A website loads at a crawling pace or it has completely crashed. Everyone’s been there — some are even ready to throw their monitor out the window.

But worse than frustrating, a company is losing revenue each second that the site’s down. Servers can handle only a finite amount of simultaneous users. Michael Crandell of RightScale calls them “success disasters.”

“Exactly at the moment you are succeeding and throngs of people are using your service, it becomes slow and inoperable,” he said. “That’s the irony, and that’s the terrible side of it. So what needs to happen is you need to have the software architecture and hardware to expand resources really quickly so you can keep serving customers.”

That’s where cloud computing comes into play, which allows companies to focus on its core competencies and leave the technical details to the IT guys, Crandell said.

RightScale helped mitigate Animoto’s “success disaster” when it ran a Facebook promotion four years ago that went viral. Animoto is a tool that automatically transforms digital photos into a sleek video slideshow. At the promotion’s peak, 20,000 new people were signing up every hour, and the company had to increase its number of servers to 3,500 from 50 in three days.

“RightScale has the automation that detects the load increasing and launches more servers that automatically start working,” Crandell said. “That was completely unprecedented in computing.

The second amazing thing is that a business like Animoto was able to access that compute power. It would’ve never been able to afford to buy that many on a startup budget. It cost them somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 to run 3,500 servers for a number of days and then they scaled back down and stopped using them.”

Cloud computing is the access to computers and their functionality through the Internet. The ethereal-sounding term makes some sense because the user cannot see or specify the physical location of the equipment hosting the resources they use. But somewhere there’s a building with servers powering the cloud’s resources.

It’s divided into three groups: software as a service, infrastructure as a service and platform as a service.

SaaS refers to applications such as Gmail, GoToMeeting and Salesforce that are accessed through a web browser. IaaS is attaching, controlling and managing the computing, storage and networking resources on the server level. PaaS is when someone points to a code like Java and everything around the server, storage and networking layer is automatically taken care of.

RightScale provides automated cloud management software that Crandell describes as a bridge between low-level cloud infrastructure and apps that companies want to run there. RightScale pairs leading cloud infrastructure software — CloudStack, Eucalyptus and OpenStack — with its cloud management.

The Eucalyptus IaaS platform maintains high fidelity with the Amazon Web Services API and allows support for both on-premise and hybrid IaaS clouds. If a company has data security concerns or needs the efficient transfer of resources for a high peak period of time, they can create a private cloud.

Judy Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz & Associates, said during a Eucalyptus Webinar on Thursday that cloud computing will transform data centers into a new environment that’s highly tuned for systems of record that require fast performance where latency and security are the most important.

Eucalyptus co-founder Woody Rollins said Fortune 1000 companies are interested in robust software that does not break.

“Big enterprises have been the first ones to adopt cloud computing and once the small- and medium-sized companies use it, they will leverage it with everything they do because it will save them money,” said Rollins, adding that the spread of mobile technology will drive that adoption.

Where will cloud computing go from here? Five years from now, a chief intelligence officer won’t be responsible for hiring a staff to buy servers, rack them, put apps on them and maintaining the network, Crandell said.

“IT will be consumers of Salesforce, AppFolio, RightScale and other packages they use,” he said. “Services might be smaller granular services or big entire applications. My job as a CIO will be to make sure I get the right services at the right price, that they are reliable and that I can keep delivering them to the organization and they keep running. So all of that becomes invisible and the organization moves ahead. So — high service levels, low cost, smart acquirer and curator of services — that’s what cloud computing is doing to IT; it’s really turning it upside down.”

While many consumers and business begin to grasp cloud computing’s concept and potential, this may only be Year One of the disruptive technology, Crandell said.

“Because in some ways, other big players have just got into the game like Google infrastructure and Microsoft and it has become the new way to do IT,” he said. “Ultimately it goes back to the idea of the value that RightScale offers to allow a company to focus on its core competency. What cloud computing is doing to IT is changing it from a builder of infrastructure to a curator of services.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at akacik@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @noozhawk and @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.