What's In A Name? Utility vs. Cloud vs Grid

In recent weeks there has been a rolling conversation on tech blogs about the definitions of utility computing and cloud computing, with contributions from Geva Perry at GigaOm, Simon Wardley, James Urquhart of Cassatt, James Governor at Redmonk and IBM’s Gerrit Huizenga. John Willis has sought to classify cloud computing providers.

And what about grids? The IEEE has published a classification scheme for grid systems (link via 3Tera’s Bert Armijo). Are all these definitions and classifications helping or just adding to the confusion about these terms? This week Derrick Harris of GRIDToday looks at the parsing of technology terms and how “grid computing” and “high performance computing” scored poorly in a recent Forrester report gauging enterprise interest in various technologies.

“When it comes to enterprise IT mindshare, ‘grid’ has been bandied about so much that no one knows what it means or what business benefits they might derive from it,” Derrick writes. The Forrester report by Frank Gillett also predicts trouble ahead for “virtualization” as a marketing term because it is being used to describe so many different concepts and products. Here’s a comment from Gillett about why naming problems have become such an issue:

“We have a bunch of complex ideas, products and technologies whose application is specific to certain situations, and we’re trying to talk about it in generalizable terms because, frankly, most people can’t wrap their heads around all the details,” he said. “I can sit down and in an hour sort of go through the landscape with someone, but that’s a terrible way to sell a product.”

Do customers/end users know the difference between utility computing and cloud computing and grid computing? Are they hearing competing definitions from vendors? I think the recent conversations reflect concern about a clash in the marketplace, not just between technologies but between terminologies as well.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.


  1. Thanks for including me in your prestigious list. All I am try to do is to put some sanity in anything that is called a cloud. What I am finding is that a lot of vendors, journalists, and analysts are calling everything a cloud with no perspective. What I have recently added a vendor list and I have tried to classify the vendors based on a few categories. http://www.johnmwillis.com/mysql/cloud-vendors-a-to-z/ Thanks johnmwillis.com

  2. People are definitely using terms like 'cloud' and 'virtualization' without always being clear what they mean. To some extent this is a natural consequence of a rapidly evolving marketplace. I believe the fundamental characteristic of a cloud, versus say a grid, is that it offers a 'retail like experience'. As such, clouds are part of a larger revolution by customers against technologies that cost a lot of money just to set up, before they can even be used. I blogged about this here, with reference to James Governor's list of "15 Ways to Tell Its Not Cloud Computing" --- http://elasticserver.blogspot.com/2008/03/all-at-once-i-saw-crowd.html