Barely a week seems to go by without a tech company waxing lyrical about cloud computing. Whether it is Microsoft ( MSFT), which added more flesh to the bones of its online services strategy, Dell ( DELL), IBM ( IBM) or Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), everyone seems to be banging the cloud drum.

There has certainly been plenty of hype, but what about the reality? Cloud services, which offer compute power and storage via the Internet, are apparently the next big thing, but just how far along is this technology?

"It's definitely an evolution in progress," Katy Huberty, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, told, explaining that no single tech company is holding all the cards. "From an end-to-end business solution perspective I don't think that anybody leads."

With the technology still in its adolescence, it is hard to say precisely when cloud technology will provide significant upside to investors. It is useful, however, to first make a distinction between the different types of clouds that are available -- basically "private" vs. "public."

Bulls in the Clouds

A private cloud could be used, for example, by a company looking to access IT resources across its own data centers, most likely through virtualized servers. A public cloud, on the other hand, would mean using the Internet to access applications and data hosted on someone else's gear.

A number of technology companies are touting the hardware and software to build both types of cloud. Notable among these are Cisco ( CSCO), with its UCS device, H-P, with its Matrix offering, and IBM, which recently launched a slew of new cloud products.

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