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Is there anyone not in the cloud? Cloud computing is the buzzword du jour and everyone–Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), (NYSE:CRM), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN)–is trying to get into the act. The problem: It will be another year–2009–before companies use cloud computing services extensively. In the meantime, folks will have to define and sort out a lot of mumbo jumbo about the cloud.

Those are the takeaways from a presentation by Gartner analysts Daryl Plummer and Thomas Bittman at the Gartner Emerging Technologies conference in Las Vegas. Plummer acknowledged that there are a lot of unknowns about cloud computing. “There’s a lot of evolution we need to see,” said Plummer.

Another takeaway: There was a room full of IT managers looking for some sort of definition about cloud computing. There’s a good reason for that: Cloud computing is still academic to corporations.

Cloud computing is largely misunderstood, but it’s a big deal. In fact, the cloud is as big as the e-business revolution. It’ll take some time to sort out as every tech vendor uses the term “cloud” in marketing material. In fact, Plummer noted that corporations using cloud computing won’t be the norm for about five years.

And if that weren’t enough, there are more than a few misunderstandings about cloud computing. Plummer and Bittman compiled a handy slide of myths. “Myths are rampant in the IT industry. Cloud computing is no different. Anyone looking at the cloud will see more myths than he or she can name,” the analysts said. (Click images to enlarge.)

So what is the definition? According to Gartner cloud computing is “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ across the Internet to multiple external customers.”

In English, that definition means the cloud should just deliver a service on a subscription basis, allow access from anywhere and provide economies of scale. Plummer also dispelled the notion that there will be just a few big cloud computing vendors. In fact, the cloud will go cross-vendor and feature shared resources.

Also see: Cloud computing hasn’t gone Fortune 500 yet, but it’s coming

Is the cloud really the next big thing? You bet:

  • By 2012, 80 percent of Fortune 1000 enterprises will pay for some cloud computing service and 30 percent of them will pay for cloud computing infrastructure.
  • Through 2010, more than 80 percent of enterprise use of cloud computing will be devoted to very large data queries, short-term massively parallel workloads, or IT use by startups with little to no IT infrastructure.

But cloud computing isn’t a cure-all. In fact, there will be many things that won’t go into the cloud. A look at some of the drawbacks:

Bottom line: There’s a lot of work to do. For now, the best course is to plan for cloud computing and beware of marketing-speak.