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IBM, Microsoft Dive Deep Into Clouds

This is due, says IBM, to its efforts building network, application and data security into its cloud offerings, as well as ensuring tight security at its data centers running cloud services. Companies using IBM's cloud offerings include American Airlines (AMR), 7-Eleven, and vehicle history company Carfax, said Telford. "When you see these names, it gives you a pretty good feeling that this is becoming mainstream," he added.

Whether or not that's true, the reality is that a number of corporate giants are finally deploying clouds in a big way. Microsoft recently announced enhancements for its Azure corporate cloud, which is being used by a host of companies to develop applications, including T-Mobile USA, Xerox (XRX) and Pixar.

Dell (DELL) also talked cloud details Thursday, announcing a $1 billion investment in new data centers and cloud services. The computer maker will also partner with Microsoft to help customers quickly deploy and manage private clouds.

Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, estimates that between 15% and 20% of businesses have either deployed a cloud or tested one. "Up to this point, I would say that about a third of companies are considering a cloud deployment," she said.

IBM, which sees cloudy investments as a way to boost its high-margin services business, has been one of the technology's most vociferous -- and early -- advocates. Big Blue launched its Blue Cloud strategy in 2007. IBM hopes that cloud deployment will also drive demand for the company's servers and software.

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano recently said that he expects his firm to generate $7 billion in cloud-related revenue by 2015.

At midday Thursday, IBM shares were dipping 18 cents to $163.86, Microsoft's were down 12 cents to $26.03 and Dell's were somewhat flat at $14.75. Tech stocks seemed to be following the broader market trend, which saw shares dropping on news of another earthquake in Japan.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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