What type of cloud is right for your business?
Just about every vendor out there has a different recommendation when it comes to implementing a cloud solution. The hardware vendors all bill 'cloud computing' as something having to do with the hardware infrastructure. The virtualization vendors all bill 'cloud computing' as having to do with abstracting from the hardware layer and pooling resources virtually. Then you get to the titans of cloud like Google and Amazon. These two, although they differ in their implementation, put more emphasis on the software and services running at the very top. So which is correct?
Well I can assure that cloud computing has absolutely nothing to do with the hardware. Sorry Dell, Sun, HP, etc. The modern era of commodity hardware has rendered hardware vendors all but irrelevant. Given the right solution stack, I would prefer to go with off the shelf commodity hardware similar to Google's approach. The cloud computing solution is truly hardware agnostic.
What role does virtualization play? This depends on several things. First of all, are you looking to build a private, public or hybrid cloud. Second, are you after massive scalability or high availability. Third, are you willing to write your own software to manage the cloud or use a third party framework to do so? Chances are, if you are a web business like an e-commerce site or major blog, you won't need virtualization. You can hook into a public cloud infrastructure like Google's App Engine and you will be very happy with the result. This can apply to a host of other businesses looking for some sort of web presence or are ok with putting critical apps out in the 'cloud.'
What if you are a major banking institution, military, government, health care or other industry that demands higher than normal security and has ultra low risk tolerance? Even though public clouds are relatively secure, and I do use that phrase loosely, you can't really allow the risk of putting sensitive information in the cloud. You will need a private cloud to keep your resources, data, IP, etc., all in house. Short of writing your own custom software to handle application availability, distributed storage, etc., you will probably leverage a virtualization platform like VMware's vSphere.
No matter which type of cloud computing architecture you decide to implement, there are huge issues that will need to be dealt with up front. Security, scalability and simplicity are paramount. Without the right guidance, application migration will be an absolute migraine. You will need to create a vision that aligns the cloud computing aspirations of your organization with clearly define business goals. You will need a high level architect to execute this vision. If I can offer one piece of advice: do not enter this type of undertaking without understanding everything about it. I know that some organizations frown upon consultants, but often they are the ones that stay abreast of emerging technologies. They have to. It is their livelihood.