In simple terms "the cloud" means replacing the computers and servers in your enterprise with services provided remotely over the internet.
The cloud concept is not new. You have experienced it already with applications such as google docs which provide all the functions of sophisticated tools like Microsoft Office but delivered totally over the web.
However this is only the beginning of what the cloud can do.
It is now becoming possible to source every aspect of an enterprise's technology needs from different cloud service providers on a "mix and match" basis. You will be able to select what cloud services you need in pretty much the same way as you buy apps on your iphone or android - by downloading from the app store.
Cloud service providers won't just offer you standard annual contracts but instead you can go "pay as you go" depending on how much you use.
So if one month you need to triple your capacity, say for a big marketing promotion, then it's no problem. "Elasticity" - the ability to instantly scale up and scale down, is a fundamental part of the cloud.
The cloud has provided the impetus for "Whisple" an exciting collaboration between leading NI technology companies including Equiniti ICS, Anaeko, Goldblatt McGuigan, Novosco, Replify and EMC who have come together to create and run a global platform to allow enterprises to find, select, purchase, integrate and deploy cloud apps and services.
These organisations between them represent a combined staffing of 400 IT professionals and over £40m in revenues.
Obviously it's a little bit more involved when you buy cloud services than just downloading the latest iphone app. For enterprise cloud services there are all sorts of other issues you have to take into account such as data integration, security, service levels, resilience and support.
There are a couple of other reasons why Northern Ireland businesses should be very excited about Whisple.
Firstly Whisple will be built on the back of a high-capacity super-broadband pipe which has been brought to these shores under Project Kelvin. The pipe is what is known as "ultra-low latency" which means that from Belfast we can support real-time financial transactions in New York at the same time as processor intensive 3-D movie rendering in Hollywood (not County Down!) which opens up massive new markets for companies based here.
If you check out local organisations like Mobile Monday or Digital Circle you will quickly see that Northern Ireland has already a very strong community of app developers. Whisple will provide this community with what they need to go to the next level.
Whisple provides an app developer with the means to go beyond their obvious technical skills and creativity and create a global channel to market and sell their apps!
Whisple has been supported by Invest NI who recognise the huge strategic opportunity it provides the local economy to become a serious player in the emerging massive cloud market which according to the latest Gartner report on Cloud Computing, was worth $58.6 billion in 2009 and, by 2014, will be worth $148.8 billion.
I asked Dermot Walsh, General Manager at Whisple Cloud Services, whether he thought Northern Ireland could seriously compete against the global cloud players such as Amazon and Google.
"Yes I really believe we can be a major player in this space if we grab skilfully the opportunity in front of us. For example, we already have 50 customers using the Whisple infrastructure. We have established partnerships with the leading global Cloud technology providers including EMC, VMware and Cisco who will work with us to provide our members access to a marketplace via a Business to Business (B2B) 'app store' which will be heavily promoted by some of the world's leading Financial and Retail organisations".
Whisple is being launched next Tuesday (6th December) at The Pump House, Northern Ireland Science Park, Belfast from 8:30 - 10:30 am.
According to Dermot "Whisple is now open for business and looking for members who will play a major part in shaping how we fully exploit this huge opportunity. Whether you are an apps developer, digital media agency, entrepreneur or an NI business we want to talk to you about how we can work with you to help you realise the potential of Cloud computing".
For more information on Whisple visit www.whisplecloudservices.com. If you want to find out more about the Whisple launch next Tuesday (6th December) call Hannah at http://www.think-eighty20.com or ring 028 9073 5606
Ken Thompson (aka The Bumble Bee) writes about collaboration and new technologies at www.bioteams.com