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I started this past week in Las Vegas attending the two-day Enterprise Cloud Summit at Interop where a crowd of 200-300 people converged to learn about the rapidly evolving cloud computing phenomena from a cross-section of speakers from established players and virtual start-ups.

This might not seem like a lot of attendees, but it was about ten times as many people as those who attended the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) track of Interop. And, the cloud crowd grew even bigger at the end of the first day of the Summit when an ‘unconference’ CloudCamp was held which featured a variety of ‘birds-of-a-feather’ style discuss groups fueled by plenty of oversized cookies.

The cloud computing theme also extended into the main-tent portion of Interop with the keynote sessions on the first day of the conference also focused on the topic. These sessions permitted Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), IBM (NYSE:IBM) and SAP (NYSE:SAP) to put their proprietary spins on the cloud computing idea which may have only created more confusion in the minds of the attendess about this amorphous concept.

While the level of interest in cloud computing was strong, the overall attendance at Interop was down due to the economy and lingering concerns about the swine flu. And, despite the attention cloud computing received in the conference sessions, there were few vendors demonstrating cloud computing capabilities on the show floor. Instead, it was a typical three-ring circus of technology box-pushers, card-trick magicians and over-the-top come-ons, including a vendor using a series of boxing matches to attract visitors to his booth.

I came away from the event with the firm impression that cloud computing has captured the attention of the mainstream of IT/network professionals who are the mainstay attendees of Interop. They recognize that cloud computing can have an impact on the way they acquire and utilize computing resources. They see it as a potential threat and opportunity in their infrastructure environment, and want to better understand how it works and how to maximize its benefits.

Even though the success of SaaS has spawned the broader cloud computing movement, many of the Interop attendees mirrored the broader population of IT/network professionals and chose to ignore the Interop sessions focused on the business implications of SaaS solutions.

The dramatic difference in attendance levels between the cloud computing and SaaS sessions also illustrates the great divide which has emerged in the minds of many vendors, analysts, press and event organizers who look at SaaS and cloud computing as separate despite the efforts of companies, like Salesforce.com, to brand them as one and the same.

Many of the SaaS vendors who continue to focus their marketing and sales efforts entirely on business decision-makers and avoid the IT department at all costs are pleased to have IT/network administrators distracted by the cloud computing hype. But, those who can’t circumvent the IT department are finding that the confusion and uncertainty surrounding cloud computing is compounding their sales and marketing challenges.

Sorting out the sales and marketing implications of these trends was the focus of a Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) SaaS forum held this past Thursday at Sun Microsystems’ (JAVA) quiet campus in Burlington, MA. (It will be interesting to see if the Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) acquisition breathes new life into the campus or results in it being divested and becoming more vacant.)

The forum drew around one hundred SaaS professionals and other interested parties seeking to learn more about today’s best practices for selling SaaS. The attendees learned that SaaS may be easier to develop and deliver, but is still hard to market and sell, especially in today’s economy. Why?

Because it takes a different approach than marketing and selling traditional, ‘legacy’ software. It takes greater customer-centricity, starting with the user interface design and extending through the ongoing support process. It takes a different marketing process, starting with messaging and continuing through every lead generation activity. And, it takes a different sales process, starting with training and including compensation and incentives.

The MassTLC forum did a good job of bringing together SaaS professionals to discuss these issues and challenges. It served as a catalyst to continue to build a bigger SaaS community in the New England area. But, it also illustrated that surviving in the SaaS market takes a series of successful steps that many vendors are still trying to discern.

Source: Cloud Computing: Recapping a Week of IT Events