It was raining ideas at the recent IBM-sponsored Pulse 2014 cloud computing conference in Las Vegas. You rarely see the potential of the cloud crystallize right in front of you in a new way, but that’s what I experienced when I attended Pulse 2014 from February 23 through 26 on behalf of TDA. Thanks to our clients at IBM, I saw how technologies that were great on their own have been combined with the cloud to become even more useful for a vast range of business uses.

Possibly the most eye-catching combination of technologies at the event featured a car and the cloud. IBM’s Connected Car was on display, a Jeep that uses IBM cloud technologies to enhance the driving experience and improve safety. The high-performance SoftLayer cloud infrastructure allows real-time analysis of vehicle sensor data to predict traffic and helps diagnose potential problems before they occur. It also connects mobile devices to the vehicle to personalize the driver’s journey.

Bringing the cloud down to earth
But the real attraction for most attendees was what cloud can do for business, and there the word is hybrid—as in hybrid clouds. Private, on-premise clouds and public, off-premise clouds each have their advantages for a company. Private clouds are great for back-end systems of record where you need strong security and management. Public clouds lend themselves to customer-facing systems of engagement that are frequently updated and improved. The latest thinking is that most companies will end up adopting a hybrid cloud combining the best of both worlds.

What’s more, applications won’t necessarily stay in one place or another. The way of the future is a dynamic environment where applications and the work they do can move from on-premise to off-premise and back again, depending on the need.

Take test and development, for example. The pace of application deployment is picking up dramatically as businesses try to beat competitors to market with new customer services. Instead of carving out test beds from precious production resources, companies can develop and test new apps in the off-premise cloud and then move them on-premise after the bugs have been worked out.

In other cases, moving dynamically from an on-premise cloud to the public cloud may be optimal. For example, using the public cloud for a standby disaster recovery site might make more sense than investing in a physical secondary data center that may not be used most of the time other than to store backup content for the primary site. The public cloud also delivers pay-as-you-go “burst” capacity to help fuel the growth of organizations that need to meet new, temporary, or variable demands.

Solving real-world problems
As you might expect, IBM saw the trend coming and has put together a portfolio of technologies to help businesses take on real-world challenges using the dynamic cloud model. Case in point: IBM Platform Computing software is a go-to solution for technical and high-performance computing (HPC). It optimizes scheduling and management of demanding jobs such as analytics, simulation, and engineering so research happens more quickly and products get to market faster. Now put that software on the SoftLayer cloud and you’ve addressed a whole new challenge.

To illustrate, let’s say you have an on-site server cluster to design chips for consumer products. Your electronic design automation (EDA) work spikes every year in advance of the holiday shopping season. Now you can burst that added work out to a cluster on the SoftLayer cloud, complete with Platform Computing software-as-a-service, all on a pay-as-you-go basis. The cloud kicks in as needed, with cluster management running, and it’s so smooth that users can’t tell the difference between the on-premise and off-premise resources.

Another example on display at Pulse 2014 combines SoftLayer cloud infrastructure with the IBM PureApplication System. PureApplication uses “patterns of expertise” to shorten deployment time for new applications—to just minutes, in many cases—by eliminating all the manual tweaking and tuning of numerous variables and configuration options.

Now add cloud. With PureApplication System on SoftLayer, businesses can set up an innovation pipeline for new projects, from off-premise development to the on-premise production environment, knowing that the underlying pattern will remain consistent and repeatable throughout the process. That means no more configuration drift between stages; the pattern guarantees that the new solution will run just as well for business users as it did in testing.

Even better, by using the architecture provided by patterns, developers can easily assemble services on the cloud to provide a complete business solution—for example, the application, a database, a web server, and so on.

Anticipating even more solutions
This year’s Pulse conference had the biggest attendance ever, which underlines the growing recognition by organizations of all types and sizes that the cloud is essential to the future of business technology. Those who attended this year’s conference are already eager to see what’s on tap next year. And we look forward to writing about it.

Chris Young is a managing writer at TDA with a long history of explaining technical concepts to business audiences.