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Cloud computing, once an object of skepticism, even taunts, is taking center stage at a handful of companies.
There's InterContinental Hotels Group, which is building a private cloud environment to move its core CRM systems off mainframes and onto industry-standard equipment. It's using public cloud infrastructure for application development and testing, and also to host Web content closer to customers worldwide. And it's evaluating moving key proprietary systems such as room reservation software into the cloud
RehabCare Group, a 28-year-old provider of therapeutic services, is using hosted software and an unlikely device--the Apple iPod Touch--to make its field workforce of 11,000 physical therapists more effective.
Then there are startups such as ServiceMax and NVoicePay that might not exist if not for cloud infrastructure, on which they've built their businesses' growth plans.
Why are they moving to the cloud? Rarely because it's considered cheaper. In some cases, the cloud represents a faster, more flexible way to get a new system up and running. Oftentimes, it's the ease of integration afforded by the cloud servers, using standard Web service practices, that lets a company launch a new mobile application faster or run a business process that cuts across many partners more efficiently.
These companies understand the cloud's shortcomings, whether it's Amazon's weak service-level agreements, Microsoft's less-than-complete Azure service, or their own companies' inexperience with managing cloud resources. Nevertheless, as a group, they show the real-world potential of cloud computing.
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