Yesterday I republished a piece on cloud computing, and I was struck by a sentence in the piece. I had written " Paul Nielsen says inside of 2 years we'll be leaning cloud first, local server second and in 5 hosting your own data will seem obsolete." I had written I was skeptical of that, but I wanted to revisit the topic. It's been 4.5 years since I wrote that, so it's close to five years.
Are we thinking cloud first for SQL Server applications? I can say that for the businesses I've considered or engaged in, we do think about cloud type services first. The cost and hassles of procuring hardware mean that for a small business, I'm not sure it's worth renting space in your own, or even someone else's, data center. It's much more cost effective and easier to rent a virtual machine or two from Azure, AWS, Rackspace or another vendor. For many non-database services, like email, it's probably better just to contract for a service, and not even concern yourself with machines or software.
For larger, more established businesses, however, I'm not sure that most SQL Server professionals think cloud first. There are still lots of concerns over security, control, and performance. Most DBAs I know do think virtual machines in many cases, but without their own infrastructure, not the cloud.
I do think we could get to the point where many DBAs think about the cloud first, but only if their clients find provisioning a new server inside isn't as smooth as clicking a few buttons. For the DBAs that ensure new databases can be created quickly and easily, I would guess that their clients would never even bother mentioning the cloud.