'The Cloud' Has Left The Building update from October 2009

Cloud technologists are seeking to differentiate "The Cloud" from "Cloud Computing." After months of dueling defintiions, is the current messy state of cloud terminology redeemable?

Rich Miller

October 28, 2009

4 Min Read
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Uh oh. Looks like the CloudKeepers have lost control of one of their buzzwords. "The Cloud" has busted out of all attempts to fence it in, and gotten loose on the Interwebs where anyone can use it to describe a data disaster.

That's the thrust of recent posts from James Urquhart and Lori MacVittie, who seek to differentiate "The Cloud" from "Cloud Computing." Why has this come up now? It's partly because something bad has been blamed on The Cloud - namely, the data drama involving T-Mobile's Sidekick service, in which all user data first evaporated and then was pieced back together by Microsoft's Danger subsidiary. We covered the debate about cloud culpability for the failure, and whether it was fair.

"Appalled' at Sidekick as Cloud
The discussion continues. "Several of us who have been involved in cloud-computing implementations were appalled at the use of the term 'cloud' in regard to Danger," Urquhart writes. "Clearly, as a provider, Danger was not practicing core cloud-computing principles."

MacVittie goes further: "Thanks to the nearly constant misapplication of the phrase 'The Cloud' and the lack of agreement on a clear definition from technical quarters I must announce that 'The Cloud' is no longer a synonym for 'Cloud Computing'," she writes. "It can’t be. The two no longer refer to the same thing (if they ever really did) and there should be no implied – or inferred - relationship between them. 'The Cloud' has, unfortunately, devolved into little more than a trendy reference for any consumer-facing application delivered over the Internet."

Definitions Abound
Okay ... according to whom? Depending upon whose count you use, there have been between 25 and 65 different definitions put forth for cloud computing. The current messy state of cloud terminology is the outcome of many months of dueling definitions and marketing mischief, in which companies have slapped a "cloud" sticker on just about anything attached to the Internet.     

Gaining some clarity around CloudTalk is an admirable goal. At the risk of inviting scorn from cloud watchers everywhere, it seems to me a core problem is that cloud computing has been defined using three different variables:

  • Location: This view has presented cloud computing as shifting data and applications from the desktop to the Internet - or at least a data center attached to the Internet.

  • Technology: There's another group that defines cloud computing as the use of particular set of technologies and application designs to provide resiliency, mobility and advanced management.

  • Billing: Others have tied definitions of cloud computing to a "pay as you go" or "pay per use" utility model. 

You can mix and match the definitions as you like. Some folks have incorporated two or even all three of these principles into their definition of cloud computing. Still others add multi-tenancy into the mix. Then there's the matter of the cloud stack and which "aaS" label applies. Is it IaaS, PaaS or SaaS?

What Happens Now?
Can Cloud Computing be disentangled from The Cloud? Is it possible to retain the enviable momentum that has attached to All Things Cloud while providing clarity for folks who may actually want to buy something?

For many end users, that's not happening. A survey released Tuesday by data center trade group AFCOM found that just 14.9 percent of its member companies have adopted cloud computing, although another 46 percent are considering it. AFCOM said that percentage was three times higher than the "considering but not implementing" numbers for any other data center technology.    

Things appear to be little better in the UK. Research released Tuesday by Peer 1 Networks found that 88 percent of IT decision makers don't use cloud computing technologies, with 39 percent citing "lack of knowledge" as a barrier.  

The 'Green' Precedent
All the cloud shenanigans are giving end users a headache, and making them yearn for the simplicity of "Green IT" hype. In an odd way, the rehabilitation of "Green IT" in the data center discussion may offer hope for cloud terminology. 

In mid-2007 I was inundated by a tidal wave of "everything is green" releases that foreshadowed the 2009 avalanche of "everything is cloud" PR offerings. To be sure, there are many marketing folks who continue to invoke "green," and you hear it regularly in discussions of corporate sustainability programs.

But when data center folks get together, the key term is "energy efficiency" and the language is more specific. Perhaps more importantly, most customers know PUE and LEED, and are beginning to embrace these terms and metrics and factor them into their decisions.  

It's not a perfect world, but it's a vast improvement over the greenwashing tidal wave of 2007. Is there a similar shakeout coming for "The Cloud" and/or "Cloud Computing?" Can cloud terminology be used to broadly describe the paradigm shift in computing, while new language emerges to inform business decisions? What do you think? Share your take in the comments.

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