A few years ago we were working on the questions to our annual utility survey and this question came up: “Should we include something about the cloud?”

We thought long and hard about it and at the end of the day we decided not to include any questions about cloud computing. Our rationale was simple: there was so much going on with the smart grid at the time that we did not want to pile on with yet another new technology solution for the utility industry to try to digest at the time.

But times have changed and the issues of utility scale, big data, and consumerization of IT have really brought the industry around to view the cloud as a meaningfully important solution to the challenges that utilities face. We think that the concept of utilities in the cloud has reached the point where it can be accepted and adopted as an innovative component of every utilities’ IT landscape.

And the good news is that, all the while we in the utility were being a bit coy about utilities in the cloud, Microsoft was ramping up its cloud offering, known as Azure, for all industries. From all appearances that bet is paying off in terms of Microsoft continuing to lead the pack for our customers. Certainly our partners are seeing the future and most all are in the process of releasing cloud applications for Utilities. For a partner’s view on the cloud see Invensys: Are the days numbered for the Servers on the plant vs. a remote data center or cloud?

Indeed, the Microsoft cloud strategy is being recognized by industry observers as the strongest and most ambitious over all our competitors. In its Feb. 20 article, Demystifying Cloud Vendors, Forbes magazine contributor Louis Columbus contends that Microsoft is a leader in the cloud computing space, with our competitors coming along behind our all-in solutions delivery system.

The other good news is that our ambitious strategy for all our technologies continues to hold the confidence of chief information officers, as evidenced by a Piper Jaffray CIO survey released last week. In that survey, a truly remarkable 45 percent of the CIOs picked Microsoft as their most important vendor. This was an increase from the 33 percent nod given in the 2012 version of the survey.

How much of that increase was related to Microsoft’s continued emphasis on its innovative cloud strategy? That’s hard to tell. But given the meetings our Microsoft Worldwide Utilities team has been having with utility companies around the globe, I can tell you that the cloud is one of the most important topics they want to learn about. It combines so nicely with developments in the smart grid/smart meter/smart energy ecosystem that we’re sure we have a winner that will take utilities through the challenges of the next 10-15 years. – Jon C. Arnold