As organizations seek to stabilize costs and enhance IT solutions, cloud computing services are expected to expand in the next year, according to a new study from CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association for the IT industry.

As a result of an online survey of more than 500 U.S.-based IT customers, the study — Cloud Computing: Pulling Back the Curtain — found that 72 percent of end-users plan to dive into cloud-based business applications, document and content management, and security and storage solutions in the next year.

Medium-sized businesses (between $10 million and $99.9 million in annual revenues) stand as the most aggressive users of cloud computing. Compared to 36 percent of small companies that reported involvement with cloud computing and 58 percent of use by larger firms, 64 percent of medium-sized businesses utilize cloud services, according to the study.

“Clearly there is growing momentum behind cloud computing, evidenced by climbing adoption rates and greater awareness,” said Carolyn April, director of industry analysis at CompTIA, in a release. “But cloud computing adoption is still nascent. The year ahead will be one of evaluation, trial and error and, most importantly, opportunity as the market sorts through the role IT channel companies will play, best business models, sales and marketing strategies, and most relevant technologies.”

The world of cloud computing remains an enigma to many state and local governments. But some agencies are forging ahead, following in the footsteps of the private sector with cloud adoption. Last month, Minnesota’s Office of Enterprise Technology signed an enterprisewide service agreement with Microsoft, which officials say will make Minnesota the first U.S. state to house key business applications in a private cloud environment.

In addition to driving down costs in these trying economic times, users see potential in cloud computing solutions that add new capabilities not available in current IT models.

But the study identifies a number of challenges. Users have had trouble integrating cloud solutions with existing IT systems. And because the cloud computing arena is still new, companies have to determine the right revenue models, which can create internal issues, such as how to handle initial start-up costs.

But despite these hurdles, the cloud computing momentum continues to build. More than half of the respondents plan to make purchases from a third-party cloud services provider. At the same time, more than half of the surveyed IT channel companies plan to boost investments in cloud computing by 10 percent in the coming year.

“The good news for IT channel companies is that customers want to use them as a source for their cloud computing solutions, more so than vendors, consultants or self-service options,” April said in a release. “The smart solution provider will become the de facto expert on the benefits the cloud can bring; not just cost savings, but ways that moving IT to the cloud can advance their customers’ business objectives.”

The complete report is available (at no cost to CompTIA members) at www.CompTIA.org or by contacting research@comptia.org.