2012: The Year Cloud Computing Took Off -- Here Are 3 Ways to Profit

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Tech stocks may be crashing, but tech spending is on track to rise 3% to $3.6 trillion this year, according to new data compiled by Gartner, a technology research firm.

While the overall gain -- just 3% -- is paltry compared to rising healthcare spending, a closer look at the numbers reveals at least one pocket of strength: cloud computing services.

Organizations are on track to spend more than $109 billion on cloud computing, up 20% over last year. And that’s not all. Gartner says the total outlay for cloud services could nearly double, to $207 billion, by 2016. Install-and-upgrade software and infrastructure is becoming less popular by the day, it seems.

Yet there’s also troubling news in the numbers. Spending on telecommunications services will rise just 1.4%, Gartner estimates, to $1.69 trillion. That’s a big number, I realize, but investors are rightly focused on the growth rate. Slower spending in this sector has battered the shares of infrastructure suppliers such as Acme Packet (Nasdaq: APKT  ) and Riverbed Technology (Nasdaq: RVBD  ) .

Both stocks are down more than 40% year-to-date versus a 10% gain for the Nasdaq Composite. Acme Packet, in particular, preannounced yet another earnings miss last week, as the company continues to work through problems selling to domestic carriers that supply the majority of its revenue.

Three things you can do right now
We know to be careful investing in telecom. But how should investors react to increased spending on cloud services? I’d suggest betting on the top services in their respective niches, which aren’t dependent on the goodwill of others in order to win business. Here are three I like right now:

  1. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . The king of online advertising is slowly winning a large audience for its Google Apps alternative to Office. What’s more, the company’s efforts in hardware (i.e., Chromebooks, the Nexus 7 tablet) make it a go-to outfitter for consumers turning away from PCs toward cloudy alternatives.
  2. (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) . Creator of a popular hosting environment called Amazon Web Services, the e-tailer has become a sort of entryway for those building and supplying cloud services to consumers and other businesses. One of a handful of 'picks and shovels' stocks I like right now.
  3. (NYSE: CRM  ) . The most popular provider of business software delivered via the cloud serves thousands of customers. CEO Marc Benioff has also led the way in transforming how we think about social media -- from a one-off time waster to that of a full-scale business communications platform. No less than Microsoft has responded by spending $1.2 billion to acquire Yammer, a specialist site that competes with salesforce’s Chatter service.

Cloudy with a chance of billions
It’s no secret that Fool co-founder David Gardner was an early believer in the cloud computing movement. Thousands of Motley Fool Rule Breakers members have profited as a result. Want his next Big Idea? Click here for a 30-day free trial subscription to Rule Breakers

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Google, Riverbed Technology, and at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home, portfolio holdings, and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Google,, Microsoft, Riverbed Technology, and Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of, Riverbed Technology, Microsoft, Google, Acme Packet, and Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bear put spread position in The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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