You can't pick up an IT trade publication these days without seeing an article about cloud computing. This is also becoming rapidly true among general business magazines and even the industry-specific ones. Yes, indeed. Cloud is all the rage. And when there's this much buzz around something, it's almost always difficult to separate the hype from the reality.
It's also become one of those vague Information Technology terms in which the definition can be almost anything at all, depending on who's talking and what they're trying to sell. The following definition comes from Wikipedia, and I think it's as good as any of the ones floating around out there.
Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid.
In short, you connect to the network, and the system rapidly (and hopefully, securely) connects you to your data, regardless of whether you are in a different place or even on a different computer.
The basic business case is to reduce cost by, in effect, transitioning IT from something that you own to something that is provided by experts as a service. Ideally, economies of scale enable them to provide this to you as a service at significantly lower cost than you could realize in the traditional way.
The reality is a little less clear-cut, because few companies are willing to fully commit to cloud computing. They may use it for certain things, but concerns about security are still quite valid. And then there's the non-scientific gut check component that sometimes advises us to hedge our bets, keep an ear to the rail, and see how things play out. In such a hybrid approach, the technology necessary for the non-cloud part of your IT strategy can sharply reduce your savings.
Also keep in mind that accounting factors into this decision. Instead of buying equipment that will eventually be listed on amortization tables, you'll be dealing with an ongoing expense. Therefore, your team that makes cloud decisions should include your accounting/tax advisor, too.
On the technology side, your preferred channel partner deserves a seat at the table. But I would begin by getting their thoughts on cloud computing as a general strategy. Channel partners sometimes have widely differing opinions on the cloud opportunity. So you might want to ask your questions of a small handful of partners and then gauge the general consensus. Ideally, you'll want someone who can advise your company on which applications would be best parked on the cloud, and which applications should remain on premises. The chosen partner should also be able to map out a migration strategy, if you decide to move a sizable chunk of your IT needs over to the cloud.
Perhaps you'll determine that the cloud is not right for you. And if that's the case, your channel partner should be willing to support that decision. If, however, you are interested in using cloud, they should be able to help you to assess and take the next steps into this new world of computing and networking.