email, collaboration, backup and storage, and cloud-based productivity apps. Given that some of these services could replace desktop and server-room offerings from Microsoft, it's no surprise that the company is interested in which way the winds are blowing the cloud.

How companies are using the cloud
Overall, the study found that enterprise companies are further ahead of their small and midsize counterparts in embracing or even considering cloud technologies. Forty one percent of the respondents at large organizations said they had at least one cloud project planned or under way, compared to 16 percent of small businesses. Overall, decision makers at companies of all sizes agreed that the cloud is a strategic engine, not a passing trend -- or a threat to IT. More than half of the companies surveyed said they're hiring as a result of cloud services.

Enterprises companies are looking to the cloud for different uses than small businesses. For example, 14 percent of respondents at small businesses said they are using the cloud for email and communication, and 26 percent plan on following suit. By contrast, 20 of enterprise companies look to the cloud for email and communication, and 42 percent intend to move in that direction.

Meanwhile, only 7 percent of small businesses said they are using cloud-based collaboration tools and 26 percent plan to do so. Twenty-three percent of enterprise respondents are using the cloud for collaboration, and another 41 percent are planning to do the same.

As noted, productivity apps delivered via the cloud are gaining ground at enterprise companies and small businesses: 15 percent of the enterprises said they're using them, and 45 percent more plan to; 9 percent of small businesses are using cloud apps today, and 30 percent plan to do so.

Storage and backup services delivered via the cloud also have fans in the business world: 10 percent of small businesses said they're using such services today, and another 29 percent anticipate doing so. Twelve percent of enterprise companies, meanwhile, are using cloud-based storage and backup services, and an additional 46 percent said they will.

Different sizes, different benefits
Additionally, enterprise companies and small businesses cited different top benefits from their respective cloud implementations. Among small businesses, 49 percent said their cloud deployments helped boost their bottom line, 45 percent said cloud services yielded better security, and 42 percent they were able to reduce IT workloads. Another 41 percent said cloud services helped to ensure they had the latest versions or upgrades, while 38 percent said the cloud helped them deploy new functions and applications more quickly.

Among the IT decision makers in the enterprise, 47 cited the reduction of IT workloads as a key cloud benefit, 43 percent said their cloud projects helped them deploy new functions and apps more rapidly, 43 percent of respondents also pointed to bottom-line cost savings, and 41 percent praised the cloud for allowing them to scale as their businesses grow and develop. Finally, 36 percent said the cloud let them abandon legacy systems.

The study also ranks cities in terms of their cloud friendliness. The rankings were based on respondents' answers to questions about their attitudes regarding cloud computing, as well as the number of projects they had under way.

Atlanta placed in the middle of the pack of cloud-friendly cities, ranked No. 5 among enterprises and No. 7 among small businesses. According to Microsoft's analysis of the report, 62 percent of IT decision makers at large companies in Atlanta currently employ or plan to implement cloud-based email and communications tools, such as IM and voice, compared with 36 percent of those at small businesses.

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