They’re all residing on my laptop, smartphone and tablet now. Like four quarreling sisters, SkyDrive, iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive are ostentatiously competing for attention. As a consumerized IT user – in my own micro space – I am confronted with exactly the same question that enterprises face more and more: what shall I put in whose cloud?

As always, a simple answer would be the best. It would be great to just choose one superior supplier – say Acme SuperCloud 9 – and stick to it for all cloud business. Unfortunately, reality may turn out to be more delicate and a situational approach will often need to be taken.

Much like the way I find myself currently dealing with various, personal cloud storage options. As most of my media is still brought to me through Apple channels and devices, I turn to iCloud to hold it for me. For all the materials I often need mobile access to (I am a Windows Phone 7 user), I prefer SkyDrive. For open documents that I want to collaboratively work on with others, Google Drive from now on is my natural choice. DropBox has the slightly unrewarding, but in fact glorious role of being a general backup. Then – of course – there is a limited, but crucial collection of confidential data assets that in no way should be stored anywhere outside my own premises. I keep them on my own machine in an encrypted data vault and have them backed up by a Time Capsule.

Clearly, reputation is everything here as the various financial plans for cloud storage tend to gradually resolve around one and the same benchmark. But the track record in real life is even more determining: if one of the solution installs improperly, crashes just a few times, is too often unavailable or – the horror – loses data, it will mercilessly be replaced by one of the other cloud sisters in the house. That set aside – assuming that robustness and trust are being dealt with sufficiently by providers – I can explore and switch my options freely, increasing my benefits from the cloud over time, while learning more and more.

For enterprises, at their own scale of reality, it is a very similar play. There is no specific point in selecting one cloud provider to deal with all purposes. There is also no urge to determine right now what computing, storage and application loads should be moved to the cloud and what should stay on premise. Possibly with the exception of start-ups and certain small and medium businesses, the hybrid scenario will be the de facto standard in the forthcoming years.

We will need to move forward step by step, opportunistically weighing our options, considering new paths as they emerge, leaving the unreliable and dusty ones, improving while we learn. Data sovereignty considerations may keep enterprises from moving their applications to a public cloud that is run from another continent: understood, run the delicate ones on a regional cloud or keep the crucial data on premise and process it on a public cloud. Two years from now, regulations may have been changed and options with better economies of scale become feasible. You may not be ready to fully migrate these vital, but ill performing client / server analytical applications to the cloud: fine, just replace the data crunching parts and have them run by a superfast, specialized Big Data cloud.

The options are limitless and smart navigation is key. Come to think of it, we may want to coin the concept of the Situational Cloud right here, right now as a flexible way of benefiting from various, evolving cloud options, supported by a set of well-defined design patterns or ‘cloud stereotypes’.

Providers need to understand that the ability for enterprises to effortlessly navigate the evolving cloud landscape is instrumental to broader adoption. I can easily switch between my personal storage clouds because they all have been integrated in the same way in my file system. Similarly, cloud providers need to move to joint, open standards around how to store and compute in the cloud. This may temporarily feel to them like cannibalism, but soon the increased usage of the cloud by enterprises will bring them the desired additional revenues.

In the end, we want to be able to have different cloud deployment scenarios at our fingertips and literally play with them: seamlessly changing as insights, alternatives, rules and regulations, technologies and business cases evolve. Some enterprises will prefer the details of such a situational approach be hidden, for example through automated, policy-based tools or by partnering with a specialized provider that takes care of the orchestration activities. Other enterprises may choose to stay in control for now and will strive for maximized transparency around the attributes of different cloud options. They accept that choices will need to be made and frequently re-assessed.

Then again, making choices can sometimes be very simple. Aspiring and already quite successful startup GreenButton enables applications even literally with a green button: if you push it, external cloud power – running on Windows Azure, Amazon or vCloud – will be activated on the fly to speed up calculations, analytics and graphics rendering. If you want to know what pushing the button additionally will cost (or save, think about it), all the information is there to make the decision.

Knowing what buttons to push when, and have all the insight for support: it’s really what the Situational Cloud is about. Let’s go and push a few of these buttons.