A panel of experts at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference gathered to discuss the growth of cloud computing and reasons behind that success.

Currently, cloud computing is experiencing a period of rapid growth, with Microsoft's Azure platform, for example, gaining 20,000 subscriptions in less than a year.

This growth, however, is actually more consistent and sustainable than the cloud's expansion in previous years.

Ryan Storgaard, director of platform strategies at Microsoft Canada, told the forum that companies were initially adopting the cloud in an effort to save money. The recession was in full bloom, and organizations were panicking, looking to cut costs in every possible avenue. Early cloud deployments can often be traced to the financial crisis. One of the cloud's most admirable qualities is its cost-efficiency, but as the technology has matured, other reasons for expansion are on the horizon.

With the financial crisis somewhat stabilized, organizations are no longer looking to simply reduce costs. Instead, the focus is on increasing overall productivity. If that end can be achieved while saving money, no one is likely to object, but the focus has shifted to utility, not price. In general, cloud computing allows customers to run state-of-the-art software within a scalable technological solution.

Warren Shiau, director of technology research for Leger Marketing, told the panel that age demographics are playing a major role in cloud deployment. While older audiences may not welcome the technology, young adults are open to working on the cloud, and expect the technology to a certain extent.

Another major force behind the expansion, Shiau said, is SMBs. These organizations see cloud computing as their way to enjoy the services usually monopolized by large companies without having to devote extensive budget resources to software procurement. As a result, SMBs are becoming more competitive and the cloud is growing fast.

There are, however, barriers getting in the way of cloud adoption. Data residency is one of the largest roadblocks. Because of the varied data protection, regulatory compliance and other security-related protocols around the world, companies are hesitant to leave their data in the hands of a third-party provider.

According to Storgaard, Microsoft deals with this problem by providing flexible service level agreements. Through these elastic contracts, companies can choose where to store data rather than wondering which data center holds mission-critical information.

Over the course of the conference, Microsoft also took the time to put Azure through its paces in a public setting. Windows Azure is Microsoft's new cloud-based IaaS platform. As IaaS adoption has been slow in the early stages of cloud development, Microsoft could get a head start if the technology begins to catch on.