For some insurance CIOs, the hour may be soon approaching to reconsider a supposition that has gone relatively unchallenged for half a century-that robust use of computers to augment business operations requires a corresponding investment in physical hardware and on-premise software.

The new theoretical framework challenging the data center orthodoxy is known, somewhat unhappily, as cloud computing. Whether cloud computing ever becomes a viable alternative to the data center model is subject to debate; what isn't debatable is that the nebulousness surrounding the term "cloud computing" remains a source of confusion to many. To clarify, cloud computing is a rubric for three related concepts: infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS). Furthering the complexity, companies can opt for public, private or hybrid clouds. Where on this spectrum a company making a push into cloud computing falls may well depend on the peculiarities of a company's business, its risk appetite and its leadership's IT vision.

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