Cloud computing is an emerging technology with a whole lot of buzz. But defining it is as hard as pinning down a cloud. Depending on who you talk to, it is described variously as a form of software as a service, platform as a service or utility computing. \n\nWhat is clear is that we're in the early adopter phase, according to Forrester Research's report, "Is Cloud Computing Ready for the Enterprise?" Forrester offers this definition of the cloud: "a pool of abstracted, highly scalable and managed computer infrastructure capable of hosting end-customer applications and billed by consumption." No matter how it's defined, the cloud has obstacles to overcome before it's ready for enterprise use, writes Forrester Research principal analyst James Staten. So while potential benefits include lower costs, companies are testing the waters only with noncritical projects.\n\nStability and security are two obstacles to enterprise adoption. While there are few well-known vendors (Salesforce.com, Amazon and Google) offering some variation on clouds, SLAs are rare. And, since cloud computing within organizations often takes place outside IT, vendors cannot always provide references to potential clients.\n\nTransparency is one of the security issues surrounding cloud use. Some vendors will not disclose where an application is located geographically, and they don't allow clients to request a location.\n\nLack of support is another problem. Since clouds are unique infrastructures, many commercial operating systems are not certified on these platforms. Staten notes that because the infrastructure is virtualized, this creates licensing issues.\n\nHowever, CIOs shouldn't try to stop business users from experimenting with clouds, he says. Instead, they should get to know the options and then endorse the clouds that fit their organization's processes and strategy. "You don't have to host or provide all of the technology choices yourself," says Staten. "Instead endorse the choices that bring better solutions to the business."\n\nBest Practices\nGet to know the cloud. Staten says trying to stop your users from experimenting with clouds will only push their use further under the covers. Instead, look at what they are doing and learn from it. Consider which applications are potential candidates for the cloud.\n\nTalk with vendors. Once you've tested the waters and shopped around the different offerings, let vendors know what they need to provide to meet your needs. They are looking for your guidance.\n\nInsist on transparency. Gain an understanding of security and continuity management issues by requesting detailed information from vendors, suggests a recent Gartner report on security and cloud computing.