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The evolution toward grid and cloud computing as observed for over a decennium illustrates the crucial role played by (optical) networks in supporting today's applications. In this paper, we start from an overview of the challenging applications in both academic (further referred to as scientific), enterprise (business) and nonprofessional user (consumer) domains. They pose novel challenges, calling for efficient interworking of IT resources, for both processing and storage, as well as the network that interconnects them and provides access to their users. We outline those novel applications' requirements, including sheer performance attributes (which will determine the quality as perceived by end users of the cloud applications), as well as the ability to adapt to changing demands (usually referred to as elasticity) and possible failures (i.e., resilience). In outlining the foundational concepts that provide the building blocks for grid/cloud solutions that meet the stringent application requirements we highlight, a prominent role is played by optical networking. The pieces of the solution studied in this respect span the optical transport layer as well as mechanisms located in higher layers (e.g., anycast routing, virtualization) and their interworking (e.g., through appropriate control plane extensions and middleware). Based on this study, we conclude by identifying challenges and research opportunities that can enable future-proof optical cloud systems (e.g., pushing the virtualization paradigms to optical networks).